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Realty Firm Uses Sex Appeal To Sell Luxurious Homes

miriam-peters.jpg
Realtor Miriam Peters being photographed in one of her luxury home listings by photographer Leif Wombwell.

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110429.mp3

Correction Appended The sight of a sexy model in an ad for jeans or perfume or even appliances hardly raises an eyebrow these days. But a small Charlotte-area real estate firm is raising eyebrows a-plenty with its effort to sell luxurious mansions with sexy ads. Some say it's tasteless. The young realtors behind the plan say it's working. On location at their latest photo shoot, a blonde in tight jeans arches her back and tips a wine glass to her glossy lips. Her date leans closer, admiring. "Keep going," urges photographer Leif Wombwell. "Smile, both of you. This is great." She's lovely, but she's not what you're supposed to be looking at. Notice the enormous arched window over the kitchen sink behind her. Check out the detail on those cabinets and that expanse of gleaming granite countertops. The blonde is Miriam Peters. She's actually the realtor trying to sell this place. "The idea was to give people an idea of what the house could be at its fullest potential," says Peters. "House" is an understatement for this 8,600 square foot $4.5 million estate in Waxhaw. The photos of sexy models in bikinis by the pool and lingering around the kitchen in low-cut dresses are meant to get attention in the rarefied world of million-dollar real estate, which makes up just 1 percent of home sales in the region. Miriam Peters' husband Nick says in the high-end home category, sales aren't based on amenities like stainless steel appliances, beautiful flooring or large spaces. "They all have that," says Nick Peters. "You need to sell them a lifestyle image." Nick Peters is the son of a car salesman and a born marketer. Four years ago - just as the Charlotte housing market hit a peak and would soon begin to spiral downward - the Peters decided to focus their business exclusively on luxury homes. They sunk their life savings into building their Peters & Associates brand. They placed ads in high-end publications like Robb Report and worked to project the right image with their own lifestyle. "We've actually had clients call up and say, 'Oh yeah, we Google mapped your house. You have a very pretty home,'" says Nick. "They hired us because we live in the kind of houses they want to buy." But Peters & Associates wasn't selling enough to keep up. Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} By the middle of last year, the Peters had accumulated nearly half a million dollars in credit card debt and unpaid bills. They Nick filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. By August of 2010, Nick filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and listed nearly half a million dollars in credit card debt and unpaid bills (see correction). That's when Nick says they decided to spice up their home listings with a technique typically seen only in edgy cosmopolitan markets like Manhattan or Miami Beach. "We were very concerned and we thought, 'You know what? If we're gonna stay into this, we've got to come up with an idea that nobody else is doing that's gonna get the few buyers out there to look at our houses,'" says Nick. And people did look. When their first beautiful-models-in-big-houses pictures went up on the Peters & Associates website last fall, Nick says the site crashed twice under the traffic load. A million dollar listing they'd had for over a year finally sold. And then another. Many of their colleagues in the luxury real estate market reacted with horror. Most refused to talk on tape, but off-the-record they use phrases like "cheesy" and "side show." Lake Norman realtor Craig LePage doesn't criticize the Peters. He knows it's important to have a "hook" in sales. The Peters & Associates approach just isn't his style. "It's not something I would do," says LePage. "It's definitely gonna make someone stop and look at it. But once they're in the listing looking at the pictures, I think they're gonna focus a little more on the models rather than focusing on the home. And I think the bottom line is you want people to focus on the home." The criticism spooked the Peters. They'd spent years and all of their finances to build the company. Suddenly they worried maybe they'd taken it "to a level that Charlotte wasn't ready for yet." "And we backed off the lifestyle imagery and all of our business backed off with it," says Nick. So the Peters are back at it. A few hours into their latest photo shoot at the Waxhaw estate, homeowner Chris Walling wanders in and seems a tad bewildered by the crowd of models in bikinis eating chips and salsa around his patio bar. The Wallings are looking to downsize now that their kids are grown. Knowing how hard it might be to sell a $4.5 million mansion right now, Walling says they stumbled on a lifestyle marketing ad by the Peters and decided to give it a shot. "It caught your eye, I guess that was the best thing about it," says Walling. "It's a little bit different than the $200,000 range where there are hundreds of (homes) out there. So you gotta take a little different approach to market this." Peters & Associates is now using lifestyle images on eight of its listings and Nick says they plan to go even further by filming short movies in the homes. They'll be going for a fun, Oceans 11 feel, with lots of pretty, sexy people and a plot line that keeps them moving from room to room. It is, after all, an ad for a house. Correction Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} The original version of this story incorrectly said that Nick and Miriam Peters filed for bankruptcy. Only Nick Peters filed for bankruptcy. Neither Miriam Peters nor their company Peters & Associates filed for bankruptcy. Click pictures to view full brochures. View more examples: European Mansion Golf Masterpiece