It might have been any over-the-top Manhattan dinner party: a penthouse setting where several dozen carefully chosen, accomplished guests enjoyed artisanal cocktails, a four-course tasting menu prepared by up-and-coming chefs and a live dance performance. But this was no ordinary over-the-top party. It was an open house — albeit a very exclusive one.
Organized by Jessica Wolf, a recent Dartmouth graduate who is the membership manager at NeueHouse, the private club and co-working space, the late-June event was one of a series of dinners intended to bring together creative professionals not just for networking, but also to show off a new high-end property nearing completion.
The thinking, said Ms. Wolf, 23, is that the best kind of publicity for luxury real estate is word of mouth (or social media posts) by the right people. Her company, Vivonne, is a members-only supper club that partners with brokerages like Douglas Elliman Real Estate to arrange these events, four of which have been held since April.
“For years, we’ve done the typical broker preview and one launch party,” said Vickey Barron, one of the Douglas Elliman brokers handling the condominiums at Stella Tower in Hell’s Kitchen, the 1927 Art Deco building where the event took place. But it made sense, she said, to try something less conventional for such a high-end property.
The Vivonne guests could wander the 4,000 or so square feet of the $13.5 million penthouse, with its four bedrooms, two levels and huge outdoor terrace. And many in the crowd ducked out to look at the penthouse next door, which also happened to be for sale.
“I love the opportunity to get into any New York real estate that’s unique,” said Temple Simpson, an architect who was one of the guests. (Other guests included DJs, photographers, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs.)
Ben Shaoul, the principal at the Magnum Real Estate Group, is taking the same approach to selling the luxury condominiums his firm is developing with the CIM Group at 100 Barclay in TriBeCa, in what was formerly the Verizon building. (The condominiums, which will range in price from about $2.5 million for a two-bedroom to $15 million for a five-bedroom, will occupy the top 22 floors, while Verizon will continue to use the bottom 10 floors.)
The building’s lobby, a landmark Art Deco space decorated with frescoes depicting the history of communication, from smoke signals to the early telephone, was off-limits to the public when Verizon was the sole occupant. But not anymore.
“We invested a lot of time and energy to make it a beautiful space,” said Mr. Shaoul, who held a Vivonne event in one of the apartments in late April and allowed Soho Synagogue, another group that holds networking parties, to use the lobby for a black-tie event in June. (Those who needed to use the restroom were directed to a fully staged apartment on the 19th floor.)
Mr. Shaoul’s hope, he explained, is that “people go home and say, ‘I went to this great event last night, and the building is gorgeous.’ They’ll log onto the Internet and maybe they’ll be interested.”
Michael Graves, another Douglas Elliman broker, was thinking along the same lines when he offered a penthouse he had listed for $6.95 million at 236 West 24th Street as a location for a party in June called “Lose My Mind.” The event, which was also a fund-raiser for the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum on Long Island, included an exhibition of photographs by Patrick McMullan and a musical performance by Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin.
Before the event, Mr. Graves said, there wasn’t much interest in his listing. But there were “two active offers that came from the event,” he said, “and three buyers who came through the network of VIPs at the party.” (The penthouse still hasn’t sold, but it has been taken off the market as negotiations proceed with two prospective buyers, Mr. Graves said.)
Ms. Barron also says she has seen an increase in traffic to her listings over the summer. “Many people have an agent or broker already,” she said, but since the Vivonne parties started, she has noticed that “instead of the agent bringing the buyer, the buyer’s bringing the agent.”
The best sales strategy, she added, is one that doesn’t seem like a sales strategy at all. “In my opinion, you don’t sell,” she said. “Like that dinner: You’re there to enjoy an experience in a place that just happens to be for sale. You can offer, educate and answer questions, but no one is going to make you buy an apartment.”
Whether that actually works, of course, has yet to be seen. And nearly three months later, both penthouses have yet to be sold.
•A cover article last Sunday about dinner parties that are used as an open house as a way to market luxury listings misstated the price of a penthouse at 236 West 24th Street listed by Michael Graves, a Douglas Elliman agent. The price is $6.95 million, not $2.75 million.