SOTHEBY’S: LUXURY AS AN EXPERIENCE – NOT A PRICE POINT

BY CHRIS TIESSEN

This story begins three decades ago, when Melanie McLennan and her husband Andy decided to buy a modest home in Guelph – one with rental income potential. What they ended up purchasing was far from modest, and instead sent them on a three-decade adventure that positively impacted the lives of thousands of folks from around the world. 80 London Road West. Or 75 Park Avenue. Or 138 London Road. The majestic 5,000 square foot historical Queen Anne Revival Style home – built in the late-nineteenth century by John Sully of Guelph’s Raymond Sewing Machine Co. – has, over time, had all these addresses. For the last thirty years, though, it’s simply been known by one name: London House Bed and Breakfast.

‘We had the time of our lives running London House,’ Melanie tells me one Friday morning in late March. ‘Not only did we raise our five children in the house, but we also hosted over twenty thousand people over nearly thirty years. Actors. Writers. Musicians. Dancers.’ She elaborates: ‘London House hosted festivals and retreats, and even served as set for a handful of TV shows and movies.’ Clearly fully engaged by the very history she is giving voice to, she adds: ‘It gave us our livelihood. And also enriched our lives and the lives of our children.’

‘But,’ Melanie tells me, her exuberant tone shifting, ‘every chapter must come to an end, and about two years back Andy and I decided we were ready to move on from the house – and the business. But we were both convinced about one thing: that London House must remain a bed and breakfast.’ That, as it turned out, was an assumption for which they found little support. As Melanie puts it: ‘It seems that it was simply too difficult for the people we dealt with in real estate to wrap their heads around the complexities of transferring a bed and breakfast business – deemed as a residential home-based business – from one owner to the next.’ As a result, she adds, ‘most bankers, insurance agents and realtors tried to dissuade us from selling London House as a B&B.’ Most. But not all.

Enter the Guelph Sotheby’s team.

It was after London House had languished on the market for way too long that Melanie and Andy decided to give the Guelph Sotheby’s team – including Julie Ashley, Irene Szabo and Julie’s husband Albert Ashley – a try. That move, Melanie says, changed everything: ‘The Sotheby’s team were the first folks who truly listened to us and respected our desires to keep the business going even after we’d left it. They developed three unique sets of marketing collateral for the house – including a package that specifically promoted London House as a B&B. They held grand open houses, and attended every single showing so that they could explain to potential buyers the intricacies of the place – including its potential as a B&B. They had London House listed on Sotheby’s ‘Fine Historic Estates and Properties’ site, and had two short videos created about the home: one detailing its features and one promoting its architectural details. So that she could effectively and accurately represent our multi-use property to potential buyers, Julie even made visits to City Hall with Andy and me while we confirmed that our home was approved for use as a Bed & Breakfast and that we were zoned residential [R1b], not commercial.’

Out of the ordinary as far as Melanie’s experience with realtors is concerned. But far from out of the ordinary for the Sotheby’s team, whose entire business model is focused on this type of extravagant attention to detail and lavish service.
‘When most folks think about Sotheby’s,’ realtor Julie Ashley tells me when I ask her and her colleague Irene Szabo about the Sotheby’s brand, ‘they conjure up images of European auction houses or – in the case of real estate – of sales and purchases of opulent regal estates.’ She pauses before adding: ‘And, in many ways, they’d be right. Indeed, for almost three centuries the Sotheby’s brand has been built on presenting – and selling – luxury to clients across the globe.’
‘What many people are not aware of, though,’ Julie adds, ‘is that Sotheby’s presents and sells every kind of real estate. Houses in your neighbourhood. Quaint cottages. Downtown condos. And everything in between.’ And Sotheby’s agents, in all these transactions, she assures me, ‘offer the same attention to detail and great service that’s become synonymous with the Sotheby’s brand.’

Adds Julie’s colleague, Irene: ‘We embrace the Sotheby trademark, fully understanding that for Sotheby’s, as we have come to know it, luxury is not a price point; it’s an experience.’
As for London House? It’s thriving under new ownership. As a bed and breakfast.

sothebysrealty.ca
@Sotheby’s Guelph