Editor’s note: Each year, the Swanepoel Power 200 recognizes the most powerful and influential leaders in residential real estate. In this series of SP 200 Inside Look interviews, we’re diving deeper and learning about these top leaders’ aspirations and accomplishments, and the opportunities they see in the year ahead.
At Sotheby’s International Realty, Philip A. White, president and CEO, has a disarmingly simple strategy for growing the high-end residential real estate brand in an uncertain economy: Connect buyers and sellers with the best agents and properties anywhere in the world.
The luxury brokerage saw a lot of growth in 2022 despite a slowdown in the overall real estate market, expanding globally to countries including Egypt, Serbia and Kazakhstan, to name a few.
And, the company played an integral role in mergers in the U.S., including with the creation of Cascade Hasson Sotheby’s International Realty, which brought together two of the biggest real estate companies in Oregon.
“We have a strong start on continuing with this strategy for 2023 and will focus on where we can expand our presence in the markets that we serve and beyond,” White noted.
A 36-year real estate veteran, White has experience as a broker-owner and has held executive roles at Sotheby’s for nearly 20 years. As CEO and president, he oversees 1,000 company-owned and franchise offices at the luxury brand — the nation’s fourth largest residential real estate brokerage brand in 2021 by sales volume — and his leadership earned him a spot in the top 20 on the 2023 Swanepoel Power 200 list of the most powerful people in real estate.
Staying agile and seizing opportunities that fit the Sotheby’s luxe brand are part of his approach. White describes his management style as hands-on and engaged.
“I have always wanted to lead by example and not ask someone to do something that I would not do myself,” he said. He advocates getting “buy-in from your team by being as open as possible.’’
Luxury buyers and sellers cautious, but still transacting.
While the luxury market is somewhat insulated from the headwinds of a challenging economy, White sees “a bit of a divide between the seller and the buyer. The seller wants those multiple bids of the past two years, and the buyer is seeing the stock market’s challenges and wants a deal.”
Despite the divide, luxury homes are still selling. “Some buyers and sellers may wait for more economic clarity before making decisions, although many of our agents have seen significant activity on the East and West coasts over $10 million,” White said.
He pointed to Colorado as an example of a market that is attracting interest among many high-net-worth buyers. In 2022, LIV Sotheby’s International Realty sold one of the most expensive homes in Vail ever for $40 million.
“The property is a roughly 450-acre estate with two shooting ranges, a cowboy-style saloon and an ice cream parlor, further demonstrating the trend of marrying one’s lifestyle to one’s living situation, as a result of the pandemic.”
A 2-year boom in luxury, now muted by low inventory.
It would be hard to top the record sales that Sotheby’s posted in 2020 and 2021. Homes were filling many needs, and luxury buyers looked for more amenities — home spas and gyms, multiple swimming pools and restaurant-caliber kitchens.
In 2021, Sotheby’s International Realty reported a record $204 billion in global sales, the highest ever for the company. White described that period as “unprecedented and historic… I continue to be in awe of what Sotheby’s International Realty agents achieved during the pandemic and how they adapted quickly to keep business moving even in a virtual environment,” he said.
“Our biggest challenge today is inventory,” he said. Some luxury markets are experiencing more pressure than others because of a low supply of homes at all price points.
“New York City is still one of the greatest cities in the world and attracts buyers and investors from all over the world. Many agents are surprised that there is not that much new inventory coming on the market, which may limit the extent to which prices can adjust,” White said.
A reputation hundreds of years in the making.
Sotheby’s legendary auction house boasts a centuries-old history, lending additional credibility to the real estate company, which was founded in 1976. The brokerage has more than 26,000 sales associates and a presence in 81 countries.
Sotheby’s International Realty has long been associated with high-end properties. Now other real estate companies have made forays into this sector with luxury divisions. Asked how Sotheby’s maintains its leadership, White said that the emphasis remains on quality service, trustworthiness and a valued reputation that has withstood the test of time.
“It’s less about the price point and more about the level of service that we offer each and every client,” White said. “Sotheby’s International Realty has always operated from a position of strength. It’s something we continue to be proud of — we can offer local experts, worldwide.”