Not all sectors of the economy have rebounded from the Great Recession that began in 2008. The real estate market took a devastating hit, and while housing prices and sales in Fairfield County are on the upswing, neither are where they were six years ago.
Whether dictated by the lingering economic downturn and the larger amount of inventory on the market or the advent of social media or just a natural evolution in the selling process, realty agents are getting creative with their marketing techniques. They are augmenting the traditional methods of newspaper and online advertising, hosting open houses and networking with out-of-the-box measures to generate interest and offers for their listings.
Denise Walsh, who works from the downtown Fairfield office of William Raveis Real Estate, has organized several events called Twilight Tours on Thursday evenings this summer to introduce agents and prospective buyers to listings in particular neighborhoods. The tours also introduced them to local restaurants, which provided food for each of the houses featured on the tours.
"We want to give buyers a more convenient window to preview houses in a less pressured, more relaxing atmosphere," Walsh said. It gives them a sense, in an hour or two, what the inventory of homes is like and allows them to comparison shop.
Generally, public open houses feature dozens of listings spread throughout an entire town. It's geographically impossible to see all the featured houses in a Sunday afternoon. Each of Walsh's Twilight Tours, which she will repeat in the fall, concentrates on a handful of houses in one particular neighborhood making it easier to reach more of them.
In a newly constructed farmhouse at 95 Valley Road in Westport, Susan Vanech and Cynthia Melchiorri of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty held an event in July they called Artful Summer Gathering, the aim of which was to showcase not only their listings but the town of Westport, focusing on its arts community.
"We're not just selling a house; we're selling a community, a neighborhood. ... Westport is so rich in what it offers. People are aware of it but there's nothing like seeing it and feeling it and experiencing it," Melchiorri said.
They invited local professional and student artists to display their work. Michael Ross, managing director of the Westport Country Playhouse; Matt Mendell, executive director of the Westport Chamber of Commerce; local merchants, and other community notables were on hand to introduce out-of-town agents from Connecticut and beyond to Westport's cultural amenities.
"The vision for the event was to raise the profile of the community of Westport with our brokerage colleagues from Litchfield to New York City in order to share Westport's vibrant arts community, amenities like Longshore Country Club, diverse dining and retail offerings as well as the beautiful and expansive coastline for a lifestyle with commutability to New York City," Vanech said.
Julie Vanderblue, president of Higgins Group and founder of Vanderblue Associates, has combined business and community service to sell houses while also raising money and awareness for local charities like Operation Hope. The Luxury Home Tour featured 14 estates from Greenfield Hill in Fairfield to Greenwich, including the Westport Mediterranean-style home of multiple Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Michael Bolton.
Vanderblue will host another unique event, a benefit concert and home tour, in September featuring six luxury homes and an outdoor concert with Mystic Bowie. All proceeds go to Her Haven, a Monroe-based nonprofit organization that brings beauty, comfort and care to inspiring women and organizations that serve women.
"I love to hear what other agents are doing. We're in a new age, a new time, and we have to get creative about how we approach our work," Vanech said.
Another developing trend is the collaborative efforts of agents with their peers at competing realty companies, keeping in mind the adage "a rising tide lifts all boats" attitude. They are sometimes pooling their resources rather than playing on their usually competitive relationships.
"We all work together cooperatively. More often than not, we do not sell our own listings; that is, a different agent brings the buyer. When one house sells it's good for all of us," said Susan Leone of Higgins Group in Fairfield.