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Turning a condo into an experience

The latest marketing play for high-end properties in New York: hosting a chef-curated dinner party or a designer shopping event in an unsold condo

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Twelve invited guests attended a private supper club in March sponsored by Halstead in a new Morris Adjmi-designed condo building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Trey and Kelsey Garza, seated in front, at the end of the table, ate their way through a relaxed dinner. There was no sales pitch at the table.

New York

TREY and Kelsey Garza have been looking to buy a two- to three-bedroom condo in Brooklyn since autumn. Currently renting in Tribeca, they are taking their time, monitoring new listings, visiting different neighbourhoods, 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, Brooklyn. 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.

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Attending a private supper club in a new luxury property was a first for the Garzas. "It made sense in all aspects," said Trey 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," Kelsey 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."

New era of luxury real estate marketing

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' favour, 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 startups, fashion legends, and arts and cultural groups carefully selected for the demographic they might attract.

"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 US$58 million penthouse for sale at the top of 212 Fifth Ave. "People are looking at everything and everywhere. They are no longer focused on certain neighbourhoods - 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 jewellery 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 St, in Tribeca.

"Everyone is fighting for that buyer." In their rollout of the North 10th Street project, Halstead Property Development Marketing persuaded the building's developer, Industrie Capital Partners, to team up with Resident, a supper club startup. 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, 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 US$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 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 town house for sale on Degraw Street, in Carroll Gardens. For two days, the town house'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 town house, 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 neighbourhood in the city, and step out of what I'm used to."

Working with luxury-brand partners

The listing agent, Rotem Lindenberg, with Compass, said it was the first time she'd linked a property with fashion. This town house, 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 Ave. 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 per cent sold, she said.)

Among the events they've hosted since the penthouse went on the market in January 2018 (then for more than US$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." NYTIMES