Marketing residential buildings to fake clients

Developers, including Gotham and Related, use fictional buyers and renters to help them zero in on key demographics
By Mark Maurer | April 01, 2014 07:00AM

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David Picket admits he is no social scientist or raconteur, but the president of Gotham Organization and his team go to great lengths to paint a picture of the future inhabitants of their projects.

“The Rothmans,” for example, are imaginary tenants of Gotham West, the firm’s new 1,238-unit Hell’s Kitchen rental complex. This couple and their two fictional children — who “live” in a three-bedroom unit — spend weekends in Hudson Valley, shop at the trendy Brooklyn Kitchen cooking mecca and enjoy oysters from El Colmado in the Gotham West Market, the complex’s 10,000-square-foot gourmet food store. The dad tucks in his kids at night after finishing the day’s newspaper.

Gotham is one of several developers that use demographic analysis and other research to compile personality profiles of fictional renters or buyers while building a project. The idea is for the developer to draw on these make-believe families’ lives to create model units with a more lived-in feel, as well as to make the marketing materials more specific.

“We do these to show people how to use space,” Picket said. “It adds authenticity and richness. Model units are really important. They’re usually the first ones to go.”

The Related Companies uses a similar system at its projects, including its MiMA luxury rental towers and in the residential component of its Hudson Yards megadevelopment. While it doesn’t go as far as assigning names to fake tenants, it creates a “development brand document” that breaks down not just the would-be residents’ line of work and desired mode of transit, but their quirks and tastes.

For example, explained Daria Salusbury, senior vice president and head of luxury leasing at Related, is their preferred nightcap a wine spritzer, or a dry martini, in the vein of James Bond? Would they rather catch up on work in an Internet café or a conference room?

“On the rental side, how habitual and predictable tenants are — whether they’re a banker, lawyer or actor — affects the landlord’s expectations,” said Douglas Wagner, executive leasing manager at brokerage Bond New York, which has handled listings at Related rental buildings MiMA and the adjacent One MiMA Tower.

Whether marketing rentals or condos, the process of determining who is going to buy or rent begins as soon as Related purchases a property, Salusbury said. The developer surveys residents in its own buildings once a year to update its data, and uses what it learns to identify what the properties are lacking. A building that originally housed primarily young couples and single people might undergo renovations to include a children’s playroom, if the survey reveals that many of those residents have had children, for example, or an extra lounge, if residents say they like to entertain.

As part of its MiMA research, Related surveyed about 1,300 people who either rented or owned a home in the vicinity of the building, which is located at 450 West 42nd Street, and fell into target income brackets. The demographics were largely single and married people without children. The renters ranged between 25 and 45 years old, while the condo owners ranged in age from 30 and 70, according to a Related document provided to TRD by a spokesperson. They perceive themselves as “confident, straightforward, fun-loving, aspiring and caring,” the document said.

Beyond age and marital status, these residents are further distinguished by their respective desires for a home.

“There are some New Yorkers who wouldn’t be caught dead south of 57th Street, or north of 23rd Street,” Salusbury said. “We try to address their needs.”

Although the Gotham Organization has been drafting personality profiles for years, it more recently adapted them to account for the influx of foreign renters and tech- and creative-industry types.

Picket said it’s fun to imagine a character in one of his buildings as vivid as “a 35-year-old advertising executive who collects teapots and does yoga.” If the firm’s staff predicts that some of the tenants might go antiquing over the weekend, antiques will appear in the model units, he said.

“We want to present it in a way that feels real to them,” Picket said.