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Last bastion of obfuscation – real estate marketing lacks transparency

Take a Critical Look

When was the last time you have taken a critical look at your marketing plan? Not in terms of completeness or variety or creativity but rather in terms of effectiveness. And not effectiveness in terms of whether the house sold or not, but whether the sale took place because of your marketing or by dint of having buyers’ agents with access to the MLS.

Have you ever really done so? If not, and if you’re spending any amount of money at all on your marketing, then why not? Are you afraid to learn the true return on your investment? Or do you fear what answers might come with such transparency? Might you learn that little of what you promise to do has any impact on whether your listing sells? What do you do then?

Starting With a Disclaimer

All real estate is local. What might work in your market might not work in every market. Any of the observations here are based on what can be seen in the Phoenix real estate market and may not apply to what happens in your backyard.

Examining the Selling Process

Take a look at your sales statistics or even that for your market. In what percentage of your (or your real estate market’s) sales was a second agent involved? Put another way, how often did the sale of your listing come as a result of another agent bringing a buyer to the property?

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Again, it may vary by market but my guess is the bulk of the sales involved a second agent. And so the question becomes, what marketing attracted that agent and/or that agent’s buyer to the house?

1) The MLS. This essentially is a given. As David Knox often has said of getting listings, you don’t need to be good, you just need to be there. Being in the MLS, you’re there.

2) Photography. The photos may be a little less important to an agent sending listings directly to a buyer, but they’re absolutely essential for buyers looking online either through an IDX feed or some sort of listing portal established by their agent.

Incidentally, photography also can be what chases a buyer away. And this isn’t about the quality of the photos but is based in what Bill Lublin rightly described last week as a buyers’ tendency to search for homes to eliminate as much or more as the homes that they really want. But that’s another post for another day.

3) Pricing. Pricing as marketing? Absolutely! It’s the banner headline for everything else that you do. Pricing actually is the most important marketing step an agent takes – working with his or her seller to put a competitive price on a property. All of the marketing genius in the world will not make up for a list price that’s above market value without justification.

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Property Marketing or Seller Appeasement?

When I’m working with a buyer, those are the factors that are going to decide whether we walk in the front door of the house. What we find once we walk in the door, at least from a marketing perspective, is all but irrelevant. If the floor plan doesn’t work, or there isn’t enough room for the credenza or the home backs onto the interstate, everything else a listing agent has done means nothing:

1) Color flyers. If I’m standing there, my client already has a copy of the listing sheet and doesn’t need the glossy property flyer to tell them a fraction of the information that I’ve provided. Besides, there’s a decent chance the buyer has brought their own camera and doesn’t need your pictures on the flyer at this point.

2) Property books. This mostly pertains to the books provided by your local title company, but really can apply to almost type of publication waiting inside the house. There’s little information in these books that a buyers’ agent can’t readily provide – comps, schools, utilities. Never have I had a buyer see one of these books on the counter and exclaim, “Thank God this was here! All my questions are answered! I’ll take it!”

3) CDs, magnets, candy bars. All of these sound really great at a listing presentation but have nothing to do with actually selling a house. What you’re seeing is agent branding disguised as attempted marketing.

There are agents who will argue these and other marketing techniques will help “differentiate” you from the rest. And I don’t necessarily disagree. But I will ask, does that differentiation alter the sales process for the house or only further your own self promotion? In the grand scheme of things, maybe that answer doesn’t matter in the slightest. But in terms of bringing transparency to the process, it makes all the difference in the world.

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And finally …

The best example of something that looks like marketing but really falls into seller appeasement and agent branding is the open house. Many agents who routinely sit open house will tell you the odds are against finding a buyer with a couple of directional signs, some balloons and some cookies. Which will cause those of us who don’t sit open house to wonder why the open houses are held at all.

Think back to your first days in the business. What was the advice given to you by your broker? Most likely, it involved sitting open houses for other agents in the office. Why? So you could pick up some buyers and start building a client base. We’ve even seen articles here on Agent Genius that say as much.

Being the listing agent doesn’t change that dynamic. At the end of the day, one of the biggest benefits of an open house is not selling the house being held open but the opportunity to pick up new clients. As my former broker used to say, if open houses worked then the seller wouldn’t need me. Put the sign in the yard and wait for someone to walk in with a contract.

Put aside the defense of this aspect of your marketing plan and ask yourself the honest question: is the house being held open to sell the house or to appease the sellers by making it look like you’re working hard?

If the answer is the latter, even in part, then here’s the follow up (and this applies to any of the above aspects of your marketing that serve more to appease sellers than sell the home) … in this age of supposed real estate transparency, what is the more prudent path? Appeasement or education of what really causes a home to sell.

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You know that answer. I know you do.

This article was originally published November 17, 2008.

Written By

Jonathan Dalton is a Realtor with RE/MAX Desert Showcase in Peoria, Arizona and is the author of the All Phoenix Real Estate blog as well as a half-dozen neighborhood sites. His partner, Tobey, is a somewhat rotund beagle who sleeps 21 hours a day.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Susie Blackmon

    November 17, 2008 at 5:36 am

    GREAT post. You hit on a pet peeve.. open houses. Here in WNC we have broker opens and I love it when they say they won’t support those who don’t waste their time to come to a broker open just to get a free meal. WHERE IN THE !@##$% does the best interest of the client come in?? Grrrr.

  2. Jim Lee

    November 17, 2008 at 6:31 am

    I agree with some of your post but I still believe flyer boxes are valuable IF they’re outside the house near your yard sign.

    Property books are useful too. Like you, I’ve never had a buyer say “thank goodness, this nifty book is here to answer my questions” but it can speed the answering questions process up by not depending on the buyer’s agent to get the info.

    Refrigerator magnets and crap like that is pretty worthless. Most every house I list has someone else’s calendar or refrigerator magnet on it.

    I sometimes ask seller after they sign up with me why they didn’t call one of the agents on their refrigerator. The usual answer is that “I didn’t think of it.” So much for top of mind awareness.

    A lot of real estate is just being there; being in the right place at the right time.

  3. Craig Ernst

    November 17, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Excellent post, Jonathan. I think that every agent should take a critical look at his or her marketing plan on an ongoing basis. How else can you determine what’s actually working to help give exposure to your client’s property and what’s largely a waste of time and money (read: newspaper ads).

    I agree that trinket-y things like candy bars and magnets are almost a complete waste of money, at least in terms of helping your clients.

    And open houses get a deservedly bad rap, at least the way that most agents run them.

    But how about printing up some open house invitations (similar to party invitations) and hand-delivering them to the nearest 50 or so neighbors the Saturday morning before the Sunday open house? You could let the neighbors know you’ll have a few refreshments available and give them a mini (not full-sheet) flyer with a couple of photos and some of the listing info and ask them to pass it on if they know anyone who might be interested in moving to the neighborhood.

    By doing this you could help market yourself to the neighborhood (their Realtor certainly never did *this*) and at the same time, possibly get some word of mouth going for your seller.

    It might not be worth it to do this type of thing in all situations, but in this market? It might not be a bad use of time. 🙂

    Craig

  4. Jay Thompson

    November 17, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Great post JD.

    Jim Lee wrote: “Refrigerator magnets and crap like that is pretty worthless. Most every house I list has someone else’s calendar or refrigerator magnet on it.”

    Indeed it’s funny how often that happens. I asked someone a couple of weeks ago about a football schedule on their fridge. Response was “Like I’d choose an agent because they sent me a schedule?”

  5. Missy Caulk

    November 17, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Jon,if you are honest up front with the sellers about whatever doesn’t work in your market, (in mine open houses, print ad’s)then I have no problem. You just explain it upfront.

    Sometimes I think Realtors are chicken, afraid they will NOT get the listing if they tell them up front what they will do and not do to sell their home.

    For instance I recommend or insist on staging if the house is vacant. Only lost one listing because of it. Oh well…

  6. Jim Lee

    November 17, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Missy, you’re dead on with being honest and up front with sellers not only about what you do but what you don’t do and why.

    I don’t do any sort of print ads and NO public open houses.

    After explaining why to sellers 99.5% of them understand and are fine with it.

    Every now and then one of them will balk a little about the no print ad but most go along and we get their house sold.

  7. Jonathan Dalton

    November 17, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Susie – Well, if there’s free food … 🙂

    Jim – For me, flyers are a question of ROI. One year I printed a couple thousand fliers and received 2 calls. I receive 5 to 10 times more than that using a 24-hr information line with 800-call capture.

    Craig – I respectfully disagree. In this market (or at least in my market), your new listing is going to be one of a dozen or more in the same neighborhood. Any word of mouth most likely will be (oh hell, there’s another one). With tighter supply I could see it, though.

    Missy – explaining it always works for me. I tell them I know of exactly one house that sold at an open house – mine. We were all but dragged in by the neck.

  8. Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra

    November 17, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Like all things real estate, some of the items you mention are a matter of your local market (well, maybe except the magnets).

    House flyers– as a buyer’s agent, when they are available in the house, I give them to my clients. Why? 2 reasons– 1) MLS sheets can be thoroughly confusing to folks who aren’t agents, even after I have explained them to my clients. Sometimes, they just want a vital stat on a house. Flyers usually provide that. It is kinda like looking on the back of a baseball card, instead of visiting the Elias Sports Bureau. 2) Most agent flyers suck. Our brokerage happens to go above and beyond when it comes to flyers. The more sucky flyers my client sees, it helps to reinforce the fact that our clients receive far greater service than the average.

    Property books– we don’t see these around here that often. When I do, I again will point them out to my clients, usually because they fall under the same “reason 2” above.

    Open houses are essentially a waste of time in our market area. Although, I do know agents who do well with open houses in other parts of the country.

    As a listing agent, the reason that I create a top-notch flyer is because I know that not every buyer’s agent is like you, Jonathan. Not every buyer’s agent is as diligent or well-informed. Same goes for their clients. In those cases, I am going to do whatever I can for my client to ensure that any potential buyer has as much information as I can provide so that they can make an informed decision. Honestly, we have ended up with the buyer clients of other agents because of the marketing and information materials we provide in our listings.

    I wish ever agent did their job as well as you do, but that just isn’t the case.

  9. Kelley Koehler

    November 17, 2008 at 11:10 am

    JD – indeed. I’ve always gone with the notion that I’m the expert. And the expert tells you what they’re going to do, they’re not asking what you want to do. I’m going to do this, because of this metric, and this is how mine is superior. This is how we’ll both track my activities and the results. Plan, rationale, tracking results. The end.

    Oh, and there’s no flyers or open houses, unless I think they’re appropriate. Being the expert from the beginning, having the freedom to make the choices I think are best in terms of the marketing, positions me to have that flexibility from the start.

  10. Paula Henry

    November 17, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Jonathan –

    What remains from old school marketing is mainly to appease a seller. The reason: Most agents can not adequately explain the value they bring without having a list of wasteful marketing tools.

    I do like packets inside the house for the potential buyer to take with them. We usually include the Sellers Disclosure and Survey, plus any additonal information available, such as floorplan, etc. They provide a lot of detail and answer questions for both the buyer and their agent. Of course they can also be uploaded to the MLS.

  11. CWaterhouse

    November 17, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Another excellent post, JD. Also being in the Phoenix R/E market, I’m in agreement that not every home needs to be held open. I like Craig’s idea (above) about the mini-flyers for the neighbors and the additional exposure to the property.

    I do believe in the power of marketing flyers, however. Since I work primarily with buyers, I find that having something tangible to remember the property is almost a necessity. If we’re looking at more than a handful of houses in one day, then a colorful, well written flyer is just what the buyer needs to remind them of exactly which house it was that they liked … and could potentially buy. I’ve also found that it’s a great place for them to write their comments or questions about the property.

    Well, that’s it – my .02 worth.

  12. teresa boardman

    November 17, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    You are right real estate is local. There are some things on your list that work in my market. Here in the city color flyers in the brochure boxes are a hit. Having a picture of your face on the for sale sign is a waste as are opne houses and broker opens. For me high quality photos count. I have sold listing because of then and I have gotten listings because of them but that might not work for everyone either. The important thing is to pay attention to what works and what does not and to not just do things because that is what we are supposed to.

  13. Jonathan Dalton

    November 17, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Since this is the direction of the recent comments, I usually will put flyers inside of the home for people to help remember the property. It’s the exterior flyers which I’ve found tend to be snapped up by kids who empty the box and nosy neighbors checking on price.

  14. Karen Goodman

    November 17, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    I agree with you 100% on open houses. I don’t see how inviting curious neighbors or people driving by will actually sell a house.

    I do disagree on the color fliers though. I used to work soly with corporate relo buyers, and would often show a couple 30-40 homes in a 3 day stretch. They would have trouble remembering even the favorites. Yes, I do give them an MLS printout, but given the quantity of homes, I gave them the version with just the primary pic and not the additional pics. The color fliers helped them remember why they like a house and often contributed to those homes staying on the short list of possibilities.

    I won’t do fleer boxes since I found that buyers always used them to eliminate homes. My goal is to get people inside the house, and I don’t want them pulling a flier only to eliminate it. Instead, I would prefer that they call me or look the house up on the internet…hoping that they will see something that will pique their interest enough to call for an appt.

    I don’t do books inside, but I have started putting together a special features list that itemizes the features by room. I used to watch my relo buyers study these sheets and it was amazing how often they could get impressed by including things like ‘architectural shingles’ or ‘energy efficient furnace’. So often these details get lost in an MLS listing, but stand out well in a bullet point list that is room by room.

  15. Debbie Summers / Move To Lake Mary

    November 18, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Jonathan – In CFL right now it is a waste of time to do an Open House – I agree with Missy that you have to be hones and upfront about the success of them in our current market.

  16. Charles Mackenzie-Hill

    August 22, 2010 at 5:48 am

    This article was originally published November 17, 2008 and applies even more now. Appeasement is a double edged sword, I feel. Luckily to educate those that would like to educated is great until the loss of money due to the suggested drop in Sales price. If feels at times that the seller has to come to terms with the reality, which can takes months . In Spain where we are this can years ,were talking nearly three and in some cases considerably more.

  17. jphilip

    August 22, 2010 at 8:49 am

    Lovely home. What sold you on it? The view? The kitchen? The fantastic floor plan?
    “The 3-ring binder on the kitchen table with the pie charts. I had to have it after seeing that.”

  18. Teresa boardman

    August 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Oh man this is a re-run. I loved reading Jonathan on AG

  19. Charlotte VT real estate agent

    August 23, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    You are correct about the use and efficacy of most of the marketing we do. The internet, mls idx, and the yard sign are by far and away the most effective forms of advertising. However, there is nothing wrong with appeasing the client. If the client aware that the open house is probably not going to sell their home, but the agent and client agree to hold one anyone–great. I personally think the homebooks are a waste of paper, but I am also surprised how many buyers pick them up and take them home. If the client wants to have home books, and is willing to pay for them through a higher commission charge–great. I think most agents know what advertising is effective these days, and I hope all are telling their sellers what is working and what is not, but; in the face of wasting time, money, and energy; if the client and agent want to use ineffective marketing, I say let them knock themselves out.

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