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Palm Springs, Calif., the quintessential desert playground with 100 golf courses and more than 300 days of sunshine each year, was once the exclusive playground of movie stars. But times have changed.

“Over the years, the Palm Springs area has become a fun and laid-back second-home destination for affluent buyers from near and far who want to vacation in this posh desert getaway,” says Lucio Bernal, founding partner of Coldwell Banker’s Bernal-Smith Group, who purchased his first Palm Springs vacation home more than 20 years ago.

Bernal, who began his career in the Pacific Northwest on the business-technology side of real estate, became licensed in 1998, when he realized he was far more passionate about buying and selling property—specifically, high-end property—than he was about the business end.

L to R: Lucio Bernal with business partner Jon Smith

He was also passionate about teaching; with his partner, Jon Smith, Bernal became recognized as a luxury home authority with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. It was a short step for Bernal to begin sharing his expertise with other agents via The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing (The Institute)—the premier pathway to earning certification as a Luxury Home Marketing Specialist™.

Barbara Pronin:
Lucio, tell us a little more about how your association with the Institute began, and how it led you to Palm Springs.
Lucio Bernal: Actually, my love of Palm Springs had grown to the point that Jon and I had already decided to live and work here full-time. We established the Bernal-Smith Group with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Palm Springs in 2014. I was training agents in high-end marketing with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices when I met Diane Hartley, who is president of The Institute, and she asked me to teach classes for them.

BP: When did you make the move to Coldwell Banker?
LB: In 2017, when the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Palm Springs office was sold. I love the Coldwell Banker brand, and I’m happy to give some of my time teaching at the Institute.

BP: How much time do you allot for that?
LB: Normally, I’m out doing training sessions six or eight times a year, but all the training right now is being done via Zoom, so it involves a lot less travel. Either way, I’m a firm believer in the Institute’s mission to educate and motivate agents to take their skills to the next level. Being certified as a Luxury Marketing Specialist™ opens the door to great opportunity in the growing high-end market.

BP: How is that reflected in your work in Palm Springs?
This area has always been popular as a second-home destination, so our business has been brisk from the beginning—and in the past year, since the COVID-19  pandemic took hold, it’s been absolutely off the charts.

BP: Why is that?
LB: Primarily, because it’s given so many people the opportunity to work remotely, so why not work where you like to play? For another, the luxury market in Palm Springs is a bit more affordable than some, because while we have homes valued at $25 million or more, we also have very popular mid-century residences selling for under a million, and some condos for as low as $300,000.

BP: What’s the state of inventory?
LB: It’s at the lowest level I can remember, so competition is fierce. Successful buyers are offering $50,000 or more over the asking price in many cases. We see homes selling for $100,000 over their list price, and 35 percent of our sales have been all-cash offers—especially for some of the popular mid-century homes I mentioned, no more than 1,200 square feet or so, built between 1940 and 1960. Like many homes of that vintage, most are in need of some remodeling, but just the other day, we sold one that was listed at $799,000 for $900,000.

BP: Tell us a bit about Jon’s background, and how you work as a team.
LB: Jon’s background is in marketing, but he also has great organizational skills, which contribute greatly to our success as a team. Like me, he’s very attuned to client needs, and we share the philosophy that every transaction is unique, and every client must get our full care and attention.

BP: What are you anticipating in the year ahead?
LB: We met and overcame a lot of challenges in 2020, and we begin this year with a lot of the same distractions but a still-strong market. I think sales will remain strong, given today’s low interest rates, the shortage of homes to sell and the continuing demand for property in this very desirable area. We will need to capitalize on all the things we did right last year—adapting to change, keeping an ear to the ground, maintaining a strong social media presence and targeted print reach. I think it will be important to ignore the noise, stay focused, and keep providing red carpet service to every one of our buyers and sellers. That’s been the key to our success as a team, and that’s our motivator going forward.

Barbara Pronin is a contributing editor to RISMedia.