Mason & Morse joins Sotheby's network

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— Worldwide, the Sotheby's name is associated with luxury and distinction.

So when Sotheby's Inter--national Realty approached Mason & Morse Real Estate in Steamboat Springs about becoming a franchise, owners Tony Walton and Jim Somerville jumped at the chance.

"We look at it as an opportunity to better serve our buyers and sellers by leveraging that brand," Walton said.

Mason & Morse announced its transition into the Sotheby's real estate network and the company's new name -- High Mountain Sotheby's International Realty -- during a presentation Thursday.

Steamboat Village Brokers, a former affiliate of Sotheby's International Realty, no longer is associated with the network. Sotheby's is phasing out all real estate affiliates that don't become franchises.

Potential franchisees must be willing to make the transition and also fit within Sotheby's qualifications, as was the case with Mason & Morse, explained Philip White, senior vice president of Sotheby's International Real Estate Affiliates.

"They rank high in terms of sales volume and average sales price," White said. "They have a good position in the luxury market."

High Mountain, in return for providing Sotheby's a sturdy stake in Routt County's growing high-end real estate market, will advertise its properties in an extensive network that includes franchises in 256 countries.

In addition to its Web site, Sotheby's International Realty advertises in high profile newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and publications targeting affluent markets.

Sotheby's also produces its own magazine out of England called Preview.

"The name resonates throughout the globe," White said. "We can create a very high-end international referral network."

The Sotheby's company started in 1744 as a London bookseller. It quickly grew into a premier auction house for fine arts. Sotheby's expanded into the real estate business in 1976 and now has 30 franchises with 80 offices. The company, in general, does not auction properties.

At most, the company eventually may have as many as 1,000 franchise offices, White said.

"This brand will never be huge," he said. "Eligibility requirements keep that limited, which is a good thing because it keeps the Sotheby's name special."

Sotheby's enters real estate markets where average property prices are at least 150 percent of national averages -- which disqualifies about two-thirds of markets in the United States, White said.

In addition to Steamboat Springs, Sotheby's International Realty has franchises in Aspen and Telluride.

"We are not diluting the Sotheby's name. ... We will only be in high-end markets," he said.

Although Sotheby's counts very high-end properties -- including a $110 million estate in Jackson, Wyo. -- among its transactions, representatives prefer the word "distinction" when describing their listings.

Distinctive properties in Routt County may not be the most expensive on the block but they are unique or stand out in some way, Walton said.

"It's not just about high-end properties," he said. "It's about distinctive properties, no matter the price range."

About 54 percent of Sotheby's real estate listings sell for less than $1 million, and 27 percent sell for less than $500,000, White said.

Internationally, the average purchase price of a Sotheby's property is about $1.6 million, he said.

All High Moun--tain Sotheby's Inter--national Realty prop--erties will be listed on the Sotheby's network.

Sotheby's will continue marketing Sotheby's-affiliated properties already listed with Steamboat Village Brokers until the properties sell or expire, White said.

High Mountain Sotheby's International Realty has 20 brokers.

The company started under its former name -- Mason & Morse of Steamboat Springs -- in 2000 as a joint venture with Mason & Morse of Aspen. The companies amicably severed that agreement several months ago, Walton said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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