If you have never been to an Apple Retail Store, do yourself a favor and stop in the next time you are in a city that has one. Those of us in Charleston are eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Apple Retail Store on King Street, just a few blocks from our new dunes properties location, The Real Estate Studio, also on King Street.

Apple knows what the customer wants and they prove it with astronomical sales numbers all over the country. They know it’s not just a product we want; I can buy an ipod almost anywhere now. They know we want an experience when we shop, in a welcoming environment, one where we tend to stay awhile. They know we want information, without obligation. And boy oh boy do they deliver. You have to see their store to believe me.

About three years ago, while visiting New York City, I stopped by the Apple Retail Store. It was Apple’s first NYC location in SoHo and my wife, Kristin, (an Apple techno nut if there ever was one) insisted we visit.  I was amazed.  The staff was courteous, knowledgeable and knew when to leave us alone; but they were always available to answer any question or demonstrate their products. They even had a learning center towards the back where customers where sitting, discovering new applications and even more technical details of the computers they had purchased. The place was alive with people playing on all kinds of gizmos. I did not want to leave. It was not long after returning to Charleston that I purchased my own Apple computer.

So, why can’t that work with those interested in real estate, I thought?  I mean, haven’t we in our profession been ignoring our customers’ real needs for too long? We have known forever that those looking to buy a home, condominium, or homesite wanted good information, and details without obligation, but somewhere along the line our profession believed you had to pay for it with your name and phone number. Honestly, have you ever walked into a real estate office dreading every moment, since you just knew an information card was waiting to be completed before you could talk to someone?  You know the drill; ask for a list of properties, then wait to be assailed by an agent who will try every trick to get you in the car. And I am sure many people leave a real estate office thinking the information received may have been limited or not quite complete.

So, give credit to Apple for our idea: THE REAL ESTATE STUDIO.  Once I saw that space in New York City, I began thinking how their idea could be adapted to better serve a visitor’s need for complete, detailed information about our real estate market in Charleston.  What began as an idea, quickly became a real plan. But first, where in Charleston? We have offices on the Isle of Palms, Folly Beach and Seabrook & Kiawah island. What better place than the center of Charleston’s historic shopping district. Almost everyone visiting Charleston will walk down King street at least once during their stay. So, we picked the center of all activity across from Saks and Brooks Brothers and just three doors down from Charleston Place. Then, with well-known architect Neil Stevenson’s help and Heidi Walker’s interior consulting, we designed a very cool, comfortable space with a technological edge.  Using many large, wall mounted, plasma TV screens and software designed to mesh all the latest search applications (including the Multiple Listing Service, Zillow, Trulia, Google Earth and others), we created a space where anyone can see every property available in a matter of minutes. Compare that to two days in a car, all over town, hearing all about your agent’s life story.  Also, keeping what the customer wants in mind, we chose a concierge to introduce the simple, point and click-ability of our customized search software instead of an agent.  Our concierge staff aquaints our guests with the listings interface, answers techincal questions, and best of all   only ask question in return…… coffee, tea or lemonade?  We even copied Apple’s learning center and created a “tech-desk’ with Apple computers just so our customers can privately check their email or get a quick work detail in, while away from home on vacation.  Charleston is known for its hospitality and The Real Estate Studio was built to reflect the Holy City’s demeanor.  Just like an Apple Retail Store, you have not seen anything like this before, or so we are told by all who have visited us over our first year. Those wishing to sell see The Real Estate Studio as an advantage over the same old same old, since the screens display professional videos of our exclusive listings. A large, private conference room with a separate garden entrance is offered to the business community for meetings and those clients whose homes we feature. Always on display at the Studio is art and sculpture from known and not-so-known local artists.  We host events and art openings, occasionally with live music since The Real Estate Studio and Staff support the Charleston Symphony through donations from each sale downtown.

Our concierge also assists our guests with their plans to return to Charleston; from Oceanfront homes or beachfront condominium accommodations, or though our affiliation with Charming Inns, offering Charleston’s finest Bed and Breakfast Inns, golf, dining, sailing, fishing or plantation hopping.
The whole idea behind the Real Estate Studio was to give our customers and clients what they have always really wanted: complete, detailed information in a relaxed non-threatening space, with no obligation. We at dunes properties have always believed that professional service, courteousness, patience, creativity, well thought out marketing and great information is what the customer wants and will always win the day. So, from the start twenty years ago, we have always offered more, much more, than one could expect from just another real estate office. So, with a little inspiration from Steve Jobs and Apple, dunes properties created The Real Estate Studio.