Selling the Sizzle
Condo developers serve up marketing lessons.
By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor
Marketing an as-yet-unbuilt residential property to prospects can be a challenge. Without residences, lobbies, amenities or views, marketers have to help future residents imagine a building they might someday call home.
That requires them to use creativity in modeling unbuilt units and lobbies, showcasing views that can’t yet be seen without a jetpack, and conveying the luxury the building will eventually lavish on denizens. Condominium marketers are proving increasingly artful at these merchandising tricks of the trade, and there are myriad marketing lessons apartment developers can borrow from them.
Partnering with well-known style leaders, using photography taken from drones and selling the sizzle served up by the neighborhood in which the building will rise are just a few of the strategies condo developers are using with success.
If, for instance, the neighborhood vibe surrounding the planned building will be part of its appeal, marketers are best advised to leverage that allure. Take The Adeline, for instance. A new condominium development located at 23 West 116th Street in central Harlem, The Adeline surpassed 50 percent sold within a month of launching sales, says Peter Denby of Halstead Property Development Marketing, who is leading sales at the property.
That milestone was reached by using floor plans and renderings long before the sales office opened. “Since we didn’t have a building to show at the time, we utilized the best asset we had at our disposal, Harlem itself, to sell the building,” Denby reports. “We held meetings with prospective buyers in coffee shops and bars near the building, all owned by local proprietors, to underscore what a great place Harlem is to live. The Adeline embodies so much of this spirit that the effort felt like a natural extension of our other marketing efforts.”
Now that The Adeline is nearly complete and more than 85 percent sold, with move-ins expected this month, those early lessons have helped inspire the sales campaign’s final stages, Denby says.
Alan Mark, CEO of The Mark Company, a San Francisco real estate marketing consulting company, is another expert who believes in using the neighborhood and all it offers as a marketing tool. Sixty percent of people select a building based on its location, he says. “What we’re selling in helping to brand the building are all the services in the neighborhood: the restaurants, nightlife, places to work out, stores and culture, theaters, symphony and art galleries.”
The point, he says, is that whether they’re in a condo or rental building, the units are essentially commodities. That means that a marketer has to establish the building’s brand as early as possible. A big part is highlighting the location and what it offers, but it is also essential to consistently convey its name, colors, font and even the images of people used in its marketing. “Have prospective residents recognize that brand as distinctive as early as possible,” Mark says.
One more strategy that has proven very successful in marketing high-end real estate is embracing unique partnerships connecting buyers directly with exclusive experiences, access or services, says Samantha Sax, executive vice president, marketing and sales, with New York City-based Elad Group.
“There is never a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” Sax says. “On the West Coast, at The Carlyle Residences in L.A., we spearheaded a successful series of partnerships in our model residences with highly desirable interior designers. Each time we unveiled a collaboration, the modeled residence sold immediately.
“We’ve executed partnerships with Fendi Casa, Minotti and Cantoni, all with incredible runaway success. All of these partnerships proved to be extremely viable because of their unique value proposition, targeted approach and ability to attract a coveted customer base. The proof is in our success. The building is now over 70 percent sold.”
Real estate broker Randi Fisher of the J/R Luxe team with Coldwell Banker Previews International has invariably had success when a designer or a well-known store custom designs a model home for a new development.
“It’s a win-win situation,” she says. “The store uses its brand power to market the new development to its client base, and the new development showcases the store’s products to everyone who comes through the model. These unique partnerships are becoming increasingly popular, and rightfully so. They directly lead to sales. Events can be thrown by the store at the model home and vice versa.”
Speaking of models, model design as well as the location of the marketing center in which the models are housed can be exceptionally important, according to Mark. If there’s not enough space for an entire model residence, the living room, dining room, kitchen and master suite should be spotlighted, he notes. If a choice of finishes is offered, include a wall showcasing the palette of finishes.
“You don’t have to have an entire lobby, but you should show a corridor leading to a model home,” he says. “You may do a small representation of the lobby using your lobby materials in the reception area of the marketing center.”
The Mark Company is participating in the marketing of Lennar Urban’s San Francisco Shipyard, where thousands of residential units are being built at some distance from the city’s downtown district. “It’s a whole new area,” Mark says. “Not only did we do a gorgeous welcome center on site, but we ended up creating a marketing and sales office downtown to go with it.”
The downtown office is crowded with technology and finance industry professionals who work in the city’s hub Monday through Friday. Those who are interested in San Francisco Shipyard can come out to the welcome center when it is open on weekends to see it for themselves. A branded shuttle is available to take would-be buyers from the downtown office to the welcome center on the weekends, or by appointment during the week.
“You fish where there are fish,” Mark says.
The use of emerging technology is also a stratagem condo marketers are using to promote residential properties still on the drawing boards.
At Related Realty in Chicago, president David Wolf reports photography taken from drones is used in marketing dramatic views from yet-to-be-built towers. The company used a number of drone shots at 100 West Huron, where it has been engaged by developer Akara Partners to head sales and marketing. The 14-story condominium to be built in the city’s near-in River North community, surrounded by buildings of similar height, will feature 28 large, high-end units.
“Drone shots are expensive, there are only a few services that can do them, and you have to think about getting the right weather day,” Wolf reports.
“We actually do them for projects we’re considering building, to get a sense of how views look from different heights. Those same shots can be used in marketing to show prospective buyers how the view is going to appear at different floor levels and from different exposures,” adds Wolf. “We used a drone to photograph different views, to prove to the consumer and to ourselves that at this floor, you’re going to clear other buildings.”
Another condominium marketing strategy employed at 100 West Huron was an October launch party staged at the Godfrey Hotel, 127 West Huron.
The hostelry stands across the street from where 100 West Huron will rise, offering very similar views. “We were able to show that even on the fourth floor, this is how great the views will be,” Wolf said of the fourth-floor launch extravaganza. “An event is a really good vehicle to show the luxury, and convey the feel you expect the building to give off when it’s done. The Godfrey is modern, very sophisticated and very much what we expect 100 Huron will be.”
Mark offers one final thought, observing that marketers shouldn’t stop at promoting a residential building that will exist in the future. They should also seek, when possible, to entice prospects with other occurrences in the offing likely to take place nearby. “When you’re doing an urban environment, you want to show what exists, and what will be happening in the future,” he says. “That’s very important, especially if there is retailing coming, and future buildings coming. A lot of people like to feel they’re ahead of the curve.”