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Q&A: Philip A. White of Sotheby’s International Realty Talks Technology, Amenities, and Major Sales

The CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty discusses key trends from the last 30 years.

One57, New York City Photo: Travis Mark

As a part of our Best of the Best 30th anniversary coverage, the president and CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty walks us through real estate’s highs and lows of the last 30 years.

What has changed the real estate industry the most in the last 30 years? 

Technology. There weren’t even computers in real estate offices 30 years ago. A truck would pull up each month and deliver phone-book-sized catalogs of homes for each MLS—there are 900 regions in the U.S. that are in the MLS system—and that’s how you’d know what homes were for sale. Today, mobile accounts for 80 percent of real estate searches.

How have buyer wants and needs evolved? 

Some things haven’t changed. Location is still key. A good neighborhood, good investment, good street . . . it’s always important. We went through a period in the mid-’90s that gave birth to the McMansion, where people would build as big a house as they could on a too-small lot. Those have been getting torn down more and more. Now, it’s not about sheer square footage but about customized square footage, more of a jewel-box concept. People really get inspired now by home-design shows and social  media, and they want their home to be personal.

Continuum, Miami

Interior details  Photo: Continuum

What about amenities? What’s important these days? 

For a while, there were these homes with every amenity imaginable: a movie theater, a wine cellar, an indoor basketball court, a bowling alley, a spa. . . . When it comes time to resell, finding a buyer who appreciates everything the former owner did can be hard. That said, almost every buyer now looks for an open floor plan in the main living spaces and privacy in the bedrooms, with each having its own full bathroom. Smart homes are important, too, and environmentally conscious homes that don’t overuse electricity are popular.

What have been some of the biggest sales in the last 30 years? 

The most significant sales in New York City have included a condominium at 15 Central Park West that sold for $88 million in 2011—a record at the time—and, more recently, One57, which cracked the $100 million barrier with a penthouse sale. In Miami, Continuum on South Beach, which was built in the early 2000s and continues to be one of the area’s most exclusive developments, set a record in 2012 with the sale of a $25 million penthouse.

Which real estate markets remain strong, and which are ripe for growth?

New York and California will always be strong. Newer markets that are hot right now are Nashville, Denver, Portland, and Seattle.

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