It’s been longer than I’d like to admit since the last HerStory feature, and I’m thrilled to have Sarah Bernard featured today. Sarah Bernard is a St. Loius Realtor as well as the owner and property management team behind The Chalets, a majestic vacation rental nestled in the woods outside of St. Louis.
I gravitated to her story immediately as she was a full-time mom of three little kids when she started her first vacation rental. Her family vacationed at The Chalets frequently and she wanted to bring that experience to others. From there, it grew to more chalets, and eventually getting her realtor license. I love her story because it’s the perfect example of letting your path unfold naturally. She trusted her gut and let opportunities guide her next step.
1. Tell me about yourself. How did you get started in real estate and form Sarah Bernard Realty?
I got started in real estate in 2008 when I purchased my first investment property, which later became the Sarah Bernard Chalets. It was a vacation rental — I saw an opportunity to give families a chance to get away to a private vacation home without purchasing one themselves. It was right before the economic downturn and the “staycation” became the thing. AirBNB launched a couple of years later. I still have that property and two others and my team and I manage 14 other, all at the same resort, Innsbrook, just west of St. Louis.
In 2013 I got my real estate license and added buying and selling properties to the mix. I’ve grown a team and we’re among the top in St. Louis real estate now. We expect to close $35M in home sales this year and our vacation rentals should be close to $1M in revenue.
2. Differentiating yourself as an agent can be tough. How did you build your business?
I built the business on the platform of second homes. Along the way, many of our second home buyers and sellers became trusted clients and we helped them sell or purchase their primary homes. We have a niche and work in a more affluent demographic though we really love to work with anyone, even first time home buyers.
In addition, I’ve been creative with marketing with a focus on developing a great web presence. I do TV on the side and that helps, too, to establish myself in the community. My TV work involves hosting talk shows for a local station and also the occasional TV commercial.
3. Tell me more about the market. With the pandemic, people seem to be moving more than ever. Are you seeing an influx to St. Louis?
St. Louis is a great midwestern location with a low cost of living but access to a wonderful arts community, tech start ups and medical research. St Louis consists of a conglomeration of smaller municipalities, each with their own personality, walkability, character, etc. When people move to St Louis from out of town, we get to know them first to determine the best fit for their family among the different locales within the metropolitan area.
4. I had no idea that your business actually started with vacation rentals. Let’s hear more about The Chalets.
I pride myself on our vacation rentals at Innsbrook Resort. At Sarah Bernard Chalets, we have great branding and are known for having really nice, high-end properties, nestled in the woods, and each on 1 to 3 acres. They are cozy and private and well-maintained. We have a great staff and are always adding to our property line-up. We’ve actually added 8 new properties this year alone. The chalets have been tremendously busy during the pandemic as they’ve provided a nice getaway for families who need a change of scenery. It’s an easy drive to Innsbrook from anywhere in the Midwest and just an hour out of St. Louis. All of our chalets have great WiFI, satellite TV, fireplaces, nice kitchens, etc. Some have beaches and private docks. They are a wonderful escape and even we tell people that even if the escape is only a half-hour or an hour from home, you will really feel like you’ve gone on vacation when you go there — even if you’re still doing Zoom meetings for work and home-schooling.
5. Are you seeing an increase in long-term rentals with the pandemic?
We’ve definitely seen an increase in requests for 2-4 week rentals. Right now we’re telling people to plan 2-3 months out in order to get their preferred dates. We also keep a waitlist in case of a cancellation.
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6. If people are looking for a long-term rental, what should they look for?
For long term OR short term rentals, look for properties that have a great operations team that connects personally with their guests. That’s one of the things we really make an effort to do — we realized long ago that as much as it might be viewed as a real estate business, it’s really a hospitality business. Now we hire from the hotel industry whenever possible. And at the properties themselves, make sure that the kitchens are truly set up for cooking. If you’re going to be somewhere for a while, you want to be able to settle in and cook just like you do at home.
7. Lastly, tell us about the team behind Sarah Bernard Realty & Sarah Bernard Chalets.
My business, like any successful business, exists because I have a great team. We’ve grown together — with a lot of that growth happening the last couple of years. For me as a leader, learning to let go and have others improve their skills and do what they are best at is the key to our success. For our clients, this kind of team approach means that they are known and supported by many of us who care about them, whether they are making a move to St Louis or just taking a vacation to one of our resort properties.
Thanks for joining me to learn more about Sarah Bernard’s story!
Affectionately known to her friends as Millennial Martha for her love of DIY and decorating, Jen can’t help but pour her heart + soul into everything she touches. She’s loved to entertain since acquiring a table and chairs, and giving gifts is one of her favorite hobbies. Jen is the creator of Girl Meets Party. Her dream is to share her passions with the world in hopes to inspire others by making the seemingly unattainable attainable.