Philip White became captivated by the magic of Sotheby’s auctions while on a trip abroad. No stranger to taking a chance, White pursued a position in their newly formed Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, despite his background in finance — ultimately landing in the Manhattan real estate division.
Drawing on his years in the military, White is passionate about providing the ultimate customer experience and implementing new technologies to keep the Sotheby’s International Realty brand light years ahead of its competition.
We caught up with White to talk about the legacy of the Sotheby’s brand and the future of Sotheby’s International Realty.
BuzzBuzzNews: How did you first enter the real estate industry? What drew you to the industry?
Philip White: Although I graduated from the University of Virginia with finance background, I studied art and literature in London. I used to write an art market column for a magazine, Southern Accents.
In London, I was introduced to a friend’s sister, who worked in the French Impressionist Department for Michele Strauss, the expert in that field for Sotheby’s auction house. I was invited to different auctions and found the experience and the magic of Sotheby’s selling wonderful things to the world’s wealthiest clients to be an amazing process.
I became a banker by trade and was in New York City when I heard about the formation of Sotheby’s International Realty and its COO. I realized that this new entity could be a job that combined my banking experience with my desire to be part of the Sotheby’s brand.
I took a risk and called the COO (Fred Schultze). I introduced myself as a reporter for Southern Accents and asked for an interview. When I met with him, I confessed my real reason for wanting to meet, and I was eventually offered a job.
BBN: Being a veteran of the USMC, how did your military experience shaped your work ethic and how has it helped you succeed in the business of luxury real estate?
PW: The Marine Corps provided me a strong foundation for dealing with adverse conditions, challenging situations, and ultimately the opportunity to make decisions based on the available information. This has helped me in understanding how to manage a high-end clientele.
BBN: What challenges did you face taking the reins at Sotheby’s International Realty?
PW: I was well prepared to take over as CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, having served as President and COO prior to that, as well as having owned my own real estate company.
The challenge I faced was to develop a strategy to grow the brand while maintaining the quality. We were able to accomplish that with global sales volume reported last year at $108 billion USD and an annual growth rate far exceeding the overall market, while increasing our average sales price, which also far exceeds the national average.
BBN: What do you think specifically separates the “Sotheby’s” brand of luxury real estate from its competitors?
PW: Obviously, our rich heritage of handling many record sales over the years for many of the world’s wealthiest customers provides a great legacy. With that as a backdrop, we have been able to be innovative in marketing and technology, providing the best-in-class tools and support for our agents and brokers around the world.
The strength of the Sotheby’s International Realty brand is also attributable to the professionalism of our agents who, in 2017, led the way in terms of the largest number of agents ranked by REAL Trends/The Wall Street Journal “The Thousand” in the category of individual sales volume and the highest average sales price.
BBN: The sales volume in 2017 totaled an astounding $108 billion globally and over $96 billion in the US — topping the brand’s high recorded in 2016. What strategies do you credit for this unprecedented level of success?
PW: We have a very skilled team at the corporate level that provides assistance to our affiliated companies in terms of mergers and acquisitions, agent recruitment, converting existing independent companies, and increasing per agent productivity.
On the international side of our business, last year was somewhat of a turning point as we started to see the business ramping up faster as a result of all the work we have done over the past number of years opening offices in high-growth markets.
BBN: What drew you to get involved with New Story? Why is this an important cause for you?
PW: A safe home provides the foundation for health, education and opportunity. When my team and I met Brett Hagler and the New Story team, we felt inspired by their mission to build sustainable homes for those in need.
Teaming up with New Story as a charitable partner allowed us to extend the services we provide daily: to help people discover homes that allow them to live their best life.
Since aligning with New Story as one of the brand’s charitable partners, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the Sotheby’s International Realty network in support of this mission.
BBN: Sotheby’s, as a brand, has a unique amount of history and name recognition. How do you see this spilling over to Sotheby’s International Realty?
PW: We have a rich and collaborative relationship with Sotheby’s auction house, as we share the same name. I know they are impressed and proud of the growth of the real estate company.
We share a similar vision with them, which is to provide unmatched service and expertise to our global clients and to look at opportunities to expand that client base. We are working together in the areas of artificial intelligence and augmented reality, as an example.
BBN: A curated customer experience is paramount to the Sotheby’s International Realty experience. How do you maintain a personal touch in an era where technological interactions are replacing actual in-person facetime?
PW: We don’t see technology replacing the personal role of the real estate agent. We believe our role is to develop and enhance existing technological tools and systems to support the agent and help them provide an even better customer experience.
The luxury end of the real estate business is very high touch and we don’t see that changing.
BBN: There is a lot of talk among real estate experts about a “softening” in the national luxury market. Do you agree with this characterization? How would you describe the current state of the luxury market?
PW: We are coming off of a very strong year, as we have discussed with our sales volume up over 14.5 percent versus the national market at about six percent. We are expecting another strong year and continue to see prices rising as a function of lower inventory levels.
As always, local markets in the US and globally will perform at different levels depending on many variables.
BBN: What new ground do you see Sotheby’s International Realty breaking in the near-future?
PW: We just launched an augmented reality app, working closely with Google, to have this be among the first apps available built on its ARCore platform. We are the first real estate brand to enter this space.
We will continue to look for ways to provide tools to empower our affiliates and their agents. We’ll continue to expand our network of offices and agents on a global scale, and connect them with tools such as our global referral system, which provides translation into 18 different languages. We don’t believe any other company provides that level of connection between its agents and brokers.