LPS CHINA TALKS – Episode 2 – Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker
Born in Shanghai, self-made woman, Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker has become one of the most successful leaders in the California luxury real estate industry.
In addition to being a successful real estate entrepreneur, Ms Decker is also a luxury home investor herself, having owned many properties in the U.S., UK and France, including the famous French Chateau Villette, setting of the Da Vinci Hollywood movie.
LPS: Dear Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker, thanks for joining this interview. You were born in Shanghai, and you have become one of the most successful luxury real estate professionals in the United States. When you first started your career in the U.S., did you foresee that you would reach such heights?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: In 1975, I moved to Belvedere-Tiburon which is the most affluent area on San Francisco Bay. I set out to selling only luxury homes in 1979 but without any experience. I didn’t expect that I could become super successful. I worked day and night and provided free decoration service to sellers’ homes that needed to dress up for better look to sell.
I helped buyers to join the yacht clubs and helped to enroll their children to best local schools. I drove clients to airport when they fly back to Asia and other locations. Eventually I earned the respect and trust of the local homeowners. By 1986, I became #1 agent in United States at then the largest real estate company Merrill Lynch Realty.
In 1988, I left Merrill Lynch Realty to start my own company and grew from one office company to now 27 offices and over 670 agents and staffs.
LPS: You currently own Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty with 26 offices in Northern California. How important are Chinese buyers in your overall sales? And how do you foresee the importance of Chinese buyers on the San Francisco Bay Area luxury real estate market in the coming years?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: I started in early 1980s with very few Chinese clients and mostly American Clients. But since China became a world economy powerhouse last 20 years, Chinese has been most important source of luxury home buyers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley where I have 9 offices.
In 2018, I sold the highest price home in Silicon Valley at $23.5 million to a Hong Kong buyer and this January, I sold a $18 million home in San Francisco to a Chinese buyer that’s highest sale so far this year.
LPS: Everyone has its own definition of what is a luxury home. What is yours?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: Luxury home by price range in the San Francisco Bay Area is at least $8 million. They also need all the luxurious amenities, style and high quality. They should be in great locations and near center of luxury lifestyle and vibrant business, culture and entertainment activities such as San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
LPS: How would you describe the profiles of your Chinese buyers and the specificities of their requirements compared to your other buyers?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: My Chinese buyers are very savvy, they are owners of successful businesses, they buy unique homes in the most desirable areas and expected that I negotiate the best deal for them.
They also own multiple homes. One of my Chinese buyers own homes in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Vancouver and bought 6 homes through me in Napa Valley and Belvedere on San Francisco Bay.
Most Chinese buyers also bought homes fully furnished in turn-key condition. They don’t want to remodel or fix anything and they prefer new homes. Also, in San Francisco Area, the views are very important, luxury homes should have great views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline and the Bay.
LPS: Which advice would you give to Chinese luxury property buyers willing to invest for the first time in the San Francisco Bay Area?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: For the first time Chinese luxury property buyers, they need to work with a knowledgeable trust worthy professional agent to guide them in search of the best property to suit their needs at best price.
Shopping on internet or work with a friend’s friend who is an agent is very risky. First to identify a location they want to buy and set a price range, then search for homes that meet their needs and taste. There is no need to rush into buying until the best home is found.
Some of my Chinese buyers took 2-3 years before they finally bought a home.
LPS: What are the main challenges that you are facing when dealing with Chinese buyers, and how do you overcome them?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: The main challenges are the long distance and the limited time they can come over to visit the properties.
Often times, a great property at great price get sold very quickly, Chinese buyers who can’t quickly travel to visit the property missed the chance buying it. They can visit the property on the website photos and video, but the luxury homes really need to be appreciated by a personal visit.
One other problem is they are not familiar with the various neighbors and locations and the various values differences. They also tend to listen to their friends instead of listen to professional real estate agents. It takes a lot of time to educate them not to make mistakes.
LPS: You have recently acquired Haute Living, a luxury lifestyle magazine. Can you tell us more about it?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: I was Ambassador of Haute Living magazine San Francisco since 2008. I covered the luxury events and wrote about them every issue for 10 years.
In 2018, they finally sold me the franchise for San Francisco and Northern California. I have been improving the magazine every issue for 2 years now and it has become the leading luxury lifestyle magazine in United States.
The magazine fits my luxury real estate business perfectly. Many of my magazine subjects are my clients who are movers, shakers, business leaders, celebrities and philanthropists.
It was easy for me to pick up the phone and call someone I wanted to feature on the cover of my magazine. The magazine opens up all the doors. For example, in 2018 I attended Prince Albert of Monaco Foundation’s Monte Carlo Gala for Global Ocean, I was very impressed with Prince Albert’s missions in saving global ocean and decided to write a cover story. I emailed the Prince’s office and his press secretary called me immediately and provided me information and photos for the article.
I am considering to interview Queen of England for my cover story when she turns 100 years old. This issue, my cover story is the legendary Sophia Loren who is 85 years old and still looking fabulous.
LPS: You often come back to Shanghai for business or leisure trips. Have you kept a special bond with the city?
Ms. Olivia Hsu Decker: I love Shanghai, it’s the most interesting and colorful city in the world.
I owned French chateaux in Paris and Provence, I lived in villas in Lake Como and Sorrento in Italy, I own luxury residence in London and four homes on San Francisco Bay, but nothing as exciting as Shanghai love the Bund and the French Quarters and the fun shopping areas and food markets, amazing restaurants, the sky scrapers, the city lights at night on the harbor. So colorful and full of life.
Shanghainese are super smart business people and we have good eyes for real estate investment.
When I bought my first French chateau in Aix-eProvence, my friends warned me I would go broke owning a 17th Century chateau which cost a fortune to remodel, to furnish and to keep up.
When I bought my second 17th Century chateau in Paris, my friends thought I was insane. But, I did a great job and when I sold them in 2011, I made almost 10 times profit over my cost.
My biggest regret is I didn’t buy properties in Shanghai 25 years ago before values went way up. I would like to buy a luxury boutique hotel in Shanghai.
About LPS China:
LPS is Asia’s largest international property expo, with annual editions in Beijing and Shanghai. Since 2010, LPS is uniting China’s elites with the world’s most respected real estate companies. www.lps-china.com