The name Sotheby’s is well known as an auction house that dates back 270 years, but many people may not be aware that it is also a high-end real estate brokerage company. Established in 1976, Sotheby’s International Realty began by offering its auction clientele real estate services. It currently has over 600 offices located in 45 countries and territories, giving clients unprecedented access to properties that span the globe.
In 2010, Sotheby’s International Realty opened its Tokyo office in order to make a full-scale entry into the rapidly expanding Asian market. Its 15-strong team provides a full range of real estate services in Japanese, English, and Chinese.
Japan Today meets with Chief Operating Officer Yutaka Takeda at the company’s new office in Hiroo Plaza to hear more about the business.
What is your background?
I was actually born in Hiroo, not too far from this office. I went to Seikei University—the same university as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His elder brother was my classmate. My major was economics. After graduating, I worked for JAL for 30 years, in sales, marketing, as well as the group’s hotel and resort business. I joined Sotheby’s in June 2010.
What is Sotheby’s International Realty’s history?
Many clients of the auction house are interested in high-end real estate, so Sotheby’s International Realty was founded in New York in 1976 to look after their needs. At first, the focus was mainly in Europe and the United States. In the 2000s, the company started pushing expansion in Asia and as a result, branches opened in Hong Kong and Japan three years ago, and Taiwan opened last year.
We have a very strong alliance with the auction house and one of our strengths is our reputable brand name and access to the world’s wealthy individuals. While some clients are auction clients, we do have our own client base, as well.
How were the last two years?
2011 was a very difficult year because of the earthquake and fear of radiation. Inbound business dropped off. However, after the March 11 disaster, some Japanese felt, probably for the first time in their life, that maybe they need a place to escape to if there is another disaster. That fuelled demand for real estate overseas. As a result, we saw good growth in the latter half of 2012.
Where are your Japanese clients looking to buy?
Hawaii is definitely No. 1. Singapore is very popular, also. For high-end Japanese clients, Europe is in demand – Monaco, Switzerland, Paris. There is also interest in the Gold Coast in Australia and New Zealand. Our sales outside of Japan are heavily connected to whether there are direct flights to those destinations from Japan. But even if there isn’t a direct flight, our strength is our international network – 600 offices in 45 countries. So we can help you with your real estate needs very quickly.
Who are your typical Japanese clients?
All ages, really, ranging from retirees to people in their 30s. Many of our clients buy real estate overseas for investment or they might go to stay there once or twice a year. Time share is a very big market for Japan. I would say that there are nearly 40,000 Japanese owners who have purchased Hilton and Marriot time-shares in Hawaii. That gives you some idea of how important a market Hawaii is.
What about your inbound business?
Many of our clients come from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore. There are some Americans or Europeans married to Japanese, who are interested in buying property in Tokyo. While the demand is mainly for Tokyo, we do receive some inquiries for residences in Hakone, Karuizawa and ski areas such as Hakuba and Niseko.
Where do you see growth potential?
We wish to boost our business of selling more to foreigners in Japan. That’s why we have recently moved to this new office in Hiroo. Many foreigners recognize the brand name and often drop in. Our office is open seven days a week and we want to be more in touch with the foreign community. We are like a concierge and our experienced staff speak Japanese, English and Chinese.
We have a close relationship with our clients. When they are in Tokyo, they often drop in and have lunch and talk about the market, real estate. I think that is one of our unique points.
How do you market the brand?
Our head office issues a publication called Reside twice a year. The auction house has a publication eight times a year and they have a real estate section. Hong Kong has a publication six times a year and does direct mail to 20,000 wealthy individuals. Japan’s properties are included in all those publications. Besides that, we have editorial tie-ups with a number of Japanese publications. We use YouTube and Facebook, as well as our website.
More proactively, we started holding Hawaiian real estate seminars in December 2011. It turned out to be a very big success and we have since held seminars in Osaka and Nagoya, usually once every six months. The last one, which was a collaboration with CNBC/Nikkei, drew 160 people. Most were serious clients.
How do you find properties?
We have a strong relationship with developers and construction companies, so we keep up to date on the market. We also have a team who specialize in looking for available properties. There is a saying in this business that many properties become available due to the 3 Ds – death, divorce and debt.
What is a typical day for you?
I show up around 9 a.m. After tending to emails, we have meetings. I am more involved in cross-border transactions because I have good connections all over the world from my JAL days. I often have lunches and dinners with clients. That is an important part of the job. Sometimes I work on weekends, if I meet foreign visitors and show them properties.