After several years of living through a once-in- a-century, life-altering event, people of all stripes and creeds are reassessing what is important to them. One universal aspect of living is having a home to arrive at, one to exist and thrive and feel safe surrounded by quality, excellent design, and most importantly, loved ones. Rayni Williams, Beverly Hills’ hugely successful real estate agent and coordinator of over $8.7 billion in luxury home sales echoes these sentiments, stating that despite the pandemic, inflation or other uncertainties, buyers want to find themselves at home, surrounded by beauty, quality, safety, and a sense of belonging. Williams sat down with Hot Property: The Design Issue for further insight into what is driving the L.A. luxury home market, the hottest trends in home and interior design, and what potential buyers or sellers can expect for the future.
Q: What is the secret to your success? Give us an overview of your career, background and how you got started.
Rayni Williams: The secret to my success is hard work and dedication coupled with loving what I do. When I was just getting started and before I even had a single client, I was the first person in and the last person to leave. I incorporated marketing and knew early on that branding myself as an agent was my most important task. Before I landed in real estate, I was in lending. It didn’t fulfill me the way real estate does. I didn’t get the human interaction that comes along with helping people find their dream homes and creating a space for themselves and their families and friends. The process is intimate and ultimately requires someone who truly loves engaging and learning about people; what they truly want, what makes them happy and what makes them truly tick, everyone lives differently and finds comfort in different things.
The most important aspect of working with real estate is understanding people – understanding and getting into the psyche of buyers and sellers: This is what is needed to be a great agent. I have always had a deep desire and passion to understand the human condition and to help people. It is something that leads me along with my intuition to serving people and their housing needs because it is so much more than that – it’s more than just a home. It is about creating a lifestyle, understanding how one lives is the key component to their happiness. This is what makes a successful agent.
For me, it is this human interaction. It is “cracking the code” that allows me to be fulfilled in my career. I knew this early on when I realized just how much I enjoyed getting to know my clients and how deeply my relationships ran that this was the career for me.
Q: What makes a listing great? How do you select your listings?
Williams: A great listing is a great client – one I understand and can jive with; one I know I can guide and build their portfolio with my expertise and a real amalgamation. What’s funny is that when you are a new agent you don’t select your listings, your listings tend to select you. However, after being in the business for nearly 16 years and representing some of the most important properties in Los Angeles, I now have the luxury of selecting my own listings. What this process looks like for me: After touring a home and meeting the owners it is about a feeling, a connection, the belief that you can truly sell the home because you believe in it so much or love it even more. If I do not have a connection to the property or client, then I will not take on the listing. One thing I would say about listings that pertain to building a successful career in luxury real estate is that if you do not curate your listing portfolio exactly as you envision your brand to be early on, you will simply be a listing agent to whatever comes your way. From the beginning of my career, I did make a conscious effort to take on beautiful properties that helped to catapult my business into the luxury sector.
Q: How do you work with interior designers when featuring a property?
Williams: We work with interior designers all the time. It’s a pleasure adding extra talent to a project or having them add value for a client – style and design are always worthwhile in a property. I work very closely with interior designers, especially when they are attached to the property early in the development. If I am brought on as a consultant during the early phases of the development or a spec home, then I will usually recommend the perfect designer that will fit the aesthetic and vision of the developer. I have worked with almost every high-end designer in Los Angeles and from other cities. I consider it a huge benefit to have strong relationships with interior designers because it is one of (if not the most) important aspects of building a home. An interior designer brings not only the personality but the upscale finishes and pedigree that are needed to sell a luxury home. A well-designed home always sells for more money and usually faster than one that is not. The reason being buyers love to move into homes that are ready to go – the headache has been removed for them and they can start living.
My husband Branden Williams and I have always connected with each other through our love of design. In 2021 we will launch two projects through our design firm, Disco Volante, including a Hollywood Hills mansion with famed architect, Scott Mitchell. We have done a total of 13 design projects over the years, as passion projects and as just real estate agents that saw a void in the marketplace – details that were missing by male-dominated developers and a desire for true style and uniqueness that buyers were lusting for.
Q: How important is design?
Williams: Design is one of the top two most important aspects of selling a home. Design and functionality are what give the emotional draw to a property. Residential is very emotional. Unlike commercial real estate, which is very transactional, residential real estate is where they will raise their kids and entertain -it is one’s personal sanctuary. And emotions can only come out through design, therefore the home must resonate with the buyer and the best way is through design.
Q: What trends are you seeing in luxury homes in the L.A. market?
Williams: One big trend in the marketplace right now is beautifully done and fully furnished homes. One that only requires the buyer to bring their clothes and move right in. Most buyers (and most people in general) are so busy with their careers and families that unless they are professional home builders or developers, they do not have the skill set or desire to go through that process. Therefore, they would rather pay a premium for a home that is perfectly done for them.
Something else I am seeing in the market is a desire for vacation homes or “villas,” as our European clients call them. Buyers from all over the world love to visit L.A. and many of them come several times a year so, therefore, buying a villa in the form of a single-level modern view home or a penthouse in the sky, just to name a couple of trends, appeals to frequent foreign visitors. I see a lot of sales taking place around vacation homes. During COVID, a very big trend that I found was the large family home. One that has land and all the amenities that you would need to have a home that you wouldn’t have to leave, a gym, a hair and nail salon, spa, possibly a kid’s schoolroom or a multi-purpose room that could be used for homeschooling. This became a very big trend in 2020 and we are still seeing it today. The family home is in high demand.
In terms of style and design, buyers more than ever are well traveled, well educated, and worldly. Buyers love architecture, function, flow, openness and the ability to live the California dream. Now more than ever, the way a home flows is so important to the way you live, which ultimately leads to a great quality of life. For instance, if you are operating out of a small closet versus a wide-open closet where you can see all of your clothes, you can easily see the difference in how you are getting dressed and your functionality. Open kitchens, large closets and high ceilings are the most requested from my clients. When I would hear these requests, it was simple to understand why they all translate to easy living and good flow. Another common buyer need or request is safety and security. Almost all of my high-end homes have top-of-the-line security whether it is high-tech laser beams or panic rooms.
Q: How important is sustainability in design?
Williams: Sustainability in design is and has become more important as people have started to request organic, natural materials. Sustainability and design are at the forefront. Sustainability in design is and has become more important as people have started to request organic, natural materials. Some of my clients started asking for faux resin animal tusks after seeing them in my own personal home (pictured). We have learned more than ever just how important it is for a buyer to know and understand the materials that went into building their home. For example, organic, sustainable materials that are durable and timeless in their aesthetic are truly what people are looking for. This also goes back to the fact that buyers are well educated and understanding of what it takes to build these homes, especially in the luxury market. If you are buying a luxury home, you have either bought or built a home before; therefore, you know the difference, say, between a synthetic stone vs. an organic stone. It is hugely important.
Indoor and outdoor living and connection to nature is another hugely important aspect of design. The weather is one of the biggest pulls to Southern California and I find that buyers want to enjoy the wonderful weather with walls of glass and immediate access to nature and fresh air.
Q: We have heard the kitchen is “the heart of the home.” How important is kitchen design in luxury homes?
Williams: The kitchen is, in fact, the heart of the home. It is on the top-5 list of most important features. The reason being is that food, drinks, and fun all happen in the kitchen. That is why it is important to integrate the kitchen into the family room. It should be the biggest and best face of the home. No matter what the surrounding rooms to a kitchen are, the kitchen space will always trump every other room and therefore will be the most important room of the home. We have all seen the oversized islands with pull-up barstools; this is a design that I think will continue to be requested by buyers. Another fun feature that I have recently seen in luxury homes is a fireplace in the kitchen. It adds warmth and coziness to the design of this important room. And then, of course, it is all about the flow into the family room that is attached. That is the space that everyone will spend time going back and forth from, watching games and movies, relaxing, grabbing a snack or drink, and congregating in the kitchen. Because of the love for the kitchen, designers and architects have perfected it so that it is a very chic and aesthetically pleasing space.
Q: What are your predictions for the luxury home market in Los Angeles for 2022?
Williams: We all learned during COVID that being home is the most important asset and necessary place for all to have. We predict the market will continue to be strong as we will continue to face inflation. Investors and buyers alike understand the necessity of having a tangible asset – one that could be rented if need be. And most of all, family and home have become the biggest priority and that is a value that is here to stay.
The luxury market leads all markets because the buyers of the luxury market set the trends. We have found that the luxury market is very stable and relatively attainable in comparison to other cities and vertical markets where the price per square footage has soared compared to L.A.
My prediction for design trends in 2022 is that things are going to go back to a more simplistic and holistic design aesthetic, ones that are of the highest quality and the highest functionality and allow buyers to live with ease and feel light and happy and free in their home. I think buyers now, with this global market and such wonderful access to homes all around the world, desire more than ever a sense of simplicity coupled with fantastic quality.