Expert Interview with Julie Leonhardt LaTorre, COO of Sotheby’s International Realty: Trust Your Instincts & Intuition

For our latest expert interview, we had the privilege to talk with Julie Leonhardt LaTorre, COO of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC. With an impressive and diverse professional background, Julie has both the experience and the knowledge needed to discuss best practices in the luxury real estate industry.

Julie Leonhardt LaTorre, COO of Sotheby’s International Realty

We asked Julie to share with us her thoughts on the changes that technology brought about in the luxury real estate industry and the importance of meaningful consumer-agent relationships, as well as tips for agents just beginning their real estate careers. Here’s what she had to say.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and why you chose a career in real estate.

My career path has been untraditional, spanning multiple industries. The thought that I would just stay put was never part of my mindset. I’ve gone from teaching high school in downtown Los Angeles, to attending law school and becoming a commercial real estate finance attorney in New York, to ultimately becoming chief operating officer for an international, luxury real estate brand.  While at law school, I was drawn to the property classes and became interested in all aspects of real estate. It fascinates me – everything from how we develop cities to its influence on how we live.

Q: In your opinion, how has the evolution of technology enhanced the consumer experience?

Technology now allows consumers to experience and envision themselves in a home in a completely different way. Through advancements in virtual and augmented reality, consumers have an opportunity to tour and experience a home in a very realistic way – before ever even setting foot inside it.

Sotheby’s International Realty was the first real estate brand to launch Curate by Sotheby’s International Realty (SM), a virtual staging augmented reality (AR) app, which allows consumers to visualize a home as their own – before purchase – through the power of AR. Technological advancements, such as Curate, get consumers in the door – virtually – and help to speed up the decision-making process, while providing an unforgettable home-buying experience.

From an everyday perspective, technology can help agents increase productivity and task automation, freeing up time for agents to focus on building relationships with their buyers and sellers. That being said, while technology has certainly enhanced the consumer experience, it is not a replacement for agents and brokers.

Q: How do you expect the needs and desires of home buyers to change over the next 10 years or so?

Home buyers aren’t just looking to purchase a home; they want to buy into a lifestyle. They live their lives in terms of experience and even look at the transactional aspect of home buying as an experience – everything from how they find a property to how they choose an agent and a brokerage firm to work with. Therefore, a continued focus on visual content that appears in media channels where consumers already spend their time – such as social media or magazines – is essential.

Consumers appreciate access to information and the experience that comes with technology, but they are still looking to build a meaningful relationship with their agent. Despite advancements, technology is not the end-all, be-all in the buying and selling process. The agent remains the center of the transaction and a trusted resource that technology cannot replace. Consumers expect agents to know the market inside and out, and advise them accordingly. They are looking for an agent to deliver the highest level of service and expertise to them during one of the most important moments in their lives. They expect a stellar experience and for their agents to stand side-by-side with them during the entire process.

Q: Is there anything that you believe everyone in this industry should be working toward?

I think, as an industry, we should always be looking for ways to simplify and streamline the home-buying and -selling process for both the consumer and the agent. The process can be complex, especially for first-time buyers and sellers, and there are a lot of moving pieces. While technology has certainly aided in the process, the various forms of communication can make it difficult to keep everything organized and everyone on the same page. I think we should be working toward a solution that makes it easier to keep all conversations in one centralized location to help streamline the process.

Q: Would you like to share some tips for agents just starting their real estate careers?

It’s important for all professionals to determine their value proposition, expertise and niche, and market that with confidence. Delivering a luxury real estate experience requires that clients are presented with specialized insights and knowledge. Agents need to showcase their knowledge to the consumer and highlight the value they bring to the transaction. Don’t just do things because it is the way it’s always been done. Trust your instincts and intuition and, if needed, forge a new path to generate strong results.

Be clear about who you are as an agent, but always represent your company culture and values, and make sure it’s reflected in everything that you do. Branding matters, and a brand that is consistent in its approach in providing a positive experience to consumers and thinks through innovative ways to market properties will continue to differentiate itself in the market.

Q: Any other insights you’d like to share?

Remain innovative as an agent in the luxury real estate industry. At Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, we continually look for ways in which we can innovate on behalf of the brand and the agent. We constantly strive to find the next, new tool that agents need to elevate their business and listings.

We recently introduced Design Vault, an ad-building tool, to all affiliates within the Sotheby’s International Realty® network. This tool enables them to use the brand’s campaign templates and, in turn, enables affiliates to arm agents and brokers with the tools they need to better market their company and properties.