Shakespeare’s Juliet, something of an innocent, felt that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Today’s international property buyers, however, don’t entirely agree. Particularly at the top end of the market, they prefer their personal version of the latest gleaming tower or palm-fringed villa to come accompanied by a name they recognise. Although the financial crisis tarnished some of the oldest brands in banking, its effect on property was quite the reverse. Wealthy buyers, especially those from Asia, the Middle East and South America, looking for alternative havens for their cash, have packed their portfolios with a glittering array of new-built investments, most with a famous logo above the door.
“In markets where buyers don’t know who to trust, branding has a distinct merit,” says Joachim Wrang-Widén, senior vice president at Christie’s International Real Estate. “If you put a five-star brand in a relatively untried destination it inspires confidence in purchasers who might otherwise need a good deal of reassurance.”
Robbie Antonio, managing director of Century Properties Group in the Philippines, understands exactly what he means. Antonio has recently brought together architect Daniel Libeskind and the Italian luxury interiors group Armani/Casa in his latest project in Manila. Century Spire, a 60-storey mixed-use office and residential tower, is now set to command from $220,000 for a 35sq m suite – one of the highest prices per sq m ever achieved in this rapidly growing market. “Buyers all over the world are looking for interesting opportunities and they love real estate, but differentiation is the key,” he says. “In a mature market you don’t require a brand, but in an emerging one a development needs to be seen as a solid investment. Here, we had to sell the Philippines, making buyers understand why here, why now. A project like this elevates a country and contributes to nation building.”
Just as a new branch of Waitrose heralds the arrival of the middle class in a formerly ambivalent British postcode, so the presence of a private residence such as a W (apartments from $1.2m) in Israel’s Jaffa, or a Hyatt Regency (three-bedroom beachfront villa $1.532m through Vietnam Sotheby’s International Realty, in Vietnam, has helped ease the market in new property hotspots from Panama to Phuket. But a top-of-the-range signature brings benefits beyond redefining the property map. Even in the best-established locations, international buyers welcome the presence of brands that are known to guarantee an exceptional calibre of service.
The idea of linking residential space with a starry travel name is not a new one. Indeed, the iconic Sherry-Netherland Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue has operated a successful union with its cooperative apartments since the 1950s. Over the past 10 years, however, this form of liaison has become significantly more commonplace, providing busy international buyers with a convenient pick ’n’ mix of on-site support, ranging from catering, cleaning and babysitting to spas and sporting facilities.
“Many wealthy buyers have a hectic lifestyle and, in their second or third property, they prioritise convenience,” says Wrang-Widén. “They want their possessions around them, but they don’t want to worry about maintenance. A full concierge package allows them to enjoy a hotel lifestyle at home.”
Unsurprisingly, both in urban and resort locations, elite providers such as Kempinski, Aman and Mandarin Oriental have energetically entered the market, becoming known as much for their exquisitely finished privately owned residences as their deluxe hotel rooms.
“This is a trend that first became fashionable in Asia, but has increasingly spread to Europe,” explains Joanna Leverett, head of international developments for Savills. “Leading brands are hugely protective of their reputation and will only be associated with developers who have an excellent track record. Their involvement guarantees that a property will be properly finished and well run.” Savills is currently marketing two such ventures: the Mandarin Oriental villas (from £1.1m) in Turkey’s Bodrum and the Maçka Residences (from $940,000) in Istanbul, managed by Kempinski.
For developers, the financial model presented by branded residences is particularly appealing, since association with a well-known name will generally encourage purchasing off-plan, easing the burden of long-term building projects. At Century Spire, for example, which is due to open in 2018, pre-sales reached over 60 per cent before the launch in May 2014.
But branding also brings benefits to buyers, increasing the ease of both resale and letting. In hotel-related schemes, purchasers generally have the option of renting out their home through the hotel “pool” and, increasingly, can also swap time in their own personal space with a holiday location elsewhere in the chain. Even those who prefer to control their own rental revenue will find an associated hotel brand an asset.
“Many of our members, particularly couples travelling without children, will choose to stay in a property attached to a Ritz Carlton or an Auberge, for example,” says Giles Adams, whose company 3rd Home runs a members’ club of luxurious privately owned homes. “They want to kick back, relax and be pampered.”
Much of the pampering, of course, lies in the perfection of the interior design, and a number of recent developments have chosen to smarten up their image through a profitable alliance with some of the starriest names in fashion and jewellery, such as Armani, Fendi and Bulgari. Antonio, for example, has put together package deals not only with Armani/Casa, but also with Versace, Missoni and Hermès. “The approach was sometimes seen as novel, even by the brand, but we’ve found end users like to live with a designer label that they’re familiar with.”
They’re also willing to pay considerably more for the privilege of doing so. “You can see this particularly clearly in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai,” says Wrang-Widén. “Here, the Armani residences tend to sell for more than unbranded apartments in the same building.”
Sometimes, of course, the developers themselves becomes the brand, such as Northacre, Manhattan Loft Corporation or Candy & Candy. The latter is perhaps the most striking example of how a visionary USP can redefine an entire market. “When Candy & Candy started out in the late 1990s, London property was often shabby and shoddy,” says James Gilbert-Green, a partner at Strutt & Parker, which is currently selling a three-bedroom flat (£20.95m) in the Candy brothers’ London landmark, One Hyde Park. “They were the first to see the value of the latest technology and have gone on to establish a pre-eminence in designing and delivering some of the biggest houses and best flats, both in the capital and around the world.”
As well as every conceivable luxury, a development Candy & Candy has been involved with (such as the Du Parc Kempinski Private Residences penthouse overlooking Lake Geneva in Vevey, Switzerland, available as a single penthouse for SFr85m, about £55.6m, or as three separate penthouses, price on request, through Knight Frank) provides instant status – a status conferred, in part at least, by the rarity of the company’s projects.
“Purchasers at the pinnacle of the market want something unique,” says James Price, head of international residential development at Knight Frank. “Their priorities remain consistent: location, aspect and scale. For them, it’s not about the brand, but about what the brand brings.”
At this level of the market, the brand will almost always be expected to “bring” something exceptional in terms of architecture. This might be an English Heritage listing, such as that supplied by Northacre at The Lancasters, a thoroughly upgraded Grade II-listed stucco terrace overlooking Hyde Park (where Savills is selling a two-bedroom flat for £10.95m). More often, it will be the contribution of a celebrity architect. At One Hyde Park, Christian Candy and the project’s other developers enlisted “starchitect” Richard Rogers as part of the must-have package. Now, the Battersea Power Station Development Company has announced two equally signature names – Foster + Partners and Gehry Partners – to produce the 1,300 new homes (prices on request) in phase three of its reinvention of “South Chelsea”.
“Frank Gehry is an iconic architect and this is his first residential building in England,” says James Price. “Employing a name like his helps provide the project with the individuality buyers are looking for.”
Branding, however, can be as much about lifestyle as it is about look. When John Hitchcox founded Yoo 15 years ago, he wasn’t setting out to create a brand; his concern was to establish an environment for like-minded people. “It was a philosophy, rather than a marketing exercise,” he says. The primary tenet of this philosophy is that, while a home should be a nest or cocoon, the communal areas in any high-rise should provide a stimulating environment for all who live there. Hitchcox’s belief is that buyers in Yoo developments will often have common values, in the same way as members of a club. “Three of our buyers, for example – a music producer, an artist and an accountant – met while watching football on a Saturday night at a Yoo‑designed residence in Miami. Now they’re involved in a project together,” he says.
Today, Yoo – with its instantly recognisable high-style interiors, some by French design maestro Philippe Starck – has projects from St John’s Wood to St Petersburg, including the 56-storey Yoo Panama (apartments from $300,000).
Branded developments not only form the first step in “place making” in nascent markets, but can help buyers to perceive a well-established location, particularly a resort, in a fresh way.
Anthony Lassman, owner of elite travel and lifestyle advisory firm Nota Bene, has always had sharply attuned antennae for shifts in taste, and is now in the process of creating a new home for cool in Bermuda. “Bermuda used to be a fashionable destination, but in recent years it has fallen off the radar,” he says. “It’s perfectly located – around two hours from New York – has beautiful beaches and secure finance. All it needs is the right brand.”
Nota Bene is already well known to discerning travellers, and Lassman hopes to transfer the expertise garnered here to build a boutique hotel and real-estate destination that will appeal to exclusive, high-style cognoscenti. “We’re not looking for road shows in Dubai,” explains Lassman. “We want to create something along the lines of Costa Smeralda in Sardinia or Mexico’s exclusive beach resort, Careyes. We intend to control who buys here and create a community who use their homes, sit at the beach club and dine in the restaurant.”
Aman Resorts, of course, has a well-established track record of doing just that, and has brought its distinctive form of indulgence to a select range of locations, from Bali (where residences have sold for between $4m and $5.5m) to Wyoming (where residences have sold for $4m to $14m). Now it’s waving this wand in Greece to create the idyllic bespoke Aman Villas (from €3m) at Amanzoe in Porto Heli. Surrounded by olive groves, they will offer private pools and spectacular views of the Argo-Saronic Gulf. Even more desirably, owners will have access to a wealth of staff, from private chefs to housekeepers and chauffeurs, depending on requirements. In Greece, it seems, you can’t keep a good Aman down.