Music to Buyers’ Ears

Concerts and parties are being used to sell high-end listings, and real estate practitioners who successfully pull off these special events are making a name for themselves in luxury markets.

July 1, 2014

The Hawaiian word “pono” means “goodness” or “doing what is right.” And that’s what Greg Burns, SRS, SFR, salesperson and partner with Elite Pacific Properties in Maui, Hawaii, says he tries to do in his real estate business.

Burns, alongside fellow sales associate Debbie Arakaki, organizes special events at their clients’ luxury properties that take a three-pronged approach. First, they are all-out, red-carpet, dressed-to-the-nines soirees that get people talking about their listings; second, they celebrate the music and culture of the Hawaiian Islands; and third, every event has a charitable focus.

Their first event was at a coffee plantation called Piliani Kope Farm, listed for $2.9 million. The property is in an agricultural subdivision, and they invited all the neighbors, and people in the coffee industry, for an evening of music and mingling. Every food course had a coffee-inspired component as part of the dish, such as morel mushroom with Kaanapali coffee bisque and spare ribs braised with barbecue sauce and coffee.

During the event, Burns and Arakaki raised $22,000 for the Maui Food Bank’s Backpack Buddies Program with the help of an anonymous matching donor. That amounts to 4,400 backpacks filled with food. Burns says the event feedback was tremendous; thus, they decided to make their event an ongoing series, and the “Great Music in Great Homes” concerts were born.

“It’s not just about getting the word out about a property; it’s also about giving back to the community,” says Burns.

Maui gets about 2 million visitors annually, but only 145,000 residents live on the island. Some travelers who come year after year eventually want to put down roots, Burns says. He works with luxury buyers who purchase homes in the $2 million to $10 million range. The new owners often hire Elite Pacific Properties to manage the property as a vacation rental home when they’re away.

“These events give them an opportunity to meet their neighbors, contribute to a good cause, and have a good time,” he says. “It also helps us increase our caliber of listings.”

Their most recent event was held at an Olowalu oceanfront estate and the concert directly resulted in the sale of that property.

They focused their invitations on neighbors and past clients rather than real estate agents and brokers. The Hawaiian band Kanekoa performed at the 4.5-acre oceanfront property. What’s more, they raised $5,000 in scholarship money for the University of Hawaii’s Maui Culinary Academy and added another $2,500 in matching funds from the Donegan Burns Foundation, which provides educational grants and scholarships.

“We harvested the various fruits from the orchards [on the property] and created a large display for the guests to take home with them. It was a big hit,” says Arakaki.

“The idea of a private concert [as an] invite-only, red-carpet event is a stroke of genius,” says Paul Mayer, Elite Pacific Properties managing partner who oversees all agents and business activities. Mayer says his job as a broker-manager is to support his agents with the tools they need to be successful entrepreneurs. “When they have ideas, I say yes a lot; I say yes whenever possible.”

Building a Brand

Richard Courtney, broker and co-owner of Christianson Patterson Courtney & Associates in Nashville, Tenn., recently hosted a Frank Sinatra–themed open house at one of his listings. He calls the house a “mid-century time capsule” — the perfect setting for such an event. He hired two entertainers who performed music by Sinatra and Keely Smith while martinis and hors d’oeuvres were served to the guests. Courtney says they spent approximately $2,000 on the evening.

“In marketing, I always try to surprise people with something they’re not accustomed to,” he says. Although this home has not yet sold, a separate writer’s night led to the sale of another property. Courtney invited guests to hear a roundtable discussion with four songwriters, including Tia Sillers, who cowrote the hit “I Hope You Can Dance,” performed by Lee Ann Womack.

Courtney has successfully incorporated his passion for music into his real estate brand over the past decade. Author of Come Together: The Business Wisdom of The Beatles (Turner Publishing, 2010), it’s something he’s become well known for in Nashville. “People come to my open houses and say, ‘You’re the Beatles guy, right?’”

Since 2004, he’s organized four Beatles events for charity. When he arranged a viewing of the Beatles’ 1964 film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, he advertised with flyers at musician hangouts, diners, and coffee shops and invited past clients. More than 1,200 people showed up.

Today, Courtney’s clientele consists of Nashville producers, writers, and other music industry employees.

“Discover what you’re most passionate, keep it in good taste, and create an event around it,” Courtney says. “If you’re passionate about pets, build a campaign around it. Use that event to spread awareness.”

How to Pull It Off

Mayer says marketing properties via high-profile events is a tactic that could work in many markets. Hawaii has a distinct style of music; other markets are known for their jazz or blues sound. Some states are known for a particular food. He recommends celebrating the local culture and highlighting what’s authentic to the area where you work.

Burns points out the importance of planning ahead when organizing events of this caliber. “Get a good group of sponsors who want to put in the extra effort,” he says. Title companies and lenders have supported Elite Pacific Property’s concert series, and a local magazine, for example, donated wine.

The event cost depends on the size, scale, and target audience, as well as the charity component and number of attendees. Burns estimates that the “Great Music in Great Homes” events range in cost from $4,000 to $6,000, but costs are shared between Elite Pacific Properties and the other event sponsors.

“It’s some of the best money we’ve spent,” Burns says. Their next concert is planned in Honolulu. “It’s a big endeavor, but the payoff is awesome. There’s always a moment during the event where I see the place is alive and I step back and say, ‘Wow, this is what it’s all about.’”