Cristal Clarke: Expert Tips for Buying Luxury Real Estate

Because I am recognized for having had more than three decades of success assisting financially successful buyers and sellers of high-end residential real estate that expertise, I am asked all the time how a discerning homebuyer looking for luxury real estate should begin their search.

First, determine where you want to live. Today it seems, many affluent homebuyers are considering, Montecito, a beautiful California community adjacent to Santa Barbara, and where I live and represent clientele. While there are other incredible places to live in the world, none of them draw comparisons to the Mediterranean coasts of Italy, Spain, and the South of France quite like Montecito. Anyone with the financial means and desire to live in a gorgeous world-class setting can find exactly what they are looking for here.

In fact, Montecito is one of the best markets today for luxury real estate buyers. Located just 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles, along California’s Pacific Coast, Montecito has lots to offer. The list includes secluded hillside and coveted oceanfront estates with breathtaking ocean and mountain views, sun-drenched pristine beaches, the perfect Mediterranean climate and much, much more.

About Montecito
Some of the most beautiful homes in the world can be found here, nestled in the hills above the Pacific Ocean and with a backdrop of the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains.  Luxury homes in Montecito are spacious and situated on large lots. It is not uncommon for homes to provide from 3,000 to more than 20,000 square feet, and to sit on up to several immaculately landscaped acres where swimming pools and spas, pool cabañas, guest cottages and studios are commonplace.

If one were to specify a “traditional” architectural style here, it would undoubtedly be Mediterranean. Red tile roofs, stylish white adobe walls, arched doorways, French windows and doors, and garden fountains abound. You will also find classic vintage and contemporary estates, mid-century modern stunners, and ranch-style homes, among others.

The market today is quite buoyant in Montecito. Most properties cost between $2 million and $5 million, with ultra-luxury estates in the $10-50 million price range. Currently, the most popular price bracket is $4-10 million, while buyers usually expect to pay in excess of $5 million for an ocean view. The most active market segment, however, is under $5 million.

Finding the Right Agent
A real estate agent’s full-time job is to act as liaison between buyers and sellers. This means he or she will have easy access to luxury properties – both publicly listed and offered privately. Whether you choose Montecito or another affluent community, it is critical to work with a respected agent who possesses in-depth knowledge of the specific area and market segment you are interested in. After all, real estate is local. Your agent should be, too.

Property websites such as® have directories that let you search for agents anywhere in the United States. These databases can clue you in to important details, such as an agent’s years of experience, number of homes sold, and past client reviews.

If you are working with a licensed real estate agent like me under an agency agreement, your agent is bound by law to a fiduciary relationship. In other words, the agent is compelled by license law to act in their clients’ best interest, not his or her own.

In addition, most Realtors rely on referrals and repeat customers to build the kind of clientele base they will need to survive in the business. That means doing what is best for their clients should be as important to them as an individual sale.

Interview Potential Agents
Don’t be afraid to interview several real estate agents before you select the right one. During the interviews, these questions will help assess whether an agent is the right fit you:

  • Do you work as an agent full-time?
    As it is in most professions, experience is no guarantee of skill. That said, much of real estate is learned on the job.
  • How long have you been in the business?
    Generally, the more experience an agent has, the more they’re tapped into the local market.
  • How many homes have you sold in the past year?
    You want someone who has recently sold at least a few homes in your dream neighborhood and knows the local and hyper-local inventory.
  • What’s the typical price range of homes you sell?
    Most agents work across multiple price points, but you don’t want an agent who has never sold a home in your range.
  • What’s your fee?
    An agent should be able to articulate their value and explain their commission rate.
  • Will I, the buyer, be working with you directly, or with a team?
    Some agents lead or work as part of a sales team. The lead listing agent shares client responsibilities with other agents. Where one agent may handle private showings for a listing, another may host open houses. A benefit is that for the same fee, you get many people working for you. But if you want the sole attention of the listing agent, you may want to stick to a one-on-one arrangement.
  • Will you provide full-time service?
    Whether you are working with one agent or a team, ask how responsive they can be to you, your timeline, and your goals.

I highly recommend you do not hire a friend or relative. For one thing, if the home-buying process isn’t going well, you may need to fire that person. That could be uncomfortable. Instead, look for someone with priceless worldwide contacts and superior negotiating skills as well as extensive knowledge of your chosen area.

The Importance of the Internet
Your agent should be internet savvy. Yes, even buyers in the luxury sector search the internet to begin their hunt for a new home sweet mansion. Overall, 94% of homebuyers start their search online.

That statistic is not so surprising. It’s hard to find an industry that has not yet been affected by the surge in computer and smartphone use. Real estate is no exception. With that in mind, you can see how searching for a qualified professional should include questions about their use of technology. After all, viewing properties via online portals is certainly a good first step in a buyer’s thought process prior looking at a home in person.

But more than that, many sellers today require buyers to look at online marketing materials such as photos, floor plans, and videos or virtual tours prior to showings. For example, my comprehensive website offers a wide variety of information on all my exclusive listings — and more. Besides real estate intel and virtual tours, buyers can find everything they need to know about local communities, and amenities such as schools, recreation options, and cultural venues.

There’s an App for That
I’ve also personally created an important tech innovation solution for my discerning customers. In my quest to the be the best, I’ve launched the Montecito Properties App, designed to make buying and selling in upscale Montecito easy, even from your phone. My goal is to make finding your dream home in Montecito, or any of the upscale areas of Santa Barbara, a breeze. I hope buyers will be thrilled to have easy access to information they would otherwise have to search the web to find.

Users of my app can access property and location statistics, for example, or search for homes by everything from type of flooring to size of the backyard. Available on Apple for use on iPhone and iPad, and Google for Android devices, potential homebuyers can use the app anytime and keep up to date on new houses hitting the market, upcoming open houses and recently sold homes.

Cash or Loan?
While low interest rates have made buying with all cash less of a draw, at the highest end in major markets across the country, cash is still king. And for good reason. A cash offer with proof of funds (POF) faces fewer stumbling blocks in escrow and is more likely to close. Anyway, whether paying in cash or getting a mortgage, every home buyer needs a POF document in the form of a letter, bank statement, pdf, screenshot, or other document proving that a person has the financial ability to close a real estate transaction.

Paying cash for a home means you will not have to pay interest on a loan, and you avoid any closing costs. On the other hand, a mortgage provides tax benefits and leaves more cash in the bank for the buyer. Still confused? Your financial planner can help you decide. The bottom line: when determining whether cash or a mortgage makes the most sense, opt for the choice that gives you the bigger bang for your buck.

I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to buying a luxury home. If you are looking to move to Montecito or any of the upscale communities in Santa Barbara, please give me a call at +1 (805) 886-9378 or email me at


About the author

Cristal Clark represents the highest level of clientele and specializes in the sale and acquisition of extraordinary estates and land in Montecito, Santa Barbara, Hope Ranch, Summerland, Goleta and Carpinteria. As a leading individual real estate agent in all of Santa Barbara County for average property sale price, Cristal was named the #1 Individual Agent in the entire Santa Barbara MLS last year with total sales in excess of $155,000,000.



0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Susan Hartzler
3 years ago

Excellent tips for anyone looking to enter the luxury real estate space. Thanks, Cristal Clarke!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x