A private residence in Beverly Hills, California. 
A private residence in Beverly Hills, California.  - 
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It used to be when you wanted to sell a house, you put up a sign in the yard and hosted a couple open houses. Not anymore, at least for the especially high-end stuff.

When a couple from Argentina visited Southern California recently, they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to live in Malibu or Beverly Hills, so a company called Heli-Realtors took them on aerial tour of homes in both well-to-do areas.

Of course, you could drive to the properties, but who’s in a mood to shell out tens of millions when they’ve just been crawling along Los Angeles freeways?

“You cut out the traffic,” says Matthew Gaskill, who sells luxury real estate for Sotheby’s. “You don’t spend two hours in the car just commuting from home to home.”

He says time is of the essence, because many buyers of the priciest properties these days are foreign — usually from Asia or Europe. They’re looking for a good investment in a market they see as more stable than home — plus a vacation pad.

“They may come to town for a few days to shop for a house,” Gaskill says.

Or, he adds, buyers may not come to town at all, preferring to browse listings from the comfort of an internet connection. As a result, Gaskill says real estate agents have to devote time and money to digital marketing. 

“We don’t put out any of our homes on the market these days without a video,” he says.

When Gaskill and his partner, Alisa Peterson, were selling a celebrity home, they commissioned a video showing what the estate looks like at sunset.

“It’s a Hollywood production,” Peterson says. “It’s actors. It’s a full day shooting. It’s large production teams.”

Peterson says the idea is not only to sell a house, but a lifestyle.

When a $35 million Malibu mansion went on the market, the seller hired a Hollywood director to make an elaborately short. “The Spider and the Fly,” as it was titled, was delivered to a few perspective buyers on gift-wrapped iPads.

But Peterson says bigger budgets are not always better. Glitz and glamour can work for modern mansions.

“Other homes you want to have more of a home feel,” Peterson says. “You want soft lighting. You don’t want a model rolling up in a Ferrari.”

Funding these movies and helicopter tours can take a substantial bite out of an agent’s commission; Peterson could shell out thousands and get nothing if a prospective buyer decides that Los Angeles is not for him.

“It is the cost of doing business, and you have to have an attitude where [you think],  "If I don’t get them on this one, I can get it on the next one,” Peterson says. 

Peterson just has to remember the next sale could bring a million-dollar payday.