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Marketing Transparency – Another Perspective

Recently Jonathan Dalton wrote an article here giving his opinion of some of the traditional marketing strategies agents use to “promote.” We all agree on this one point; marketing materials are by their very nature designed to promote. The question becomes, “Promote what (or whom)?”

His post was entitled something about “Obfuscation,” and I knew I would be compelled to respond in some fashion – as soon as I figured out what “obfuscation” meant. Thanks to the power of Google, I am now armed with a new word of the day and in a position to share my counterpoint.

You Know Men!

You know I love you, Jonathan, but your argument is clearly one that was written by a man. It is full of logic, rational thought, detachment and value engineering. Those things are all good – if you are buying a furnace filter. But, most buyers still respond to emotional triggers, and this is where I have to respectfully take exception to at least a few of your points.

Reexamining the Selling Process

I’ll start with where we agree. Real estate is in fact local. And, based on my local experience in my San Diego market, I will also agree that most buyers come to the transaction tethered to their own, cooperating agents. Of course price is important, and the MLS remains the mother of all marketing tools because of its shear reach. However, the power of the MLS is no longer only or even primarily about reaching other agents, but about speaking directly to the consumer through thousands of pay-it-forward IDX sites. My husband and I are currently working with enough trigger-shy buyers to fill a small concert venue, and the vast majority of these are doing their own searches and feeding us their short-lists by choice. Therefore, the MLS copy and photos really must be designed with the buyers in mind, not the subscribing agents. Agents are clinical; buyers often are not.

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Photography as the Double-edge Sword

I agree that photos can actually be what “chases the buyer away.” So, now that I have done nothing but agree, you are probably wondering when my promised counterpoints will be debuting. Let’s start here. Fewer photos may be a safer bet if your only goal is critical mass in the spacious kitchen, but I believe and promote to our selling clients that photos that drive away also serve as a valuable cleansing process. If a buyer can’t live a day without cherry stained cabinetry or with Kelly green Corian counter tops, what value is there in having them parade through at great inconvenience and expense to the owner? Unless, of course, I am obfuscating my true intent – to demonstrate to my client all of the warm bodies I can produce or to snag a few extra sign calls. You want glass block? I have popcorn ceilings. There is nothing to see here.

Maybe the Traditional Trappings are Traditional for a Reason

I will stand by my insanely expensive, high-gloss, bi-fold brochures until I encounter that first buyer at close of escrow who doesn’t ask me for all of my left-overs. Yes, the sellers love the brochures and, sure, the neighbors are impressed and inclined to call me when it is their time to sell, but buyers respond. After an afternoon of home tours, when the buyers are huddled around their print booty from the day, an MLS printout will never elicit the same emotional response that will a professional, compelling presentation. And, even in our web-enabled world, there are still trollers. That brochure is a call to action. A grainy photo of the coat closet and a bullet pointed features list (“reverse osmosis!”) is not awe-inspiring. A twilight photo of the roaring fire pit and descriptive text gives them something to chew on. I want my listings to stick in their brain like the Gilligan’s Island theme song. They may not buy this home, but they won’t forget it. It gives me an edge.

You can keep the candy bars and magnets; those do nothing to further the marketing cause. But, property books can be one more indelible imprint on the buyer psyche, one more tug on the emotional heartstring. I don’t use the standard Title Company stuff, because there is nothing personal about school statistics or a list of area restaurants and dry cleaners. Instead, I use the coffee table book, basically a bound form of the brochure. Buyers notice, and if my presentation doesn’t suggest that my listing is a step above, fewer buyers will come to that conclusion on their own.

Don’t Dis the Open House

Given the choice of sitting an open house and cleaning my own bathrooms, I will opt for the elective surgery every time. I hate open houses. Having said that, we still do them. The last time I sat at a kitchen table and told a seller that open houses never work, they pointed out that they had purchased this particular home, a home for which they weren’t even in the market, after stumbling across it on their way home from the park. That is one example, but I find the real value is in making our listings accessible to the throngs of unrepresented, uncommitted, listing agent-shopping, limited service agent-affiliated customers who now threaten to dominate the buyer population. Make no mistake; the open house is admittedly a low-percentage play. I tell our clients this, all of this. I tell them that it is most valuable as an element of their coming out party, that first week of market time; I tell them that open houses are strictly optional, and I tell them that only an agent with their first loyalty to them will ever host one. It is an ethics thing, and the first time I find one of our agents using our open house primarily for a farming festival, I will thump them on the head, just before I give them the number to Big Brick and Mortar Brokerage. Open houses rarely work, but they can work, and to say an open house will never produce a buyer is simply inaccurate.

Spaghetti Night

Marketing is like a big bowl of noodles. It is a combination of low-percentage plays, and when you throw it all against the wall for any given listing, you never know which piece will stick. Purchasing a home is largely emotional, and even our most tenacious value-seeking clients are moved by those things that speak to them on an emotional level. That good deal today is still going to be their home tomorrow. Good marketing will help to mentally put them in that place.

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Written By

Kris Berg is Broker/Owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She is the perpetrator of the San Diego Home Blog, a locally-focused real estate blog, and in her spare time enjoys fencing, luge, and kittens.



  1. Sam Basel

    November 18, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    For one, I love reading your posts – whereever they may be. Always full of great information full of personality and void of cliche.

    For two, I completely agree that Spaghetti Night marketing is the most effective way to find a buyer. My experience has shown buyers are unpredictable in how they find my properties. Because this is true, I need to find as many options to publicise my listing as possible.

    You still haven’t “sold me” on open houses though…

  2. Debbie Summers / Move To Lake Mary

    November 18, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Kris – I went back and read Jonathan’s post and agree with some things… I agree with you that you have to use the MLS Public remarks to sell to the buyers who are out there looking on every site under the sun at IDX powered searches. There out there looking, even when they have an agent.

  3. Jill Wente

    November 18, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I am not a fan of open houses. I tell my sellers open houses are the least effective marketing tool I have. They attract potential buyers but not the “right buyers”.

    Buyers who maybe don’t want a pool, or don’t want the school district, or wanted all bedrooms down, or is not in their price range. The “right buyers” can view the listing online and determine if the house meets their criteria.

    I have sold a few houses when the last 6 years from an open house just not enough to warrant the time and inconvenience to the sellers.

  4. Jonathan Dalton

    November 18, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    You know I love you, right Kris?

    I’m probably not giving you popcorn ceilings. But I also may not be giving you glass block, if the overall photo doesn’t really do much beyond that. Do I need to show the buyers the cool chrome switch covers, too? Probably not.

    Coffee table books look cool but I cannot (or will not) believe that they cause someone who otherwise not purchase the property to make an offer. “Yeah, the family room is kind of small but my god, look at this coffee table book!”

    As I clarified in the comments, I don’t have a problem with fliers inside the house to help buyers differentiate from all that they’ve seen. But I’ve seen too many thrown at me at my own listing presentation and too little return in terms of calls to believe that the largest percentage of people pulling outside flyers is not the neighbors.

  5. Kris Berg

    November 18, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    JD – Yes I do. 🙂

    Now, how did you know we shoot the switch covers? You must have seen it in the interactive floor plans we also waste our money on.

    Seriously, you are right that whiz-bang collateral materials will not make a buyer purchase a home which does not fit their needs. But, in a tight race, it may be the thing that helps make that connection. It might be the swing vote, even though the impact is subliminal.

    The reality is that it could be I would be better off throwing big wads of cash out on the Interstate. After all, I held on to newspaper advertising far too long. But, I do see the quality of the marketing making an impression with would-be buyers as well as sellers. So, for the time being, I am sticking to my guns.

    Sorry for being unoriginal and hijacking your post, although this could be the beginning of a new, hit Point/Counterpoint series. Can I be Chevy Chase? 🙂

  6. Mark Storolis

    November 18, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Yes, finally Kris, somebody said it. The sales process is not a statistics analysis, it is a practice of emotional elicitation. Statisticians always include a variable, an “x” or “unknown” factor in their equations. Many times that x factor is so large that it forever compromises the rules of the equation. x=emotion

    Night-shot photography is an enormously influential selling tool.
    And IDX is a sleeping giant for those who are not already on the boat. Get familiar and get creative. Make the process fun, and don’t use your site as a virtual resume.

  7. Jonathan Dalton

    November 18, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    The sales process may not be a statistical analysis, but the running of my business is.

    Or, as Kris put it before her nap, maybe I’m just a cheapskate. I should have bought the wine at Inman …

  8. Kris Berg

    November 18, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Oh, for Pete’s sake, JD. Thanks for outing me. Since you have shared my midday regeneration habits with the world, I will confirm for same world that I did in fact call you a cheapskate. However, I meant it in only the most affectionate way.

    Now, and more importantly, where did my avatar go? I don’t look anything like that black shadow man. I am more charcoal gray.

  9. Kris Berg

    November 18, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Scratch that last comment – My avatar apparently lives on now. That was almost a crisis!

  10. Bill Lublin

    November 19, 2008 at 7:18 am

    Kris: I want to see you in fencing gear – do you prefer post or picket?

  11. George McCumiskey

    November 19, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Great informative article and that comment about a coffee table book being the deciding factor in buying a home. rofl. But did any potentials say “Hey, does that coffee table book come with the house?”

  12. Stacie Wells

    November 26, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Open house effectiveness is probably one of the most debated topics around. I’m all for them. I’ve personally sold homes thru open houses, and picked up countless buyers and sellers who weren’t interested in the open house but were impressed with my presentation/preparedness and continued to work with me. I think that when done correctly, they’re an invaluable source of business. Agents are just as much in the “lead” business as they are in the real estate business. And you can NEVER have too many leads. (There’s a fabulous section on Open Houses in the new book “Shift” by Gary Keller if you’re interested 🙂

  13. Linsey

    December 2, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I sold my first listing to the very first person who walked into my first open house. Clearly, beginner’s luck. That was the first, and last time, it has happened.

    I have met new buyers or sellers via an open house. At this point, however, there are more effective (and efficient) ways of selling homes and earning new business.

    If a client would like an open house, I will honor that, but most sellers have heard the message and simply don’t want them. They know the primary interest served is that of the agent and not the sale of their home.

    I smiled when I read about your ‘trigger shy’ buyers. We could have one helluva party if we pooled ours. 🙂 In a market flooded with distressed inventory, I can clearly see what does impress them.

    The reality is that – unless it’s an investor- that emotional pull is very powerful. The small things that collectively help to illicit that emotional response from a buyer do make a difference.

    Look at the ways builders spend money to create that emotion? Music, fountains, fancy brochures, gifts for the kids…it all goes into creating that emotional feel for a buyer. If it was just about the house – they wouldn’t bother with the additional expense. I do think that buyers make a decision based in part, by the way they felt when they were at the property.

    It’s tough to quantify the value of those touches – but I still think it makes good business sense.

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