For Gary and Michelle Dolch, luxury is their livelihood.
The husband-and-wife pair have been selling real estate in Central Texas for 18 and 16 years, respectively. They’ve made a name for their brokerage group, Austin Luxury Group, by selling homes at the highest price points, from $1 million up to $50 million. And their star is rising steadily.
The Dolchs' are familiar faces on some of the most prestigious lists in town, including the Elite 25 and the Platinum Top 50. They were agents with Sotheby’s International Realty before becoming founding agents for Compass in Austin in 2018.
Gary Dolch remembers one of his first days in real estate as an agent with Moreland Properties. He sat with his team at the back of a banquet hall during the Austin Business Journal’s Residential Real Estate awards, watching the winners receive their honors.
“I watched all these people trail across the stage collecting these trophies and awards for their success and wondered what in the world it would take for me to be able to get there,” he said.
Austin Luxury Group won the category for teams of two to three agents in this year's Residential Real Estate Awards with 2021 closed sales of more than $162 million. They did that off of 61 transactions, and their largest sale approached $12 million.
You two had some interesting business experience before becoming Realtors. Gary, you were a car dealership manager and founded multiple businesses before the age of 30. Michelle, you owned and operated a restaurant and bakery. How did your experiences in these industries help you when you entered the real estate world?
Gary: I found the car business to have so many parallels to real estate. I was paying my way through college, but I found that I was really good at it, and I enjoyed it. There was a car dealership on every corner, so the reason people came back was because you were knowledgeable about your product and you handled your business. That of course holds true in the real estate market.
Michelle: My many years of experience in the restaurant industry made my transition into real estate relatively seamless. Both businesses are customer based and revolve around pleasing people. Whether a customer is planning an event or just sitting down for a nice meal, the expectation for great food, exceptional service and a memorable experience is of utmost importance. Most of the time they are selecting a restaurant or caterer based on reputation or referral from a reputable source. Similarly, clients in the luxury space may come from an agent referral and are seeking someone with a great reputation, in-depth market knowledge and someone who will provide exceptional service.
What is different about the process of selling luxury homes? How do you hone that skill?
Gary: We openly focused on educating ourselves in that market before we dove in. It was a challenge, of course. Everything we did was trying to produce a luxury level of service. We made it a point to understand the stock market, understand what different companies are doing in Austin — because if we run into the CFO of a new company that's coming to Austin, we need to understand what their company is. We’ve always been really in tune with the business side of Austin, and who's moving and shaking and who's coming here, and what the stock market's doing, and how that affects the industry.
Michelle: The client purchasing a luxury home is typically more sophisticated around the process. It's imperative that you are a good listener and precise problem solver and have knowledge of what is coming to the market. Many luxury homes sell before ever hitting the market, so it's imperative to be in the know and have good working relationships with fellow luxury colleagues that list these homes.
Do you remember the first luxury listing you handled?
Gary: I remember when we made that leap. Back then, of course $1.5 million was nothing compared to what the market is today. But back then it was huge.
We got a listing on Lake Austin, and, gosh, we held onto that listing with both hands. It was also during the economic downturn, so that was a big challenge for Michelle and me. It took us a year to sell it, just because of the condition of the marketplace at the time. We held on as tight as we could and knew we'd have to be able to sell that to really prove ourselves. We were very fortunate to finally have gotten that done and ended up helping the seller purchase another home. She was so amazing and gracious, and we've maintained a friendship with her to this day.
How have y’all altered your work style in the past two years?
Michelle: We have tried to find a balance with the influx of new business, but we have put our heads down and embraced the opportunity that has been presented to us. I think the biggest change to our business has been the number of buyers we've worked with. Although we've always helped buyers, we have primarily been listing agents in years past, but that shifted in the past two years and buyers contributed to 50% of our business. We've also added another assistant to our team and have put some new internal processes into place. Although there were many days of complete exhaustion, we continually count our blessings and have embraced the opportunities that have come our way.