The Wealth Scene chats to Mark Lightfoot, the founder of a new online property portal that is dedicated solely to ski properties from all around the world.
Can you give us a brief summary of your background and career to date?
I started my career with a firm of London stockbrokers. In 2003 I was made redundant and took the opportunity to travel around Asia, New Zealand and Australia, finishing with a season skiing in Chamonix, France. I have always loved being in the mountains and once the season ended I was determined to work in the ski industry and fortunate enough to find a position with a UK company who sold ski holidays across Europe, US and Canada. This was a vibrant industry where I worked with like-minded people who shared a passion for the mountains. In 2007 I moved to Asia where, for three years, I worked with CB Richard Ellis as a property broker. In 2010 I set up my own real estate agency which I eventually sold last year. The concept of SnowOnly came from my experience of running a real estate agency and developing that idea by speaking to many real estates agents in ski resorts, and seeing if they were experiencing the same things as I was in Asia, and they were.
Where have you skied and where is your favorite resort?
I have always loved Val d’Isere in France but for pure powder you can’t beat Niseko in Japan, an absolutely magical place. I have skied a lot in Europe, also, New Zealand and Japan because of where I live in Asia, but have yet to dip my toe into the snow of the USA or Canada.
What have you learnt from your time spent in Asia?
Asia opened my eyes to many different cultures and people from all walks of life. I was faced with new experiences and new challenges. The path that took me to Asia gave me the knowledge and the idea for SnowOnly and where it would fit into the ski property market, for that I am very grateful.
Where did the idea come from for SnowOnly being based in Asia?
I have always wanted to get back into the ski industry and whilst running my real estate agency it was incredible how many people I met who owned ski properties. Many of them were expats from Hong Kong and Singapore etc. A number of people I spoke to had problems selling their ski homes and were relying on agents alone to sell for them. As an agent, I realized that assistance in selling was necessary as there were always more sellers than buyers and we needed better access to more buyers. Agents or developers are not going to spend vast amounts of money advertising in unknown destinations when there is a viable business model for them from local buyers and local advertising; it seemed there was a need for much wider exposure in the marketplace to increase sales. Who was going to connect a seller in Aspen with a buyer in Hong Kong or a UK client looking for an investment in an upcoming market such as Niseko? By creating SnowOnly and offering a global range of properties, sellers and agents don’t have to advertise worldwide because we can do that for them.
Why do you believe that SnowOnly can work?
Firstly, we did a considerable amount of research which reinforced the idea that SnowOnly would work. Once I started talking to people who owned or were trying to sell property in ski resorts the same pattern recurred. What I found was, there were many parallels with real estate ownership in Asia. Ski resort properties and beach properties are a luxury and not a necessity; there will always be more sellers than buyers, without an efficient, centralized platform. Currently, it is not easy for buyers who have to surf through multiple websites to find suitable properties. It is not a very efficient process for sellers as there is always the fear from the buyer that there must be other properties for sale and they are not seeing the full range. By centralizing the ski property listings on one specialist platform we have created the exposure for the sellers to a qualified worldwide audience of ski enthusiasts.
What have been the main challenges with SnowOnly?
The main challenge has been having a company which is offering properties in every resort in the world. Our objective is to connect everyone who wants to buy or sell a ski property to a global customer base with maximum efficiency. However, sourcing the relevant data needed for every resort in the world proved quite a challenge as did designing a website which could encompass this data. The biggest challenge has been for my technical team who have created a website with custom coding which has taken a little longer than anticipated but in the long run will be more user-friendly.
What is unique or user friendly about the platform, tech etc.?
What I found, when looking at similar platform websites listing ski property, was that there was no information on the skiing or the resort which compliments the listing and gives valuable information to the buyer. In my opinion, it is helpful to know the cost of a lift pass, the distance of the slopes from your property, how many blue, red or black runs there are and how far the resort is from an airport. These are all things that would make life easier if it was on one website and that you did not have to scan the internet to piece together all the relevant information. We are unique because we are a ski property platform dedicated to skiing and not a property platform with some ski properties.
With SnowOnly there is one site to find a property anywhere in the world complimented by essential ski information. Our site is designed to enable the storage of relevant information on selected properties buyers have enquired about with an internal messaging service so you can refer back to any conversations that you have had with a buyer or a seller. All very convenient and all in place.
How do you plan to get SnowOnly seen by buyers and sellers of ski property?
We are fortunate enough to have the expertise of an award winning marketing company which will handle all the social media, SEO etc. We have also put together an extensive marketing campaign which will put us in front of all of ski enthusiasts who are seeking to buy a ski property. We have an extensive worldwide database which will create a very large impact from the outset of launching SnowOnly. We are confident that there is a market place for us and in a relatively short space of time we will be able to rise up the Google rankings. I have total confidence in our marketing team.
What does the future hold for SnowOnly?
We are about to launch so hopefully an upwards trajectory to start with and lots of happy buyers and sellers. But in an ideal world the ultimate goal is for SnowOnly to be the only place to buy or sell your ski property. The most satisfaction I would get would be to reduce the time scale for sellers once their property is listed. If we can do this we will have happy owners, happy buyers, happy developers and real estate agents, with a faster turnover and increased commission – high on the agenda for a broker. This would be an amazing achievement from our first concept to making a significant impact on the market.
Why should people use SnowOnly?
It is incredibly efficient at what it does; there is no need to look elsewhere. SnowOnly is there to list all properties in ski resorts all over the world thus making it an easy place for buyers to search for properties and a viable place to give property worldwide exposure for sellers.
Would you say you had a genuine passion for the ski property industry or more the thrill of the sale?
I certainly have a passion for skiing and love looking around properties. I have always admired the architecture of a traditional ski chalet and love being in the mountains. What excites me about this industry is that we are helping people to do what I would want to do. Everyone loves skiing and if you don’t you probably haven’t tried it yet. Could there be a better day than the one when you acquire a property in a ski resort, for you and your family to use whenever you want? At SnowOnly we aim to bring that dream closer.
If money was no object, where would you buy a ski property, what would type of property would it be and what would the likely price be? Please also explain your reasoning for that decision.
For the pure love of the resort I would probably choose Val D’isere, a beautiful 5 bedroom Chalet of around $5-6 M USD so it is manageable rather than something bigger, only a short walk from the après ski. It would be overlooking the piste and have a hot tub on the balcony. A place that my friends and family could enjoy whenever they wanted in winter or summer. This purchase would be for nothing more than lifestyle. If I was looking for an investment I would probably look to an emerging market like Niseko, Japan. Prices are still rising and there is a lot more infrastructure in the pipeline and the snow is amazing so it bodes very well for the future, Japan is very easily accessible from Thailand, HK, Australia and is a lot closer than heading to Europe so they have a huge amount of people with easy access.
Thank you for your time today Mark and good luck with the new website.
For more information visit: www.snowonly.com