Luxury homebuyers can now get an art collection as part of the deal

When Paul Lester joined a luxury real estate agency in Los Angeles, he decided to organize a Beverly Hills property viewing with a difference: he effectively turned it into an art opening, inviting prospective buyers of the home — and those who might be interested in purchasing the artwork he displayed in it.

Individual artworks sold, and so did the property — for a premium. “We were successful in selling the house I would say for a more of a valued number than you might expect, because the entire package was seen as elevated,” Lester told CNBC by phone. The buyer also purchased some of the art displayed.

That was more than a decade ago. Since then, Lester has made it his mandate to feature “significant” work by contemporary artists — alongside designer furniture — in the high-end properties he’s listing, which is often available to buy.

Lester, a partner at real estate firm The Agency, is currently selling several new-build luxury homes in Beverly Hills designed by architecture firm Olson Kundig, and has a put together a “full collection” of art in a handful of them.

The homes — known as The Houses at 8899 Beverly — start at around $5 million. Rather than simply being “staging” pieces brought in temporarily, the art and furniture is also available to purchase, Lester said. The Agency worked with consultancy Creative Art Partners on the homes, which feature work by a number of artists, including Michelle Mary Lee, an arts educator, and Irvin Pascal, a British sculptor and painter.

Homes that are ready to move into, known as “turnkey” properties, are becoming popular with buyers. “We do see people more than not right now — especially with new construction — wanting an entire package that works well,” Lester said. “There have been circumstances where people walk in and say ‘I want this room … I’ll take the furniture and I’ll take the art. I absolutely love it this way and is that possible?’ And we’re able to say ‘yes it is’,” Lester said.

The trick with choosing artwork for such properties is to make sure it works well with their interiors, said David Knowles, founder of art consultancy Artelier, which supplies art for real estate projects in the U.K., U.S. and the Middle East.

“It’s hard to get a kind of uniqueness and a character across if what they’re selling is a turnkey project, because the … art has got to appeal to a wide audience,” Knowles told CNBC by phone. “The art needs to feel like it belongs there,” he said.

To do that, Artelier might commission pieces that have a connection to the area the home is in, and has artists make pieces that will precisely fit the dimensions of the space. This tends to work better than borrowing work from a gallery to display in a home temporarily, Knowles said.

Lester’s team discusses whether the art should match a home’s design or contrast with it. They might chose a colorful palette for a more monochrome property, or a mix of abstract work and portraiture, Lester said. Work is sometimes commissioned for properties; other times, Lester might ask artists whether they have pieces available in a particular color.

Artelier has sourced artwork to hang on the walls of some of the world’s most prestigious addresses, such as London’s One Hyde Park, the residences at the Dorchester’s One at Palm development in Dubai, and for an apartment within Eighty Seven Park, an oval-shaped Miami beachfront building designed by Renzo Piano.

London developers are keen to appeal to overseas buyers looking for vacation homes in the city, Knowles said. The consultancy is commissioned by interior decorators or real estate developers to source artwork for wealthy property buyers who “know what they like, and they have got good taste. Or they’ve got someone that works for them that has got good taste,” Knowles said.

Artelier is often the bridge between artists and developers or property buyers, groups that “come from two different worlds,” Knowles said. He works with artists to help them understand that their work can be seen as a luxury product and that clients expect something “exceptional.” At the same time, Artelier might explain to clients that something like a bespoke ceramic piece is likely to have imperfections, such as finger marks.

For Lester, the artwork in The Houses at 8899 Beverly creates an additional opportunity for marketing. “We’re about to start … a campaign, which is going to highlight the artists … which I’ve found to be very effective. So in effect, you’re getting another opportunity to tell the story about the home because you’re telling the story about the art as well,” he said.

The Houses are comparatively more affordable than other properties Lester has on his books. “I have several right now that are privately being offered … The house might be worth let’s say $60 million, $70 million, but the artwork in the house is probably worth $200 million,” he said. Buyers at that level might inquire whether the vendor would consider selling one or two of the artworks, Lester said.

While real estate agency Savills doesn’t often sell art as part of a property deal, the company’s co-head of prime central London, Richard Gutteridge, advises clients to leave artwork on the walls during viewings.

“It is an accessory that a lot of people do identify with. At the top of the market, it’s a layer of [that] lifestyle,” he told CNBC by phone. Gutteridge oversees sales in what he calls the city’s “golden postcode” — Belgravia, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Mayfair. He said a home’s art collection is occasionally worth as much as the property.

“As much as that helps the [sales] journey, it’s quite nice when [buyers] refocus on the house … The artwork often turns people’s heads,” Gutteridge said.

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