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Turning a Condo Into an Experience

Category: Finance,Real Estate

Trey and Kelsey Garza have been looking to buy a two- to three-bedroom condo in Brooklyn since last fall. Currently renting in TriBeCa, they are taking their time, monitoring new listings, visiting different neighborhoods, comparing amenities from building to building.

And, in one instance, sitting down to a six-course meal in a pricey new condo’s dining space.

On a March evening, the Garzas ate their way through a relaxed dinner in the first finished unit of a Morris Adjmi-designed building in Williamsburg. There was no sales pitch at this table for 12. Instead, guests heard descriptions of each course from the professional chef, Matt Cruz, who whirled around the open kitchen’s quartzite-topped island.

Attending a private supper club in a new luxury property was a first for the Garzas. “It made sense in all aspects,” said Mr. Garza, 34, who works in finance. He and his wife, 29, a textile importer and wholesaler, were able to get an early peek at the North 10th Street building (which goes on the market in May) immerse themselves in the space, and enjoy a gourmet meal on the developer’s dime.

“We both loved the event,” Ms. Garza said. “Particularly the intimacy of having the chef personally serve each course, explaining the nuances and inspiration behind each dish. It felt like a dinner party with close friends.”

Welcome to the new era of luxury real estate marketing. With the high-end housing market in and around New York tilting decidedly in buyers’ favor, real estate brokerages and developers are experimenting with all sorts of experiential events to draw attention to their listings. Marketing teams are trying to build brands for new buildings by aligning them with cool start-ups, fashion legends, and arts and cultural groups carefully selected for the demographic they might attract.

It’s all about buzz.

“We are in Manhattan’s most challenging market in the last decade,” said Nikki Field, a senior global real estate adviser at Sotheby’s International who has worked on several co-branded events in a $58 million penthouse for sale at the top of 212 Fifth Avenue. “People are looking at everything and everywhere. They are no longer focused on certain neighborhoods — a complete pivot from the old Manhattan-centric buyer — because the city has grown in luxury options in all directions. They have a lot of choices.”

It’s not new for brokerages to host party-style events in their high-end listings, often as a cross promotion for a new jewelry line, art gallery or wellness guru. But with so many events now cluttering the market, some firms are getting more creative, offering more than a free glass of wine and proximity to celebrity.

“There’s too much inventory — everyone gets lost in the shuffle,” said Vickey Barron, an associate broker with Compass who last year brought in world-renowned ballroom dancers to wow a wealthy audience in the penthouse at 100 Barclay Street, in TriBeCa. “Everyone is fighting for that buyer.”

In their rollout of the North 10th Street project, Halstead Property persuaded the building’s developer, Industrie Capital Partners, to team up with Resident, a supper club start-up. Brian Mommsen, a hedge-fund manager who started the club, said his goal was to provide a platform for young “overworked and underpaid” chefs to “experiment, expand their repertoire and grow their networks. And we want to create an awesome experience for guests through that prism.”

The relationship is symbiotic, of course. Halstead gets an interesting event that will bring in foot traffic, Mr. Mommsen gets the space, and together they hope to generate a stir on social media.

Attendees may be invited by brokers, or they can book a reservation with Resident privately (for $150 a person). The developer pays for the Halstead-sponsored dinners, which on the night the Garzas attended included such fare as scallops with Meyer lemon, turnip and chive, and Wagyu beef with sunchoke and black truffle, each with its own wine pairing. Guests were free to roam around the apartment, which was also hung with works by local street artists. But there was no hard sell. In fact, the only pitch that night was Mr. Mommsen’s introduction of the chef.

“Because it’s a very intimate building, with just nine units, we felt that the marketing approach should be as such,” said Jacob Hamway, a partner in Industrie. “Let people get together with good food in a social setting to really get a firsthand experience of the product. It’s a really strategic approach — it’s new, it’s edgy and I love it.”

Just a few weeks before, a different type of experience unfolded in a new townhouse for sale on Degraw Street, in Carroll Gardens. For two days, the townhouse’s four floors played host to a “fleeting retail” event put together by Big Lives, a company that stages shopping events featuring rising designers. An invitation-only Friday night event drew a packed house, while the Saturday open house was sparsely attended.

Guests could try on jumpsuits created by Brooklyn-based Combine De Filles and “size-free” jackets by House Dress. The spacious master bath was given over to Loli organic beauty products. Several designers were there to chat with visitors, while Big Lives founder Sam Alston played hostess.

Paige Goodings, 23, was among the Saturday shoppers, sporting a white, button-up shirt created by Grammar, another designer brand in attendance. A special-events coordinator at Karla Otto, Ms. Goodings said that while she wasn’t currently in the market for a seven-figure townhouse, she was a fan of Big Lives, and had been to several events in other locations.

“It’s somewhere new every time,” she said. “I like being able to explore a new neighborhood in the city, and step out of what I’m used to.”

The listing agent, Rotem Lindenberg, with Compass, said it was the first time she’d linked a property with fashion. This townhouse, with its minimalist design vibe, a finished basement area suitable for use as a studio, and “a great backyard for inspiration,” seemed particularly well suited to an event aimed at a creative-minded audience, she said.

“Even if those visitors weren’t buyers, they have friends, families, parents — it puts the word out there,” Ms. Lindenberg said. “Two years ago, you just put a property on the website and it would sell by itself. Today, you have to be more creative about cooperating with other industries to make things happen.”

Ms. Field, with Sotheby’s, has aligned 212 Fifth Avenue with a number of luxury-brand partners for events targeting a select group of potential buyers for the building’s 10,000-square-foot penthouse. (The building, which has 47 units in all, is 90 percent sold, she said.) Among the events they’ve hosted since the penthouse went on the market in January 2018 (then for more than $70 million) are a chamber orchestra performance to raise money for music education and an exclusive preview of Fendi’s upcoming fur collection.

“I know that my penthouse buyer is going to come from the exposure through one of these events,” Ms. Field said. “In a challenging market, you need to send the right message to the right people through the right events.”

Outside the city, the same trend is beginning to play out in suburban markets, though to a less ambitious degree. In Stamford, Conn., for example, Trinity Financial has used a series of experiential events to help build a brand around its 209-unit luxury rental complex, Vela on the Park, which is now almost fully leased at rents from $1,900 to $6,800 a month, said Abby Goldenfarb, a vice president in the Boston office of the developer. In February, they invited Sh*t That I Knit, a Boston company that sells merino wool knitwear (mainly hats) handmade by women in Lima, Peru.

“This is a creative, sophisticated company that is getting a lot of attention, and it helped us create a buzz on social media,” Ms. Goldenfarb said. “The two-hour event brought in people who may not lease, but now they know who we are. And it helps get the word out.”

In Wilton, Conn., Michele Ferguson Nichols, an agent with Douglas Elliman, recently attempted to draw attention to her listing on Pipers Hill Road by hosting an art-show open house and organic cooking demonstration there. The five-bedroom colonial, currently listed for $1.099 million, has been on and off the market for the past two years, and local agents “weren’t paying a lot of attention to it anymore,” Ms. Nichols said.

The owner, Cabell Molina, is a multimedia artist and gallery owner, so she hung various works throughout the house. Ms. Nichols also spruced up the d├ęcor with creations by other local female entrepreneurs, including decorative sofa pillows and floral arrangements. She promoted a Thursday evening event for agents and a public open house.

Only three agents showed up for the broker night — initially a disappointment, but one later returned to show the house to a client. Turnout for the open house, where Chef Via Melissa prepared and served her versions of stuffed mushrooms and asparagus quesadillas, was a little more encouraging, with around 40 people. “I was hoping for more, but I’ll take it!” Ms. Nichols said.

If the event didn’t yield any offers, it did result in five showings. “It was a good learning experience for me,” Ms. Nichols said, “which will help me make the next event more successful.”

Because, in this housing market, there’s always another event.

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