The Great Lakes region is known as America’s “Third Coast.” Sure, you might be hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, but you’ve got dozens of postcard-worthy freshwater beaches, surf-caliber waves, sand dunes and charming lakeside towns that can feel more like The Hamptons than the Midwest in the summer months. Northwest Michigan — anchored by Traverse City, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, and the awe-inspiring Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore — is a renowned summer playground. The region boasts some of Michigan’s most sought-after vacation real estate, with properties ranging from $500,000 to $7,200,000 or higher, depending on their size and proximity to lake or sandy beach.
If you’re looking for a knowledgeable guide to help you navigate the unchartered waters of Third Coast property buying, you’ll find an expert in Coldwell Banker Schmidt Family of Companies. A family-owned brokerage since 1927, Coldwell Banker Schmidt got its start in Traverse City — a sleepy summer beach town with vineyards, nature preserves and breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. It has since expanded to over 70 offices with over 1,400 real estate agents. The No. 2 Coldwell Banker affiliate now has offices in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, and recently completed an acquisition of Coldwell Banker St. Croix to capitalize on seasonal cross-marketing opportunities between the popular winter and summer destinations.
“Historically, we wanted to reach high-end buyers because we have such beautiful housing in the Great Lakes area, and we tend to attract a lot of buyers looking for second and third homes,” explains CEO Ken Schmidt. “Our luxury footprint has always been strong because we’re the largest brokerage in the Great Lakes area.”
That luxury footprint received a notable boost last April of 2017 when the Coldwell Banker® brand launched the Coldwell Banker Global Luxury® program. Now a year into its conversion from the 80-year-old marketing platform known as “Previews,” the Global Luxury program has brought a reign of new success to the 91-year-old affiliate. Luxury home sales priced from $500,000 to $999,000 increased by 22% for Coldwell Banker Schmidt from 2016 to 2017. Sales in the $1 million+ category also rose by 27% last year.
“Two of the biggest impacts for us have been an increase in our market share resulting in more sales, as well as the impact on our ability to recruit luxury agents,” says Tracy Bacigalupi, vice president of marketing. “Not only have our sales increased quite substantially over 2016, but we have been able to recruit exceptional individuals and teams to our luxury division. We have an incredible story to tell and the branding and marketing to back it.”
Adds Jeff Greenway, director of luxury: “We were very excited when they announced a year ago last December that they were rebranding the luxury division for the Coldwell Banker brand. We saw an opportunity to shine, and we were already doing a lot with the existing luxury program. We launched our new program April 1, 2017 and put signs in the ground on April 2, across three states. Coldwell Banker provided us with unbelievable marketing materials, and we totally embraced everything the brand brought to us. It’s a world-class program, inside and out.”
Greenway points anecdotally to several top real estate agents in the Michigan area either joining Coldwell Banker Schmidt or returning to the firm after leaving for other local boutique real estate brokerages. “We’ve recruited tens of millions of dollars worth of agents,” he says on account of the new program.
High-end clients in the area have also welcomed the new program. “It gives us more recognition in those communities that we want to do more business,” he says. “There is a better connection with the Coldwell Banker brand.”
No one is more excited about the luxury brand shift than Ken Schmidt. A fourth generation owner, he has happily expanded the traditions that his grandfather Harold started decades ago.
“I think he would have been surprised and proud by our achievements today,” says Schmidt. “When he started our company, there was just one office with eight people. There has been so much growth since then — and a lot, since my son, Mike, came into the business in the last 15 years. With the Coldwell Banker Global Luxury program, we have far better national and international resources now.”
Growth has not just been constrained to the company; it’s coming for the Third Coast market too. While the price threshold for luxury has remained consistent along the coast, Schmidt expects home values in certain high-demand areas, like Bay Harbor and Harbor Springs, to eventually increase.
“In Northwest Michigan, and I would say even the entire five-county area, the population is about 100,000, but in the summer it escalates to 200,000 and a large percentage of them own second homes in this area,” says Schmidt. “In the summer months, United Airlines and Delta offer expanded air service from Detroit, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis, because of demand. All throughout the summer, families are coming and going.”
The Coldwell Banker Global Luxury program has especially helped Coldwell Banker Schmidt in building brand awareness across all of the company’s feeder markets in Coastal Michigan and Coastal Florida. “Michigan people want to buy a Florida residence for the winter, and Florida people want to get away from the heat, and they understand the strong brand connection that we now have,” says Greenway. “When luxury buyers enter our marketplaces, they are typically coming from areas where there is a large Coldwell Banker presence. Now that this presence is branded as Coldwell Banker Global Luxury, they instantly recognize our company and our size. The new brand has been an absolute game changer for us.”