Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be anything new under the sun, an entirely unique real estate experience arrives on our shores. The company is Engel & Völkers, a wholly redesigned concept born in Germany. The two people responsible for bringing this innovative concept to Minnesota are Geoff Bray and Lindsay Bacigalupo.
“It’s all about the experience,” says Bray, co-owner and broker of Engel & Völkers Minneapolis. “Who doesn’t enjoy being treated to unsurpassed, red carpet service?”
Founded by Christian Völkers in 1977, this boutique-style concept quickly grew, earning a distinguished reputation throughout Europe for delivering high-end services to an exclusive clientele. Today they are recognized worldwide for their singularly unique culture of exclusivity, competence and passion. These core values are shared by thousands of dedicated professionals and serve as the driving force behind the growth and success of this sophisticated brand.
It’s immediately apparent that this is one brokerage with a completely new approach. Even the proprietary terminology underscores the focus on service. For example, offices are identified as shops, subtly inviting people to leisurely browse. You won’t find any “agents” here either, and there’s a very good reason why.
“We might be the only group of licensed real estate professionals who actually take immense pride in the fact that we advise our clients as opposed to selling them something,” says Bray. “I like to say that we don’t ‘agent’ our clients, but ‘advise’ them instead. It’s not a tangible thing we sell, but the feeling that people get when working with one of our advisors. Not only is it replicable, but it’s worth talking about.”
As 50/50 partners Bray and Bacigalupo, since opening their first shop in the Twin Cities in 2015, have continued to grow and expand to the three locations they now operate. “Ultimately, what drove Lindsay and I to buy the franchise and bring Engel & Völkers to our region was for the sole purpose of bringing a luxury experience, no matter what the price point might be. Our clients will attest that they enjoy a white-glove, VIP experience regardless of the size or market value of the property.”
Born in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Geoffrey Bray has fond memories of the small community of Spearfish but considers Minnetonka, Minnesota his hometown.
“I was about 8-years-old when we moved,” says the charismatic REALTOR, “and I instantly fell in love with everything about Minnetonka, especially the people. I know ‘Minnesota Nice’ is a term that’s casually bandied about, but for me it’s a perfect description of the people here. I really love our community, and except for the few years while I was attending college, I’ve never left.
“When my wife Jessica and I started our own family, we agreed that we wanted our children to have the same wonderful experience growing up here,” he adds. “I’ve traveled many places throughout my adult life, and although admittedly the winter can be a little tough sometimes, it’s impossible to find better people.”
“We might be the only group of licensed real estate professionals who actually take immense pride in the fact that we advise our clients as opposed to selling them something.”
An exceptional athlete, Bray attended college on a baseball scholarship. Studying kinesiology, his aspirations were to eventually work in some capacity that would help other athletes improve their bodies and performance. Graduating magnum cum laude from Concordia University-St. Paul, Bray went to work for Velocity Sports Performance.
“We trained athletes of all ages,” he says, “and I got into the sales side of the company selling training packages. Our clientele was extremely diverse. At one end of the spectrum we trained 8-year-old kids wishing to boost their baseball skills and at the other end, 20-something collegians preparing for NFL tryouts. So, it was a full gamut.”
With an apparent affinity for sales, Bray also worked for a short while as a sales representative for a surgical device company. “That was really quite fascinating,” he notes. “I actually got to be in the operating room with surgeons as they performed various procedures using devices our company sold.”
CHANGE THE WORLD COMPLEX
Part of Bray’s charm lies in his disarming, self-deprecating humor. Far from the arrogance that so many highly successful people seem to adopt, Bray remains true to his earnest and unaffected Minnesota roots, achieving that often elusive balance between confidence and humility. When explaining how his career path veered from the sports arena to real estate, he’s both candid and droll.
“My transition into real estate really came from this 25-year-old’s ‘complex’ convincing me that I could radically change the industry for the better,” he says with a grin. “I had just bought my first house and the transaction was terrible. The entire experience was very stressful and left me with a bitter taste. I just didn’t feel that it needed to be that way and was determined I could do better.”
Unfortunately, his timing couldn’t have been worse. It was late 2006 on the eve of one of the industry’s most devastating debacles. Harrowing though it may have been however, Bray has no regrets.
“I wouldn’t trade when I started, and what I experienced, for anything,” he says. “While various established, seasoned professionals were going through some of the hardest times of their career, I was blissfully unaware. I had nothing to compare it to. The way the market was then was my first experience as a real estate professional so for me, it just was what it was.”
In retrospect it was obviously trial by fire, jumping in as multitudes were fleeing. Having not only survived but actually coming out the other side with a flourishing business and a “fireproof ” work ethic, Bray feels grateful that he hadn’t launched his real estate career any earlier.
“Maybe if I had entered real estate a couple of years earlier the drastic change might have been discouraging. Getting a new listing wasn’t difficult because everyone wanted to sell, but the market was so saturated, so every sale was a challenge. Fast forward nine years and the situation has done a 180-there are plenty of eager buyers but very small inventory. In the decade that I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen a couple very different markets, but they each present their own challenges. At the end of the day, the strong survive. Those who are willing to work are the ones who make it through.”
“Keep your eye on the prize,” is a familiar adage, and one that Bray embraces. Bray’s “prize” has always been to ensure his clients have an experience that is the antithesis of what his own was. Rather than basing his success on the number of transactions or his bank balance, Bray’s yardstick has always been the overall customer experience.
“I’d never put much thought into becoming an agent or someone who ‘sold’ homes,” he clarifies. “My decision to get into real estate was not a financial one. My goal was to make sure that my clients would never have the kind of experience I went through. In fact, I wanted to be known for providing the best experience. Nothing to do with price points. Nothing to do with how much or how little they pay me, but at the end of the day they’re happy with the experience.”
A NEW EXPERIENCE
Engel & Völkers currently operates a global network of over 9,000 real estate advisors in more than 30 countries, offering both private and institutional clients a professionally tailored range of luxury services. Committed to exceptional service, Engel & Völkers supports its advisors with an array of premium quality business services; marketing programs and tools; multiple platforms for mobile, social and web; as well as access to its global network of real estate professionals, property listings and market data. Each brokerage is independently owned and operated.
Locally, Bray and Bacigalupo continue to seek and implement the very latest in technology to assist their growing stable of advisors who in turn strive to continuously elevate the world-class experience for their clients.
One of the most spectacular and innovative additions to the downtown location is their Virtual Reality Theater. A first-of-its-kind offering in the Minnesota real estate market, the new VR theater welcomes clients to use Oculus Rift goggles to view any home listing in 3D that has been photographed using VR technology. The 110-inch theater screen allows a viewer’s friends and family members to immersively view listings through the eyes of the individual wearing the goggles simultaneously.
“We are absolutely thrilled to open our new VR theater, which is the perfect opportunity to combine technology with one-on-one service,” says Bray. “Virtual reality offers real estate professionals the opportunity to uplevel client experiences in previously unimaginable ways. Be it around the corner or around the world, viewers can step into a listing simply by putting on the VR goggles. The immersive viewing experience has the potential to be truly game-changing for the real estate industry, and we’re proud to be on the cutting edge of technology and innovation that allows us to better service our clients.”
Maximizing the use of the latest in communication/ marketing technology, Bray also hosts his own lively and very informative podcast “Bray Chats” which is available on ITunes. Featuring an impressive list of interesting guests, Bray’s popular podcast embraces his own philosophy of facing challenges head on.
“Adversity is overcome by tenacity, and many of the people we speak with share the ability to overcome many obstacles to get to their ultimate achievements,” he says of his program.
From their online presence to their strategic partnerships and the basics that continue to prove their effectiveness, Engel & Völkers Minneapolis continues to raise the bar in the way properties are sold and bought, in the unmistakable experiences they provide to clients, and in the tools and support offered to their advisors to make achieving their dreams possible.