Paul White of Four Seasons on branded residences & the new world of luxury living

INTERVIEW: One of the biggest names in luxury, Canadian hospitality giant Four Seasons has pioneered the concept and delivery of branded residences since 1985, and now operates 41 such schemes across 19 countries around the world – including the recently-launched Twenty Grosvenor Square in London’s Mayfair; PrimeResi spoke with the man now in charge of the global residential rollout about choosing the right development partners, setting new benchmarks, and the shift in expectations at the top of the market…

One of the biggest names in luxury, Canadian hospitality giant Four Seasons has pioneered the concept and delivery of branded residences since 1985, and now operates 41 such schemes across 19 countries around the world – including the recently-launched Twenty Grosvenor Square in London’s Mayfair; PrimeResi spoke with the man now in charge of the global residential rollout about choosing the right development partners, setting new benchmarks, and the shift in expectations at the top of the market…

In the newly created global role of President, Residential at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, White oversees the industry’s only fully dedicated residential team, along with development of new projects, planning and design, marketing and sales, and property management

In your newly created global role, you have responsibility for one of the fastest areas for growth for Four Seasons; can you break down the key attractions of branded residences over standalone homes in the eyes of HNWI?

With the expansion of global wealth, there has been a shift in expectations at the top of the market. Buyers are becoming increasingly more discerning, design-savvy and enterprising. HNWIs are also increasingly more driven by a branded luxury lifestyle and willing to pay a premium for the benefits of convenience. These buyers are not only looking for luxury and prestige, but also security, peace of mind and privacy. This is what attracts them to a Four Seasons Private Residence – it is the ultimate aspirational lifestyle experience, where owners can exclusively buy into a high-profile residential investment, in the best locations in the world, with access to Four Seasons legendary service and amenities, as well as world class property management.

Four Seasons entered the real estate market in 1985 with a set of branded residences in Boston; the company’s portfolio now encompasses more than 4,000 units in close to 20 countries, with the majority of future developments set to incorporate a residential component. Which are the key openings we should be looking out for in the year(s) ahead?

That’s correct – over 90% of our upcoming projects will have a residential component. We’re also adding to our exclusive collection of standalone Private Residences, the first of which was in London at Twenty Grosvenor Square. In the year ahead, we’ll open two standalone projects in the United States, including Four Seasons Private Residences Los Angeles and Four Seasons Private Residences San Francisco at 706 Mission Street – both projects are expected to achieve record pricing and reset the market in terms of architecture, interior design and innovative service offerings.

In the year ahead, we’ll open two standalone projects in the United States – both are expected to achieve record pricing and reset the market in terms of architecture, interior design and innovative service offerings

Unlike many other brands, Four Seasons also has a strategic balance between the number of resort and urban properties as well as across regions in the Americas, EMEA and APAC. This balance further solidifies the versatility of our brand, the trust we have amongst consumers and developers and also serves as a testament to the fact that Four Seasons service offering is recognized across all locations and markets worldwide.

Residential developments that have opened this year or will be opening in 2020 include: Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Montreal, Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences One Dalton Street, Boston, Four Seasons Resort and Private Residences Los Cabos at Costa Palmas, Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Bangkok at Chao Phraya River, Four Seasons Resort and Private Residences Napa Valley, Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Madrid and Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Nashville.

Four Seasons Private Residences at 706 Mission Street, San Francisco

Have plans for future growth been affected by the current economic and political uncertainty in territories like the UK, USA and Far East?

Regardless of economic or political climates, we continue to see strong interest in Four Seasons Private Residences, as we open properties in key destinations around the world. In fact, we’ve noticed that even during times of economic uncertainty, HNWIs tend to gravitate to Four Seasons branded residences due to the trust and strength of our brand, as well as the long-term financial and investment durability of a Four Seasons home.

How do you ensure residences appeal to a wide range of buyers, from young professionals, through to families and retirees – whilst ensuring that hotel guests and residents live in harmony?

Branded residential sits at the most competitive and innovative edge of real estate development. Enhanced product differentiation, more distinctive, innovative residential services and increased levels of homeowner recognition are becoming more and more important to buyers who are willing to commit to a residential purchase with a luxury brand.

We have some buyers who love the brand so much they have multiple homes and view it as a “trophy collection” of sorts

Real estate is “local” and we work with our partners to develop projects that leverage Four Seasons focus on creating global brand consistency, while also ensuring we align with both local market demand characteristics as well as exceptional product differentiation. This combination is what ultimately helps our brand to appeal to a range of buyers; in fact, we have some buyers who love the brand so much they have multiple homes and view it as a “trophy collection” of sorts.

As the ongoing property managers of our residences – we do not outsource to third parties like many other brands – we are able to protect the long-term value of the homes and maintain harmony across the hotel and residences. All homeowners benefit from Four Seasons world-renowned hospitality and customised, personal service. Each property has a designated Director of Residences and a team of Four Seasons people who become an extension of the home – catering to every need and making everyday life feel effortless. Oftentimes, we also have separate residence entrances, elevators and amenities which allows for enhance homeowner privacy and exclusivity.

Four Seasons Private Residences Los Angeles

What is the maximum number of Four Seasons residential units ever delivered at any one location, and how is the mix between hotel and resi determined?

At Four Seasons, we are focused on developing projects that align with market demand characteristics, focusing on the attributes that buyers want: quality, service, privacy, exclusivity and security. The mix of each development is dependent on the destination, the design of the building, and the demand of that market. We do not develop 2,000 unit complexes; rather, our projects range in size from 20 single family detached estate homes to iconic, skyline-changing residential towers. As an example, Four Seasons Private Residences Bangkok at Chao Phraya River, opening in 2020, will be the largest residential project from Four Seasons with 350 residential units.

What proportion of your purchasers originate organically – i.e. converting from hotel guests to owners, rather than via sales brokers?

Most of our new home buyers typically have an existing relationship with the Four Seasons brand by being a loyal hotel guest – which leads them to want to make Four Seasons service and quality part of their permanent everyday lives by “living the brand.” However, we also have a number of new buyers that come to us who are looking for the best lifestyle experience in that destination, which is something Four Seasons is well equipped to offer.

Roughly what proportion of purchasers buy their residences in turnkey condition – and are in-house design services available to those looking to personalise further?

Due to the fact that we work with some of the world’s most renowned “starchitects” and interior designers, buyers get the benefit of buying their residences finished and turnkey (albeit unfurnished). Although we rarely offer white-box units sold shell and core, many buyers choose to further customize their home to their own taste and needs.

Roughly what proportion of buyers use their Four Seasons apartment as a principle residence, rather than a second home?

Our homeowners tend to use their residences in many different ways, and this often depends on whether their property is located in an urban location or a remote vacation destination. Urban buyers tend to use their residence as a primary home; however, we also have many homeowners that use their residences as a pied-à-terre, part-time occupancy or as an investment property.

Four Seasons Private Residences Los Angeles

To your knowledge, have any Four Seasons Residences broken price records in their local markets? What is the highest price ever achieved by a single residence anywhere in the world?

We continue to establish new benchmarks in both developed and emerging markets in terms of pricing, architecture, interior design and service. This helps us attract best in class development partners and projects around the globe. Currently, we have a pipeline of $8B USD in gross sales revenue. To date, Four Seasons branded real estate has achieved prices that range from $10 million to over $70 million USD.

The villa and residence rental program is billed an ‘excellent revenue opportunity’ for residence owners; how important is this to the super-wealthy, and what kind of yields are being achieved around the world?

At Four Seasons, we are excited to have recently launched a new brand for our villa and residence rental program: Four Seasons Private Retreats. We have over 750 homes participating in our rental program with excellent participation and owner satisfaction rates. Homeowners who do choose to allow Four Seasons to rent their homes have the peace of mind to know that we manage and market the rental of their unit as caring for their asset.

The importance of this revenue opportunity varies from owner to owner and can depend on a number of factors, including, how many properties they own and how often and when they use their residence.

How do residents’ service – and service charges – at Four Seasons residences compare to super-prime but unbranded new developments?

Unlike owners in unbranded developments, Four Seasons private residence owners have full access to all the services and amenities of the hotel. This is part of what gives Four Seasons our competitive advantage. Living in a service-rich environment with access to hotel inspired amenities (even on a standalone basis) comes with a price and is oftentimes at or top of the market in terms of service charges. However, many of the services we offer to our homeowners are considered a la carte and paid for on a per use basis – which enables greater customization and personalization.

Four Seasons residences also have a dedicated Director of Residences to meet all their homeowner needs and desires. And we also serve as the property manager for our residential projects, ensuring our commitment to service, quality and excellence is maintained.

Amenities at Twenty Grosvenor Square

What has driven the recent blurring of the lines between hospitality and residential around the world?

Everyone wants to lay claim to “service and luxury” – which have become somewhat over-commoditized marketing terms in the residential space. Four Seasons competitive advantage is the fact that our residential business is a natural extension of our roots in hospitality and service. Through our decades of experience, we can leverage this core competency and execute a level of elevated, authentic service that has become the hallmark of our brand. We also recognize that our discerning buyers do not just expect a long list of trendy services; rather, they expect a quality, bespoke and meaningful service experience that is delivered in a thoughtful and elevated manner. This is what ultimately attracts HNWIs and is why we’ve seen great success in our residential business over the decades.

The first standalone Four Seasons Residences were launched in London’s Mayfair this year; are there plans to open standalone offerings in other world cities?

Four Seasons standalone residential projects are brand enhancing and add significant prestige to the company. As a brand, we are very particular with the markets we choose to open in, targeting the highest profile locations in the world. These residential products are unique in that they exist separately from our hotels and resorts. Residents can enjoy the best of both worlds with exclusive and private homes, along with the personalised service and hotel-inspired amenities that they have come to love when staying with Four Seasons around the world.

Two standalone properties – Four Seasons Private Residences Los Angeles and Four Seasons Private Residences 706 Mission Street, San Francisco – are opening in 2020. As well, we will soon be announcing a new standalone project in Washington, DC – an exciting addition to our portfolio that will sit next door to the renowned Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC in Georgetown.

Four Seasons Private Residences at 706 Mission Street, San Francisco

Going by the end result at Twenty Grosvenor Square, the tie-up with Finchatton looks to be the perfect fit; how did the partnership come about, and are there any plans to further this relationship with other projects?

We prioritize working with the world’s highest profile development partners and most renowned architect and design teams, and we were thrilled to partner with Finchatton on our first standalone residences at Twenty Grosvenor Square. Since Twenty Grosvenor Square is such an iconic landmark, it was especially important for us to work with a firm that was so committed to respecting and revitalizing the building to the highest quality, and we found that partner in Finchatton.

What do you look for in a development partner?

We aim to offer a world-class product in the best destinations, in the best locations in the world, so we seek developers who can help us achieve this. It’s important that our partner’s goals are aligned with ours, with a focus on the location, architectural stature, interior design and unparalleled amenities. We work closely with our development partners throughout the process to be sure that our brand’s high standards are met, and that we can seamlessly maintain those standards as the property managers.

Twenty Grosvenor Square

You’ve previously described yourself as “the luckiest guy in the world”; what makes your job so enjoyable, and what advice would you have for someone looking to achieve success in the branded residences sector?

At Four Seasons, our team gets to work on some of the most incredible high-profile projects in the world – projects that continue to raise the bar when it comes to quality, location, design and service. Layered on top of these critical fundamentals is the Four Seasons brand – a brand that has always been guided by strong values and a passionate drive towards delivering a one-of-a-kind lifestyle experience for its guests and residents. And so my advice is simple: it’s all about finding a brand that aligns with your values, passions and lifestyle aspirations. For me, there could be no better fit than Four Seasons.

Are you allowed to have a personal favourite among the Four Seasons resorts?

I’ll answer this the same way I do when I get asked which one of my children is my favorite: every single one of our residential and hotel or resort properties are unique and hold a special place in my heart. However, I am incredibly excited about some of our upcoming residential openings, including in Napa Valley, Los Angeles and Madrid. In Napa, we are the only resort property within a winery, offering an incredible culinary experience for guests and residents. In Los Angeles, we will be opening an incredible standalone residential property in Beverly Hills that is sure to be a celebrity favourite. And in Madrid, at our first property in Spain, residents will be living within beautifully restored historic landmarks within the heart of the city’s Canelejas district. In the next five years, Four Seasons will be opening some of the most incredible private residences in the world, and I’m tremendously excited to be a part of this incredible growth for our company.

Further Reading