Editor’s Note: MYTHBUSTERS is an occasional column that will attempt to dispel widely held notions and misconceptions about the housing market and the extraordinary efforts to sell high-end homes.
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The buying and selling of houses first began taking on a glamorous allure when reality TV got in on the act in 2005. That’s when “Flip This House” debuted on A&E, followed closely by Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing.” Suddenly, people began regarding real estate as a form of entertainment, so when the housing market crashed in 2008, they looked around and said, “Hey, where did the fun go?”
Realtors were left struggling to inject an element of fantasy and play into an ailing economy. And thus was born the twilight open. “The twilight open house phenomenon is gathering steam,” declared Realtor Magazine in September 2008 — and it definitely did. However, one seasoned L.A. broker — who declines to dis twilight opens on record — points out that “It really began earlier than that, with the reality shows about real estate.”
“Those shows couldn’t just be talking heads and fake buyers and sellers,” she continues. “They wanted production value, so somebody said, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys do a twilight open? Let’s do a party scene because that’s good television.’ Prior to that they’d been a rarity, but quickly became de rigueur and every seller wanted a twilight open.”
We’re not talking here about a walk-through in a house with the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen; a twilight open demands serious cash and organizational skills. They’re often catered with gourmet fare, and attendees might encounter coffee stations, dessert bars and live music as they meander from room to room. Maybe there are gift bags and sometimes there’s a DJ, in which case you’ll need a sound system, which means potentially irritated neighbors who may need to be mollified. You’ll also need to work on persuading a few real estate and social media influencers to attend, and you might decide to live stream your twilight open on Facebook. And don’t forget the valet!
A savvy broker — or their PR team — will know how to get press coverage of the event, and may even be able to pull in a few celebrities. Twilight opens are often billed as private events, and there are real estate agents who even sell tickets. Others partner with a sponsoring brand to offset some of the cost. However, if the seller wants to go big, they’ll likely need to lay out tens of thousands of dollars.
The only houses worthy of all of this effort and expense are houses with great views — and this is where it gets tricky. Theoretically, a twilight open house draws young professionals on the way home from work. However, people with nine-to-five jobs probably aren’t commuting through the Hollywood Hills or Malibu Canyon where the views are. And, let’s face it: Los Angeles residents never go anywhere they don’t absolutely have to go at twilight. The roads are simply too hellish between 3:00 and 7:00 P.M. And finally, anyone who could afford one of those stunning views isn’t likely commuting home from work at 5:00 P.M. — or any other time, for that matter. The economy doesn’t work that way anymore. So, who are these parties for?
“Twilight opens are kind of a show a real estate agent puts on for a client – and the client usually doesn’t even attend the event,” said another broker who asked not to be named. “The people who show up tend to be younger, because it’s more of an event than an actual sales tool, and they also draw people who want the chance to get inside a house they normally couldn’t see. These aren’t necessarily the serious buyers.” In other words, there’s always the risk your twilight open will be flooded with looky-loos in search of free booze.
Another agent, who also declines to be named, agrees. “You do it purely because the seller wants it. I don’t think anyone willingly wants to waste an evening hosting people who got lost on their way home. If only I had a dollar for every phone call I’ve gotten from desperate brokers saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been forced to have a twilight open, can you bring anyone around? I’m desperate.’ It’s gotta look like somebody showed up, and I’ve known brokers who collected empty champagne bottles and took them to the house after an under-attended twilight open just to reassure the client that the event was a success.”
Certain kinds of houses are unlikely to throw the doors open to the unwashed hoi polloi at sundown. An agent who specializes in architecturally significant properties points out that, “Staged houses don’t have little knick-knacks to pocket, but historic and occupied properties frequently have a lot of valuable and beautiful things. Those kinds of sellers don’t want complete strangers coming in and photographing, or worse, and you almost never see a twilight open in a house that hasn’t been staged.”
If you insist on having a twilight open, a few tips from the experts: serve white rather than red wine — it’s easier to clean up. If the seller has pets, you’ll need to plan an evening out for them. Pets are considered “distracting” when the selling of a house is afoot. You’ll also need security at your twilight open in the event that your client’s house is at risk of being overtaken by a partying mob.
Reflecting on the risks versus potential rewards, a high-end agent poses this question: “Do you want someone who’s really going to work to sell your house, or do you want someone who knows how to throw a good party?”
NOTE: Feature image by Michael Leonard/Aura. The property pictured, designed by Jaman Properties and dubbed First Point, is located in an exclusive enclave above Malibu’s Carbon Beach and listed at $11.45 million with Chris Cortazzo at Compass.