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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?

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.

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.

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.

You know that answer. I know you do.

This article was originally published November 17, 2008.

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  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. 🙂


  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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Business Marketing

Hiring managers keep you on your toes – make them take the 1st step

(MARKETING) If you want to stand out from other job applicants, weird outfits, stunts, and baked goods will only get you so far – or it could backfire.



hiring managers interview

According to research by employment search website Simply Hired, hiring managers get an average of 34 applications per job listing, but they spend time genuinely considering an average of only 12.6% of them – that’s less than 1/3. Some applicants may feel the need to go above and beyond the average application and do something unusual or unexpected to grab the hiring manager’s attention.

Simply Hired conducted a survey to find out whether or not “nontraditional” strategies to stand out are worth the risk, or whether it makes sense to stick to a traditional resume and cover letter. They surveyed over 500 hiring managers and over 500 job applicants to find out what sort of outside-of-the-box approaches applicants are willing to take, and which ones do and don’t pay off.

Most notably, the survey found that over 63% of hiring managers find attention-grabbing gimmicks totally unacceptable, with only 20.2% saying they were acceptable. Hiring managers were also given a list of unusual strategies to rank from most to least acceptable. Unsurprisingly, the least acceptable strategy was offering to sleep with the hiring manager – which should really go without saying.

Interestingly, hiring managers also really disliked when applicants persistently emailed their resumes over and over until they got a response. One or two follow-up emails after your initial application aren’t such a bad idea – but if you don’t get a response after that, continuing to pester the hiring manager isn’t going to help.

While sending baked goods to the office was considered a somewhat acceptable strategy, sending those same cookies to the manager’s home address was a big no-no. Desserts might sweeten your application, but not if you cross a professional boundary by bringing them to someone’s home – that’s just creepy.

Another tactic that hiring managers received fairly positively was “enduring extreme weather to hand-deliver a resume” – but waiting around for inclement weather to apply for a job doesn’t seem very efficient. However, hiring managers did respond well to applicants who went out of their way to demonstrate a skill, for example, by creating a mock product or presentation or completing their interview in a second language. A librarian who was surveyed said she landed her job by making her resume into a book and creating QR codes with links to her portfolio, while a woman applying to work at the hotel hopped behind the counter and started checking customers in.

It’s worth noting that while most hiring managers aren’t into your gimmicks and games, of the 12.9% of applicants who said they have risked an unusual strategy, 67.7% of those actually landed the job.

Still, it’s probably a safer bet to stick to the protocol and not try any theatrics. So then, what can you actually do to improve your chances of landing the job?

Applicants surveyed tended to focus most of their time on their resumes, but according to hiring managers, the interview and cover letter are “the top ways to stand out among the rest.” Sure, brush up your resume, but make sure to give equal time to writing a strong cover letter and practicing potential interview questions.

In the survey, applicants also tended to overestimate the importance of knowing people within the company and having a “unique” cover letter and interview question answers; meanwhile, they underestimated the importance of asking smart questions at the interview and personality. In fact, hiring managers reported that personality was the most impactful factor in their hiring decisions.

It appears that the best way to stand out in a job interview is to wow them with your personality and nail the interview. Weird outfits, stunts, and baked goods will only get you so far – and in fact, may backfire.

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Business Marketing

Use nostalgia as a marketing niche for your business today

(MARKETING) A market that is making waves is found in the form of entertainment nostalgia. Everyone has memories and attachments, why not speak to them?




Is it just me or does it seem like there is something for everything nowadays? Let me clarify, as that is a rather broad question…

With the way communicating through technology has advanced, it’s become much easier to connect with those who have shared interests. This has become especially evident with interests in the entertainment community.

Entertainment nostalgia

It now seems like there is an event for every bit of nostalgia you can imagine. Autograph shows, meet and greets, and memorabilia collections of all kinds are held in convention halls all around the world. (To give you an idea of how deep this thing goes, there was a “Grease 2” reunion convention sometime within the last five years. Being that I’m the only person I’ve ever met who likes that movie, it’s amazing that it found an audience.)

This idea of marketing by use of nostalgia is something that is becoming smartly tapped and there are a variety of directions it can go in.

For example, the new Domino’s ads feature dead-on tributes to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

What’s your niche?

If you’re a fan of anything, it’s likely that you can find an event to suit your needs.

And, if you want to take it a step further, you can think outside the box and use nostalgia as a marketing tool.

I recently began dabbling in social media gigs that have brought me to a few different fan conventions. One was a throwback 80s and 90s convention that featured everyone from Alan Thicke to the members of N*SYNC. Another is a recurring convention that brings together fans of sci-fi, horror, and everything under that umbrella.

I was amazed by the number of people that came out to these events and the amount of money that was spent on the day’s activities (autographs, photo ops, etc.). I was energized by the fact that you can take something you have a great appreciation for and bring together others who share that feeling. Watching people meet some of their favorite celebrities is something that is priceless.

Hop onboard the nostalgia train

If you’re a fan of something, you don’t have to look too far to find what you’d enjoy – going back to the aforementioned “Ferris Bueller” example, there is a first-ever John Hughes fan event taking place in Chicago next month that will bring fans to their favorite Brat Pack members.

In the same thought, if you have an idea, now is the time to find others who share that interest and execute your vision.

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Business Marketing

5 tips to help you craft consistently high-converting email marketing

(MARKETING) Email may seem too old to be effective but surprisingly it’s not, so how can you get the most out of your email marketing? Try these tips.



Email marketing

Email marketing might seem archaic in comparison to modern mediums like social media, blogging, and podcasting; however, it actually remains one of the highest converting options marketers and small businesses have at their disposal.

But Why Email?

Hopefully, you believe in email as an effective marketing channel, but in case you have doubts, let’s hit the reset button. Here’s why email marketing is worth investing in:

  • Email is one of the few marketing channels that you have total control over. Unlike a social media audience, which can disappear if the platform decides you violate their terms, you own your email list.
  • Email is considered very personal. When someone gives you access to their inbox, they’re telling you that you can send them messages.
  • From a pure analytics perspective, email gives you the ability to track behaviors, study what works, and get familiar with the techniques that don’t.
  • The ROI of email marketing is incredibly high. It can deliver as much as $44 in value for every $1 spent.

5 Tips for High-Converting Emails

If you’ve been using email, but haven’t gotten the results you’d like to, it’s probably because you’re using it ineffectively.

Here are a few very practical tips for high-converting emails that generate results:

  1. Write Better Subject Lines: Think about email marketing from the side of the recipient. (Considering that you probably receive hundreds of emails per week, this isn’t hard to do.) What’s going to make you engage with an email? It’s the subject line, right?If you’re going to focus a large portion of your time and energy on one element of email marketing, subject lines should be it.The best subject lines are the ones that convey a sense of urgency or curiosity, present an offer, personalize to the recipient, are relevant and timely, feature name recognition, or reference cool stories.
  2. Nail the Intro”: Never take for granted the fact that someone will open your email, and read to the second paragraph. Some will – but most will scan the first couple of lines, and then make a decision on how to proceed.It’s critically important that you get the intro right. You have maybe five seconds to hook people in, and get them excited. This is not a time to slowly build up. Give your best stuff away first!
  3. Use Video: Email might be personal, but individual emails aren’t necessarily viewed as special. That’s because people get so many of them on a daily basis.According to Blue Water Marketing, “The average person receives more than 84 emails each day! So how do you separate your emails from everyone else? Embed videos in your emails can increase your conversion rates by over 21 percent!”This speaks to a larger trend of making emails visually stimulating. The more you use compelling visuals, the more engaging and memorable the content will be.
  4. Keep Eyes Moving: The goal is to keep people engaging with your email content throughout. While it’ll inevitably happen with a certain percentage of recipients, you want to prevent people from dropping off as they read.One of the best ways to keep sustained engagement is to keep eyes effortlessly moving down the page with short and succinct copy.One-liners, small paragraphs, and lots of spacing signal a degree of approachability and simplicity. Use this style as much as you can.
  5. Don’t Ask Too Much: It can be difficult to convey everything you want to say in a single email, but it’s important that you stay as focused as possible – particularly when it comes to CTAs and requests.Always stick to one CTA per email. Never ask multiple questions or present different offers. (It’ll just overwhelm and confuse.) You can present the same CTA in multiple places – like at the beginning, middle, and end of the email – but it needs to be the same call. That’s how you keep people focused and on-task.

Give Your Email Marketing Strategy a Makeover

Most businesses have some sort of email lists. Few businesses leverage these lists as well as they should. Hopefully, this article has provided you with some practical and actionable tips that can be used to boost engagement and produce more conversions. Give them a try and see what sticks.

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