How to Sell Your Home: This the first of 3 installments of Chapter 1 of my book, The Seven Myths of Selling Your Home. I admit this is one of my longest blog articles, but I wanted to keep this subject matter together so your reading of it would flow. If this is relevant for you as you consider selling your home, then you may want to read this in one sitting, and if this topic is not relevant for you right now, you are welcome to move past this article to more relevant topics. With over 2,200 articles, you’re likely to find what you’re looking for. Here we go.
The world has changed since you sold your last home. Traditional advertising no longer sells homes effectively. Traditional advertising includes ads in print newspapers and print magazines, newspaper classifieds, radio, TV, billboards, mass mailings by snail mail, print flyers and brochures, trade shows and trade magazines (or home shows), open houses, and cold calling. The problem with traditional advertising in real estate is that it no longer works like it did for decades. Unfortunately many home sellers (and their agents) across the U.S. are still thinking in terms of traditional advertising, but the vast majority of buyers moved away from these traditional media years ago.
Effectively promoting your home today requires an understanding of how buyers have changed their habits, how they think, what they want and what they don’t want, where they search and how they search. Buyers do not search for homes today the way they used to, and that changes everything about where and how we advertise to them. Once you really understand buyers, you must master how to reach them and communicate with them. You cannot just shove information down buyers’ throats. That doesn’t work. It’s all about permission marketing, good and relevant information, the kind they actually want and need, and it’s about giving them the precise information they need when they need it, and doing it in such a way that you connect with them emotionally.
Marketing today has risen to entirely new levels, and buyers have been telling us exactly how they want to be treated and how to communicate with them, if we will only listen. Interruption Marketing Traditional marketing has been called “interruption marketing” by one marketing genius, Seth Godin. He coined that phrase in his book, Permission Marketing. What he meant by the term was that TV commercials and newspaper and magazine articles interrupt what you want to watch or read, and they shove unwanted sales pitches in your face. Telemarketing phone calls are of the same nature. They interrupt what we want to be doing. Much of traditional advertising interrupts us when we least want to be interrupted. In the middle of a good movie you are watching with your loved ones you get interrupted by a commercial sponsored by a pharmaceutical company that openly talks about the most intimate sexual matters. If you’re in a mixed group of people or younger kids, some of these commercials can be quite embarrassing. These types of commercials are the ultimate example of interruption marketing.
Are You a Fish? Traditional advertising treats people like fish who have to be hooked and reeled in. This is the nature of traditional advertising, and most of us are more than delighted that we now have other options to research and buy products and services. Technology and the Internet have changed everything about how consumers shop, and they have changed everything about how homes are effectively marketed today. How do I know these things? My finger is on the pulse of buyers seven days a week from morning ’till night, and I listen and watch like a hawk to understand exactly what buyers want and how they want it. I’ve worked with thousands of clients going back 37 years, and I asked my clients what they do and how they do it. I communicate daily with buyers from all over the United States, answer their questions via email, blogs, social media, forums, text messaging, and on the phone. I hear their questions and their concerns. I talk to them about how they search for their real estate, what sources of information they find useful and credible, what sites they visit, and I find out what they love and what they avoid like the plague. I also talk to real estate brokers around the country, because they call me for guidance.
Many of them have read my book, The New World of Marketing for Real Estate Agents. They tell me what their frustrations are in advertising their listings. They tell me what works and doesn’t work in their part of the country, and they tell me the weaknesses of the franchise brokerages where they work. But I also work with over a hundred prospective buyers each year, and sell dozens of homes to buyers in my market. I ask these buyers questions about how they search for real estate, for their agent, and how they make their decisions. The information buyers give me is worth a fortune in marketing research.
I have been measuring what works and what doesn’t work for decades, and technology gives us the power of accurate digital metrics to measure each advertising method. Traditional advertising doesn’t do this. Traditional advertising (like print newspapers) just keeps throwing out hooks, trying to catch anyone who gets within range. Compared to the accurate systems we have available today via technologies on the Internet for target marketing and measuring statistical results, print newspapers are like going back to the days of fishing in the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago. Back then fishermen sailed to an area where they hoped they would find fish, they threw a hook or net overboard, and they waited. Today commercial fishermen have diesel powered boats with electricity, galley kitchens, and comfortable cots. They have electronic devices that measure depth, show the precise contour of the ocean bottom, and even outline fish on their monitor. They have accurate GPS that identifies their position within 10 feet, and they can monitor live weather reports. What a difference 2,000 years has made in the fishing industry. In the area of marketing and technology, the last 20 years has been like 2,000 years in the fishing business.
Advances in technology in the past two decades is mind blowing, and has changed all the rules of advertising real estate. Today buyers vociferously object to being treated like fish that need to be hooked by a slick salesman. They want to be in control of their own destiny, and they don’t buy real estate without careful research. They research, compare quality and prices, and they make careful decisions. Technology has given them that power, and they love it. In fact, it has dramatically and permanently changed their buying habits. Buyers also want to be treated with respect. Effective and respectful marketing on the Internet is more than just lead generation and cold numbers. Most marketers miss this, but advertising a home for sale is all about building relationships with qualified buyers. While many salesmen of yesteryear were very good with customer service using traditional methods, modern technologies have changed many of the processes that appeal most to buyers. CRM, or customer relationship management, is not what it used to be.
Let’s take a look at what traditional advertising in the real estate business has been for decades. You may already know this, but most of these traditional methods are no longer favored by buyers, and remember, buyers determine the rules. Not all traditional advertising methods are dead today, but many are certainly on life support. Historically in the real estate business, advertising listings included several traditional approaches. I’ll touch on six here. First, running a listing in the Sunday print newspaper was at the top of the list, although that typically meant each listing would get rotated and would only be advertised once every 90 days. But every home seller expected to see their listing in the newspaper at least once.
Second, real estate magazines that were placed in magazine racks at restaurants, hotels and grocery stores became an important selling point in any listing presentation. But again, most listings were rotated, so a listing might only show up once in each advertising cycle. Real estate magazines became kind of a fad for agents, a place where they could show clients physical proof they were advertising their properties.
Third, personalized mass mailing (via snail mail) spawned an entire industry itself. Businesses cropped up selling names and addresses and even detailed demographic information. In the beginning, being able to personalize letters with “Dear John and Mary,” was very impressive. I sent out thousands of those kinds of mail merge letters myself. Today for a fee, an agent can find out the name of every member of your family, your phone number, your mailing address, the length of time you have lived there, your previous residences, your occupation, a very accurate estimate of your annual income, the value of your home, a list of all the magazines you subscribe to, and your social media postings. As with so many types of interruption advertising, all of this was carried too far.
Fourth, open houses became popular and a mainstay in traditional advertising. I held many open houses in my career, but only sold one as a result of the open house. That was in a very hot real estate market in Fairbanks, Alaska in the 1970s. Few agents ever sell a home at an open house. Fifth, massive public advertising became a primary effort by large real estate franchises to capture customers. The popular term they liked to use was “branding.” Huge billboards became all the rage. And they were expensive! Huge bricks-and-mortar buildings with large signage were also a sign of the times. Bigger was always better, or so they thought. Sixth, expensive TV commercials (and radio) created competition among the big national brokerages. This was another effort to brand a name, so home sellers would automatically think of that company and list with them. Back then, all this worked. People didn’t interview agents; they just hired them if they answered the phone and had a heartbeat. Thank God clients are much more discerning today. There were other lesser advertising techniques, but these were the major traditional advertising methods for listed properties. Let’s take a closer look at five of these.
Print newspaper ads for real estate simply do not produce buyers anymore, especially in a rural area where most of the buyers are retirees coming from somewhere else in the country. I’ve been asking buyers for seven straight years if they subscribed to the local newspaper, and in all those years only two said they did. Even those two said the listings in the newspaper were very limited, so they used the online MLS to do a thorough search for their homes. You might think that newspapers would be effective for advertising homes in metropolitan areas like Tacoma, Washington. They’re not. People are using the Internet to search for homes.
The newspaper probably includes far less than 1% of the MLS listings, and looking at the print classifieds doesn’t allow buyers to search with their own unique parameters like they can online. This makes the print newspapers almost worthless for buyers. Now you’re probably thinking that the Sunday issue of every print newspaper is full of real estate listings. If print newspaper ads for real estate no longer sell real estate, why do agents keep running their listings in the print newspapers? I wonder if you know the answer? I’ll tell you, but pause for a moment to think about this, and let’s see how close you are. Hint: It’s not to find buyers for the homes they are advertising.
I called a colleague who advertised his listings regularly in the Sunday issue of a print newspaper. One weekend he spent about $300 running several of his listings, so I decided to have a little fun. The conversation went like this:
Chuck: So tell me John [not his real name], I saw you had six of your listings in the Sunday newspaper. Did you sell some of those properties?
John: A pregnant pause was followed by a drawling, “No.”
Chuck: Did you get some great leads?
John: No, not really.
Chuck: Did you get some good phone calls?
John: I had one phone call. A tire kicker.
Chuck: So John, why do you keep running your listings in the print newspaper when these ads don’t sell real estate and when you don’t even get good leads, and especially since it is so doggone expensive?
John: My clients expect me to advertise their properties.
Chuck: Right, but that doesn’t answer my question John. If your clients asked you to jump off a bridge, you would politely decline. So why don’t you explain to your clients what works and what doesn’t work. Your clients are not going to want you to throw money over a bridge. Why not spend your advertising dollars on things that work?
John: Well, my clients want to see me advertising, and they expect to see their properties in the newspaper where other agents advertise, too.
Chuck: What they expect is that you will sell their property John. Trust me, they don’t care about the rest.
John: Well, I’ve got to show them I’m doing something. That’s usually where we get on an endless loop with my friend repeating himself.
No matter what else I ask or say, he just keeps repeating that mantra, “my clients expect to see their listing in the newspapers so they know that I’m doing something.” I just shake my head. I cannot over emphasize how deeply engrained this thinking is in agents’ thinking. Even as I was editing this chapter, I got a call from a veteran real estate agent, and we happened upon this very subject. He immediately agreed with me that advertising listings in the newspaper was a waste of money, but he also said he does it because his clients expect to see their listings in the newspaper. This is an agent who understands, but still insists that he and his clients keep riding the traditional marketing Merry-Go-Round. Apparently he doesn’t feel it is worth trying to educate his clients, or he thinks it would be a waste of time.
Then you get the agent who says, “Oh, no, advertising in the local newspaper works really well. I just sold a house I advertised in the paper. So there you go.” One sale does not establish a rule. In fact, it only proves my point. If only one out of 1,000 homes sells as a direct and proximate cause of running a newspaper ad, for example, that would tell me newspaper ads are not effective. There is usually much more to the story. Was that house that sold really a direct result of running the ad in the newspaper, or did that buyer find it on the Internet and it just happened to also be advertised in the newspaper? Or did the buyers have it saved on their favorites’ MLS list for weeks or months before they came, and they would have looked at it anyway?
An agent without an understanding of how advertising works might sincerely believe that advertising one of her listings in the newspaper is a good idea and will help sell it. But if she was paying attention to nationwide advertising statistics on real estate and the metrics of her own print advertising, she would realize that print ads don’t sell the homes advertised to the people who call on those ads. If someone calls off a newspaper ad, it is more likely they are just seeking information, and then they hang up. They don’t like being sold on the phone anymore. Even if they do agree to go out with that agent and look at homes, the odds are extremely high they buy a different home than the one they saw in the newspaper.
This is a statistical reality all across the country. While that scenario can work out for a listing agent, it does not accomplish the goal of selling the home advertised. It only gives that listing agent a lead who does not buy your home. In support of their traditional advertising approach, agents are trained to rebut this with an argument relying on indirect causation. By advertising some listings in the newspaper, they are getting leads to sell other homes, homes not advertised in the newspaper. So their argument will be that even though it is extremely unlikely they will sell your home by running a print ad, nevertheless by running other clients’ listings in the newspaper, they might indirectly sell your home.
But the odds of selling any of the homes advertised in print is also extremely unlikely. The greater likelihood is that the agent will sell that buyer a home not in the newspaper, but in the MLS. The conclusion is that running listings in the print newspaper are for the benefit of the agents and not the home sellers of the ads. The truth is print advertising is a form of branding for agents who hope that by advertising listings in the newspaper (that they do not sell because of the newspaper ad), that they will get more listings from people who see their ads and assume they are selling a lot of real estate. Do you see the irony of this?
Let me say it a different way. Listing agents who list, list, and list without also having a powerful marketing system to buyers, often advertise extensively in traditional media. They have to because they don’t have a powerful online marketing system to buyers. So for example, by running their ads in the print newspaper, which does not sell the homes directly, they hope they will get more listings, so they can get more listings. That’s not a typo in the last sentence. The goal is to get more listings, advertise them in the newspaper in order to get more listings, so other agents will keep selling those listings, so the listing agent can make money just by listing and not by selling herself.
She gets lucky when she does sell one herself. So an agent who is running a lot of traditional ads is able to tell his listing clients that he is really doing something. He is doing something. He’s running expensive print ads, but that may be all he’s doing. It’s all about perception rather than reality. But the clients rarely figure any of this out. Do you see why I say that print newspapers are not the best way to advertise your specific listing? I like to ask this question, “What is in my client’s best interest?,” not, “What is in my best interest?”
What will help my client with no hidden agendas? I believe in transparent honesty. Exaggerating One’s Way to Success There’s one more irony that I cannot pass up. I know of agents in several markets who have exaggerated their way to success. One boasted of selling hundreds of homes until enough people believed him and listed with him assuming he was a Superman. Eventually he did sell a lot of homes because so many people listed with him. But it was a case of lying to hundreds and thousands of clients before enough of them took the cheese, and he got so many listings that other agents sold, that he ended up becoming a millionaire. Now people think he really is a great success. It may be success from his perspective, but I call it success without honor.
What happened to old fashioned honesty and integrity? I’ll tell you. Consumers are not doing their homework and due diligence, and so lying pays off for many sales people without a moral compass. Print Magazines An interesting genre of magazine found a niche in the real estate industry about 25 years ago by selling real estate agents space to promote their listings. We generically called these real estate magazines, and usually they were about three dozen pages of solid listings. Agents could buy a quarter, half, or full page. It was a stroke of genius for the magazine industry, because prior to this, magazines had to publish articles that they paid authors to write, and then they sold advertising space throughout the magazine to make money. These real estate magazines published no content, and only sold adverting. Not only did they not have to pay for content, they got paid for every page in the magazine. Talk about profitable!
It was a gold mine for the magazine publishers. But did these magazines sell real estate? That is still debated. One of the big limitations of print advertising is that there are almost no metrics to measure the effectiveness of expensive ads. There are only anecdotal stories by agents. When it comes to selling real estate, if you cannot definitively demonstrate that an advertising method works, it probably does not. For a couple of decades these real estate magazines were a real money maker for the publishers, but then the world started changing. Advances in technology, the Internet, and changing consumer preferences disrupted traditional print advertising.
The cost of doing business for real estate brokers continued to increase at the same time commissions were decreasing during recessionary times, and one of the biggest business expenses was print advertising. Not only did agents stop buying $800 pages in the real estate magazines, consumers continued their shift away from print media to free online resources. So the real estate magazines got hit hard during the recession, and many went out of business. These traditional print magazines are not an effective way to promote listings, but some agents are using magazines as part of their bigger strategy of “branding.”
Part 2 coming soon.
Possibly Related Posts:
- How to Sell Your Home: 7 Myths Chapter 1 (Part 2 of 3) The Open House
- How to Sell Your Home: 7 Myths Part 5
- How to Sell Your Home: 7 Myths Part 4
- How to Sell Your Home: 7 Myths Part 3
- How to Sell Your Home: 7 Myths Part 2