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Throw an Unforgettable Party

Charlene Stancil
Turn an ordinary open house into a blowout bash, with invited guests meandering among chocolate fountains, sampling catered finger foods and specialty drinks.

One firm in Palm Beach Gardens, whose snowbird clients spend their winters in exclusive gated communities, has generated more than $7 million in home sales in the past two years by throwing cocktail parties for its standout listings. And that’s not counting the ripple effect from referrals of people who attend the events, say broker Mike Thomas and marketing director Charlene Stancil, of Internet Realty Brokers.

Although the obvious goal is to sell the displayed home, the subtle (yet just as important) objective of throwing the parties is to win new clients, Stancil says. Thomas notes that a recent attendee at a party for a $4 million home made an offer on the property and also listed his $1.2 million home.

Here’s how the team throws a great party and reaps big sales:

1. Select the Scene
The firm throws 10 to 12 parties per year, Stancil says, and with 22 sales associates, there are many listings from which to choose.

Stancil follows this rule of thumb: Don’t throw a party for a residence unless you have the space to show off the house. She sticks to 4,000 square feet as a minimum property size, and makes sure the home has unique characteristics that will showcase its party appeal. One such setting was a lavish, tasteful and much-coveted home—one of the hottest listings in Palm Beach County.

2. Class It Up 
Use a caterer who provides stemware and place settings rather than paper or plastic, Stancil says. And mail printed invitations instead of an e-mail blast.
The firm invites about 200 people to each party, held over a three-day period. Invitees come on their designated date so that there won’t be too many people in the house at one time.

Invitees are also carefully screened—they usually have homes worth at least $2 million, and the invitation encourages them to bring friends (who may have homes of lesser value but still could become clients). The firm uses a database of names and addresses in farm areas.

To RSVP, invitees visit www.chocolatecocktailparty.com, where they can also receive updates on future planned parties.

3. Set a Budget
Is it possible to throw a classy party on a budget? You bet. Stancil limits herself to $1,000 per party. She shops throughout the year at end-of-season sales and also taps www.orientaltrading.com, an online party supply company.

4. Create Strong Themes
Each party takes about a month to plan, and for good reason. Stancil incorporates creative themes, like Chinese New Year, which she did in January. Because it was Year of the Dog, Stancil provided goody bags at the “doggy bar” for guests’ pooches, containing biscuits, chew toys and grooming tools. “People” bags were also given out, which included oriental fans, Chinese good wishes and coins.

Stancil always provides goody bags, at a cost of $3 to $4 each, paid through her firm’s marketing budget—additional to the $1,000 cost of party food and decorations.

The first party, in 2004, was a Chocolate Cocktail. The firm offered two drinks—one named for the house (the Grand Champagne Kiss, because “Hershey” was the street name) and one for the sellers (the Rosenfeld Russian, which was a white Russian). Stancil keeps it simple by limiting drink choices to two per party. She doesn’t hire a bartender; a staff member pre-mixes the drinks in pitchers and sets them out so that people can serve themselves. When the pitchers get low, they just pull out another pre-mixed pitcher.

5. Don’t Invite the Seller
Stancil says it’s in the seller’s best interest not to attend. “Everyone who comes in is potentially a buyer, so we want it to be an open house setting,” she says.

The parties last two hours, usually from 6 to 8 p.m., and Stancil and the rest of the staff clean up afterward.

Thomas notes that the parties have become the firm’s signature, and the list of regular attendees is growing.  “You never know where the next connection will come from,” he says. “I’ve even had waiters refer their friends to me.”

With some creativity and planning, you too can get the party started and generate sales.