Fashion shows, ballroom dancers and Nicki Minaj: What brokers do when an open house isn’t enough

Agents say it takes more than postcards and bagel breakfasts to sell homes these days

Clockwise from top left: Ballroom dancing at 100 Barclay Street, a fashion show at 251 East 61st Street and an art show at 45 Lispenard Street
Clockwise from top left: Ballroom dancing at 100 Barclay Street, a fashion show at 251 East 61st Street and an art show at 45 Lispenard Street

One night, an Upper East Side townhouse turned into a Parisian-style fashion show.

At 251 East 61st Street, a candle-lined runaway stretched across an outdoor courtyard from the property’s main home to a carriage house. Models were decked out in environmentally friendly clothes from Minan Wong, lingerie from Helen Sanchez Intimates and old Hollywood-style clothes from Este & Chlo. “Project Runway All Stars” alum Layana Aguilar closed out the show, accompanied by a live performance from Brazilian singers Aline Muniz and Marco de Vita.

While fashion may have been the most prominent part of the evening, the Feb. 15 event had another purpose: to help sell the property, which is still on the market for $14.35 million.

“It was Fashion Week, and they were ending fashion week with these designers and the models and all their clothes, so I said let’s do it,” said Douglas Elliman broker Robert Morrison, who is handling the listing for the the five-story, five-bedroom townhouse.

Although these grandiose sales techniques aren’t particularly widespread throughout the real estate industry, agents say they will likely become more common as brokers and sellers look for any advantages they can get in a challenging luxury market.

“It will only be a matter of time because they will catch on, and they will start doing it,” Corcoran Group broker Vickey Barron said, referring to other agents. “I think we’re over the postcards, and we’re full of bagels.”

She prefers using less orthodox tactics to drum up interest in her properties, something she said she’s been doing for about 18 years. She recently held a trio of such events at three different locations.

In the penthouse at , which recently hit the market for $59 million, Barron threw a party on Feb. 7 with performances from some famed ballroom dancers as a way to show off the unit’s massive size. On March 4, she took advantage of the city’s only private IMAX theater at 520 West 28th Street  to host an Oscars viewing party. And on Feb. 21 in the sales gallery at 45 Park Place, she held a “Love and Real Estate” matchmaking event (she said she’s been hosting these for so many years that several of her formerly single clients have since gotten married).

“I always say I can’t guarantee that they’ll hold your hand through Central Park,” Barron said. “But I can promise you they’re not wanted by the FBI, they have a good credit score, and they can purchase real estate in Manhattan.”

A key element of these events is not putting too much pressure on guests to buy anything, according to Barron. The idea is not to strong-arm them into getting a new home but to ensure that they have a good time at properties that just happen to be available.

“People in New York are … too smart. You’re not going to sell to them, so my theory is sell less and serve more,” she said. “If you’re providing a nice service, and you’re doing something kind for other people, and you have that lovely social event in what happens to be real estate that’s for sale, they put two and two together.”

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Aaron Seawood, founder of the Carte Blanche team at Compass, said they also try to keep the focus on their events. The team is currently marketing Cassa at 66 West 45th Street, where their recent soirees have included a private birthday party for HBO “Insecure” star Yvonne Orji and a party for musician Liam Payne to promote his music from “50 Shades Freed.”

Seawood stressed the importance of making celebrations like this relate to the specific properties where they take place, which in Cassa’s case meant playing up the celebrity angle, as that is already what helps drive interest in the building.

“Generic broker previews have meat and cheeses. Those are common. You have those all day,” Seawood said, “but you don’t really find that many brokers that are doing full-fledged events that are star studded.”

Stribling & Associates broker Nicole Grandelli echoed Seawood’s point, saying that while the popularity of shows like “Million Dollar Listing” have made clients more eager for their brokers to create buzz around their properties, it is important to connect these events to the property in a meaningful way.

“You can’t have an event just for the sake of having an event,” she said. “I think that that’s not going to do the job.”

She recently hosted an event at 45 Lispenard Street in Tribeca, where artist Julia Ryan turned the entire venue into an art gallery with her work, including her controversial painting of Nicki Minaj that landed on the cover of Paper Magazine.

“Tribeca has become an oasis for bankers,” Grandelli said. “In its heyday, Tribeca was an artists’ community.”

The 45 Lispenard unit, 6E, had been listed for $2.25 million and is now in contract.

Elliman’s Morrison, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said part of the reason to host more outrageous events is to help make luxury properties stand out, particularly in an environment where they are staying on the market for 400 or 500 days.

He also said these events tend to be more common among younger brokers who are entering an environment where their roles might be less clear than when Morrison first got started. “There was no internet. Customers needed us,” he said. “Young people, they’re just doing whatever they can to reach out any which way.”

Morrison is not a huge fan of big events, saying he prefers to let his properties stand on their own merits. He specified that the fashion show he did on East 61st Street was something out of the ordinary for him.

“I went beyond what I would normally do,” he said. “I think that was my key for doing it, and I think that’s what people are trying to do: extend their reach.”