Sending in the scouts

<i>Busy buyers are using 'previewers' to weed out unsavory listings</i>

In politics, most elected officials have some sort of “advance” team that arrives at events hours beforehand to scout out a perfect photo op or to set up a news conference.

It turns out similar sorts of advance people exist in New York real estate, in the form of brokers and personal assistants who preview properties before the potential buyer even walks through the door. While brokers have been doing this for some time, more personal assistants are taking on a surrogate real estate role for their bosses.

Previewing properties in New York has become an increasingly popular trend as buyers have become pickier about getting bargains and inventory has risen.

On a recent episode of the new real estate reality television show “Selling New York,” high-end broker Michele Kleier showed a townhouse to an advance man checking out the property for an unnamed Hollywood bigwig.

But it’s not just celebrity clients and Hollywood producers who have other people previewing homes for them. High-end New York City shoppers with busy schedules are also getting in on the action.

“You have to pull out all the stops,” Michael Pellegrino, a senior vice president with Sotheby’s International Realty, said.

Since the downturn, Pellegrino has started hosting an increasing number of open houses — not for buyers, but for previewers. He joked that these open houses have become so common that previewers “can just go from open house to open house [living on] cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.”

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And the tactic is paying off. At an hour-and-a-half-long open house, he can save himself numerous trips to a listing with the ever-increasing number of representatives looking to preview a unit.

“When [a buyer] calls up and says … ‘Can I preview?’ you have to stop and cancel appointments,” Pellegrino explained. He said even some $20 million and $25 million listings have had open houses for buyers’ reps.

Even so, Dorothy Somekh, a senior vice president with Halstead Property, cautioned against using the “preview process” too liberally, noting that the tactic works better for buyers looking for an investment rather than a home.

“It’s an emotional purchase,” Somekh said. “[A previewer] could misinterpret what [the buyer] wants.”

Somekh said that sometimes, even when the previewers clearly understand their clients’ tastes, things can go awry. Like a good melon, some buyers know what they want when they see it — and they can miss that opportunity when they send someone else in to look, Somekh said.

Even so, Somekh said she’s amenable to letting some people preview her listings — within reason.

“I’m happy to have brokers preview,” Somekh said, “as long as I have another appointment nearby… and [I’m] not taking special trips.”