Just Won’t Do

Luxury housewarming gifts when coupons

just won’t do

By Mary Umberger

LuxeBox is a high-end collection of gifts and design tools for affluent new homebuyers.

CHICAGO — When most of us move, we might expect to receive a few coupons in the mail from local merchants, extolling their services and welcoming us to the neighborhood.

But in the proverbial “The Rich are Different from You and Me” category, we have the LuxeBox, a welcome-to-the-neighborhood offering for homebuyers who have more than a few bucks to spend on upgrading their newly acquired homes.

“Some people have called us Welcome Wagon on steroids,” said Mike Ruskin, vice president of sales for Sandow, publisher of Luxe Interiors + Design magazine and several other design-oriented publications. His company has dreamed up the LuxeBox, which is 15 pounds of greetings and goodies from designers, remodelers, and suppliers of cabinetry, carpeting, home electronics, and just about anything else a homebuyer could dream of for the new abode. Sandow recently teamed up with real estate brokerages around the country to hand-deliver the LuxeBox to their clients who have just bought or are about to close on properties priced at $1 million and up.

“The idea is to put our (magazine) clients in front of somebody who needs their products and services,” Ruskin said.

The practice of cozying up to recent arrivals in the neighborhood isn’t new: Welcome Wagon (a company not affiliated with LuxeBox) created its widely recognized brand in 1928 by having representatives make get-acquainted visits to newcomers in order to introduce them to local businesses. Years ago, it shifted its efforts solely to direct-mail marketing.

The idea of courting recent movers hasn’t changed: If anything, it’s more commercially advisable than ever before, because homebuyers in all price brackets spend buckets of money in the first six months, according to numerous researchers. In 2012, for example, the real estate website Zillow calculated that 21 percent of all recent movers spend $10,000 or more on furniture, appliances, etc.

And in the upper brackets, it’s almost routine for new owners to consider substantial changes in order to put a personal stamp on their new home, Ruskin said.

“It might be a bathroom re-do, it might be a kitchen freshening — there’s always something being done,” said Craig Hogan, city division director of Coldwell Banker Previews in Chicago, one of a half-dozen Chicago brokerages who recently began sending out LuxeBoxes to their million-dollar buyers.

Hogan explained that it’s a basic tenet of real estate that though the deal may have closed, brokerages are always looking for ways to help their clients remember who they are for future needs and referrals.

“It gives us an opportunity to be in front of the client one more time, in a very, very nice way,” he said.

How nice? Well, it surely goes beyond a few coupons: The company estimates the cost of an individual LuxeBox and contents at $500. It contains a design portfolio and linen-wrapped attache that features the work of numerous designers, furniture and accessories showrooms, etc; there’s a case for an iPad (but not an actual iPad, sorry) that’s also meant to store notes, tear sheets, etc., on interior design ideas; custom monogrammed stationery; a Fred Segal limited-edition throw; a membership in a private concierge service that connects consumers with design professionals; a stainless-steel measuring tape, and more, Ruskin said. A subscription to Luxe Interiors + Design will follow after receipt of the LuxeBox, he said.

The program launched in Chicago, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas and Palm Beach, Fla., in December, and introductions in Texas (Houston and Austin), California (San Diego and San Francisco), Arizona and Colorado, were planned in January. In all, LuxeBox will go out to affluent new homeowners in 20 areas by the end of the year, he said.

His company sees this expansion as a vote of confidence in a reviving real estate market, particularly in the upper brackets.

“I travel the country in my job, and real estate agents, custom builders — all of the luxury market — they’re feeling much better than they have over the past few years,” Ruskin said. “They have work that’s planned out for six to 18 months from now.”

Data from the National Association of Realtors bear that out. The trade group’s sales numbers showed a steady increase in million-dollar-and-up sales throughout 2012, hitting an eye-popping 51 percent year-over-year increase in December. Analysts pointed out, however, that much of that end-of-year activity may have been spurred by fears of fiscal-cliff related tax-law changes, and they suggested that December’s sales numbers may be a flash in the pan — in essence, borrowing from sales that would have occurred in 2013.

“That’s possible,” said Hogan, whose Previews division within Coldwell Banker specializes in high-end properties. “We definitely had some sellers who wanted to get done by the end of the year, and it wouldn’t be the first time that the housing market borrowed from future buyers.

“But I do believe we’re seeing a resurgence on the high end,” he said. “I can’t believe that just tax incentives could have fueled that kind of increase nationwide.

“And I don’t think billionaires are dumb.”