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Premier Sotheby’s International Realty expands to Charlotte

Premier Sotheby’s International Realty has opened an office in SouthPark, the luxury real estate company’s first location in North Carolina, a sign of confidence in the market’s higher-end sector.

The office marks the Naples, Fla.-based company’s first expansion outside Florida. The company said entering Charlotte made sense because Florida and Charlotte are feeder markets for one another.

“Charlotte is an ideal location for our firm as many of our current customers already choose to reside in Florida during winter and North Carolina in summer,” Judy Green, president and CEO of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, said in a statement.

Charlotte, she said, “uniquely matches the profile of our footprint in Florida.”

Alan Banks, president of the Home Builders Association of Charlotte, said the new office is an encouraging sign for the luxury market.

“Somebody believes this market is really rebounding,” he said.

Premier Sotheby’s is an affiliate of Madison, N.J.-based Sotheby’s International Realty, which according to its website has eight offices in North Carolina. None of Sotheby’s International Realty’s offices are in the Charlotte area.

The Lutgert Cos., the Naples-based parent company of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, has been active in North Carolina for years. In the 1980s, Lutgert developed Linville Ridge, a residential golfing community near Blowing Rock. Premier Sotheby’s represents homes in the community, which Lutgert still owns.

Lutgert is not part of New York-based auction house Sotheby’s.

A grand opening for the SouthPark office, at 5970 Fairview Road, is set for Friday.

The arrival of the company in Charlotte comes as the area’s luxury home market continues to recover from the housing downturn.

Alan Simonini, adviser for Charlotte-based Simonini Homes, describes Charlotte’s luxury home market as “not great,” although he said it has been improving.

Last year, Simonini Homes sold 15 luxury homes in Charlotte, he said. But some builders in Charlotte were building six times that much in 2007, before the housing bubble burst, he said.

During the downturn, many companies that built luxury homes in Charlotte fled the industry, he said.

“Some are coming back,” he said. “Some left and are not coming back. There’s a lot of new builders that popped up in the last year.”

According to data from the Carolina Multiple Listing Services, sales of homes for more than $1 million apiece in Mecklenburg County and the Lake Norman and Lake Wylie areas have not returned to pre-downturn levels. But sales have risen from lows they hit during the downturn.

In Mecklenburg County, for example, 211 homes for more than $1 million each sold last year. That’s below the 265 in 2006 but above the 96 sold at the lowest point of the downturn.

Simonini Homes has about 20 homes under construction, including in SouthPark, Eastover, and Lake Norman and Lake Wylie, Simonini said.

The area needs more high-paying jobs to spur additional luxury home sales, he said. “What makes homes sell is jobs.”

‘It’s an endorsement’

Banks, president of the homebuilders association, said the Sotheby’s office signals that Charlotte’s overall housing market is getting healthier.

“It’s an endorsement,” he said. “I think it signals that the luxury market is back, and for the luxury market to work the markets underneath it must work.”

An improvement in the luxury home market signals that there are move-up buyers who are able to sell their lower-priced homes, he said.

“They have worked up through other homes, leveraging their equity into the next one, and for that to happen we have to have buyers really at all price points.”

Rising home prices in Charlotte and elsewhere are helping homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth to regain equity. That puts them in a better position to sell and move up to a more expensive home.

On Thursday, real estate data firm RealtyTrac said 13 percent of Charlotte-area homeowners with a mortgage were seriously underwater. That’s down from the 17 percent the firm reported in September.

RealtyTrac defines a home as seriously underwater if it is worth at least 25 percent less than what is owed on the property. Researcher Maria David contributed.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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