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painting a luxurious picture

For Terry Sprague with Sotheby's International Realty, each listing is a work of art
by: VERN UYETAKE This home in West Linn overlooking the Willamette River is in a gated community and was one of Terry Sprague’s listings. It sits on a private 17 acres, Sprague said, and is Hamptons-inspired. It was listed for $5.5 million but was recently leased by an NBA client.

Even though the world seems to be spinning faster than usual when it comes to media technology, Lake Oswego real estate broker Terry Sprague still believes in one simple thing: a photo. Making it available everywhere? Even better.

It's almost as if he talks to his listings, saying, 'Why try to fit in when you were born to stand out?'

And that's exactly what he tries to do with each home for sale through his company, Sotheby's International Realty - let one simple photo entice the homebuyer's curiosity to know more.

As a satellite of the Bend, Ore., Sotheby's office, Sprague and his team with The Terry Sprague Group spend their days at their office overlooking Oswego Lake on McVey Avenue, but their listings pop up on people's cell phones, iPads and computers internationally each day quite purposefully as part of their global marketing campaign.

With most listings at more than a million dollars, their brand caters toward high-end clients who can collect houses like they collect art. In a company survey of 1,666 American clients, Sotheby's found that their client's average income was $348,000 with an average net worth of $3.7 million.

'We're dealing with an upper-end of the economy that is affected differently by the cyclical events of the economy,' Sprague said. 'Buyers are still looking for value but are also willing to pay for unique, one-of-a-kind properties in a less commoditized mind set.'

Staying ahead of the curve

In addition to creating a website or local print or digital advertisement for a home for sale, Sotheby's creates global connections with clientele through fast, mobile digital campaigns - splashing photos of its luxurious listings at the top of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Telegraph's websites, to name a few publications.

'Our 2011 collaboration leads with an exclusive sponsorship of The New York Times' signature iPad application,' he said, noting the Sotheby's presence on those pages. And when someone visits the real estate section of those websites and inquires about one of his listings, Sprague gets an alert on his cell phone. 'We've gone to where the consumer is getting their information.'

Sprague said he specializes in high-end listings and the relocation of executives and professional athletes and their management teams. Some of his clients are from the Sports Star Relocation program - www.sportstarrelocation.com - including NBA players and management. Sprague said he likes to give 'concierge service' to his clients as they relocate to the Portland area.

'I pick them up at the airport. We drive around. I show them schools and ... really pay attention to their spouses,' Sprague said. 'It's important to work with the family and understand their needs - build the lifestyle around their family.'

And it's important to paint a picture for homebuyers looking to buy in the Portland metro area as well as at the Oregon Coast, where Sprague has listings. Instead of viewing real estate as a regional profession, Sprague said that he noticed about three years ago that 'major sales were becoming less of a lateral movement - not the guy who wants to move from the canal to the main lake.'

'With the economy,' he continued, 'everyone seemed to get stuck where they're at.'

In fact, most of the buyers Sprague has worked with lately are from out of town, which is one reason why he enjoys his three-year affiliation with Sotheby's. With offices all over the world, Sprague said linking 'his clients into this network' has been valuable.

'How does a guy that's moving from Vietnam with Nike find out about real estate in Oregon? Sotheby's has an office in Vietnam,' Sprague said. 'If it's a guy in China that goes to Hong Kong and looks up my listing in Lake Oswego, it's both currency and language converted.'

Creating brand awareness is important to Sprague. His said his clients are looking for superior quality, exclusivity and properties with social status. While some of the company's significant sales in 2010 included a $31 million French Normandy estate in Connecticut, a $46 million ranch in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, a $26 million 19th-century Mayfair house in London and a nearly $14 million beachfront Palladian estate in the Bahamas, Sprague said he is passionate about showing folks what Lake Oswego has to offer.

'To (clients), this is Mayberry,' he said. 'It's almost like pie is delivered to your door when you move to town.'

Like any real estate agent, his website - www.theterryspraguegroup.com - showcases his properties for sale through splashy imagery, something the company is known for. In fact, the company started in 1744 as an auction bookseller with the Sotheby's Auction House. Branching out to include art, antiques, jewelry and - in 1978 -real estate, Sotheby's now has 550 offices and nearly 12,000 sales associates in 44 countries.

'If business is just business, it's boring. The reason why I work outside the box when it comes to marketing,' he said, 'is that I'm constantly trying to figure out how to reposition my clients as the economy constantly changes,' he said.

For Sprague, that means reinventing himself but using the same principles.

Real estate is an art

Before moving back to the Portland area a handful of years ago - he is a native of North Portland - Sprague spent six years in Antigua where he owned Heavinly Hill Art Gallery, with locations within the famous Nelson's Dockyard on the Caribbean Sea and the another at Pelican Point.

'Pelican Point was a 10-acre estate overlooking two beaches on each side. Every Friday night we had live music and lobster barbecue with a sunset over Montserrat and the Caribbean ocean,' Sprague said, who also displayed his artwork there.

He's now using many of the principles he used in the gallery with real estate. He said that each home has a 'uniqueness and artfulness.'

'We sell a lifestyle,' Sprague said of Sotheby's. 'We sell extraordinary homes for extraordinary people. When people would come into our art gallery, for instance, you could have a piece of art that 100 people would walk by but one guy comes through and says, 'I get it. I want it.' I'm looking for that type of homebuyer that 'gets it and wants it.''

For some of his buyers, purchasing homes is just an investment and sometimes, he said, they live halfway across the world and may write an offer sight unseen.

'It's not normal,' he admitted. 'Looking for someone in Portland that can afford a $3.6 million house (could, perhaps, more easily be purchased) by a guy that sees great imagery online and wants to own it.'

It all comes back to imagery and that feeling of belonging with a house. For Sprague, houses are more than walls with a roof - they're pieces of art. That's why clients provide so much information about their house for sale, such as its history, architect, best view, what will be missed, favorite details and momentous happenings at the property.

'What's the difference between a Picasso and a normal painting? What's the square footage on a Porsche verses a Hyundai? There are certain products that are just not part of the commoditized real estate market,' Sprague said.

Sure, he said he wants to price his listings competitively, and that goes for all price ranges. While he specializes in luxury homes, Sprague said he also works with first-time homebuyers and price points under a million dollars.

'It's like the guy who can't afford a good attorney. Wouldn't it be great to have the best representation when you're buying or selling?' he said.

Sprague said that, no matter what the price point, he transforms each listing into 'a Sotheby's listing.'

'People think of Tiffany's as a $20,000 diamond place ,but you can get a $250 bracelet in the velvet pouch and have the same experience, a high-end concierge-based business,' he said.

For more information, visit www.terrysprague.com.