Hundreds of times now I have taken on a listing that did not sell. I would change nothing but the marketing message, and the home would sell almost instantly. It just happened again, but I have never had one quite this dramatic, nor have I ever had one case teach so many essential marketing lessons. If someone made me select just one case study to teach the real estate industry how to get effective advertising done, this is the example I would use. You’ll see it is not about having a more exciting message for the home itself, but a more honest one.
This is the story of a home that went unsold for 2 years, and then sold for full price, with 8 offers in 4-days.
The previous agent had worked his tail off to try to sell this house. He spent thousands of dollars on things like: a virtual tour made that included high-quality production values with voice-over narration and music, a 4-color, professionally-printed brochure, and open houses for agents and the public. All with no results.
Most interesting was the agent’s final advice at the end of his two-year attempt to sell. He told the sellers they simply had a “problem” house.
He was not being mean-spirited — anyone would have come to the same conclusion based on the harsh feedback that came in about the house. I am used to dealing with a house that has one “problem”, but this one had three:
- the lot was all slope with no usable yard
- the master bedroom was upstairs and
- many complaints poured in that the house was way too small and unimpressive given that the others were in the 5,000 to 8,000 sq. ft. range with prices up to $5M (this one was $725k and had a little over 3,000 sq. ft.)
What would you do with this situation?
When I carefully studied the previous agent’s marketing I realized all of the complaints about the house were not credible at all. Why?
Because the marketing was attracting the wrong profile of buyers over, and over, and over again. The house wasn’t the problem, it was the marketing that was the “problem”.
Do you make the mistake of focusing on where to
relay a message instead of the message itself?
In order to sell this “problem” house I wrote an updated listing description and put it in one place (not the MLS). I didn’t do any of the things the previous agent had done. I changed nothing but the marketing message. I got eight offers in four days, and the home sold for full price!
I have done this for years — updating the marketing message to attract the right buyer for a home.
But the real story in this case lies in the observation that most people concentrate their marketing efforts on the method of delivering a message rather than the message itself.
In recent years agents have spent lots of money and time on the latest marketing fad — social media.
Before that, other marketing trends have been blogging, podcasts, blast emails, and the notion that if you’re in real estate you must have a website. Agents tend to jump from one trend to the next without ever considering the actual message that is being used.
And besides “new” media, the real estate industry has another distraction that dooms most advertising of listings.
Advertising messages should always be positive and upbeat — are you sure?
There is this ingrained pressure to always be positive and upbeat. The belief is if you mention anything in your advertising that might be taken as a drawback you will scare people away.
However, every home has something about it that will turn off some buyers. The house may have a small yard. It may be dated. It may be on a busy street. It may not have a view when others do, etc.
It is rare for agents to list a “perfect” house, and even when we do, guess what problem crops up? The price will be very high compared to others (as it should be). However, this just causes agents to be nervous because they know buyers — and buyer agents — will object to a price that is higher than neighborhood average.
In short, and this takes place at the subconscious level in my opinion, but all of this creates fear. And this fear of the home not being “perfect” results in agents who use timid marketing pieces to sell houses. Most agents simply list the number of bedrooms, baths and living areas. All over the country agents use stock phrases like “gourmet kitchen”, “granite counters” and “highly-rated schools”. They’re trying to attract all buyers in the market instead of the right one — the one that will buy this listing! Do you do that too?
The previous agent on the listing in my example here not only used this approach, he glossed over all of the drawbacks as if no one would notice these features when they walked through the house!
Fear weakens advertising. Fear of missing potential buyers makes your listing promotions wimpy and causes you to not sell home faster and for more money.
My ad was bold and decisive. I made no apology for the home’s attributes. And talk about brazen, I promoted the “drawbacks” as benefits. Not by way of slick salesmanship. I did NOT turn a negative into a positive — I used the ad to attract a small, targeted audience of buyers who WANTED this home just the way it was.
For example, who would prefer to have all bedrooms upstairs? Parents with young children like this design because you can hear your child call out for you in the middle of the night if that child is sick or scared. I also used the word “small” in the headline in order to flag the attention of those people who liked the idea of owning a small home in a big-home neighborhood.
The key is these are bold decisions that have to be made before ANY marketing is done, and you cannot allow any fear to creep in. This provides so much clarity because it means you will only get inquiries from buyers who want exactly what that home offers, and when you do this sales seem to just fall into place.
In advertising, this initial step is called positioning…it is the way you decide on which target audience you want to attract.
Think about just two examples you are exposed to as a consumer.
Costco does not apologize for the warehouse appearance of its stores because it supports their “bargain price” position. And Neiman-Marcus does not fear sticking a $700 price tag on a purse because this fits their upscale position. Positioning that works is the opposite of trying to appeal to everyone.
So, how are you trying to “position” the homes you sell in your marketplace? If it’s to everyone, you have no position, and you have no audience of buyers!
The most powerful way to position your listings
Emphasizes that which cannot be easily duplicated by the competition (other homes for sale in the area) and your listings will stand out and get the attention of the right buyer.
The house featured in this case study was NOT a “problem” house at all. It was loaded with benefits (small size, master upstairs, etc.) that no other seller could match. It is as if they were hidden in plain sight. All I did was emphasize them rather than try to gloss over them.
I am attaching the full ad that triggered eight offers:
NOTE: I have embedded small “yellow” icons all over the ad at key points. If you click on the icons, you get a pop-up box that explains the various steps in the process. These icons do NOT show up on phones or an iPad, but they do appear if you are looking at the pdf file on a computer screen.
Many sales coaches would tell you that in order to be effective at selling homes, you must be aggressive and hard-charging.
To this day, a lot of sales training involves techniques for “overcoming objections”, “not taking ‘no’ for an answer” and to “follow-up with prospects over and over until they buy”. Really! Don’t know about you, but I recoil from salespeople who behave in this fashion. These antics are unnecessary if you get the marketing message right from the start.
What to do if you are tired of spending money on advertising that is not working
There are two main takeaways in this article.
First, stop doing things just because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Instead of jumping on the latest trend, be objective and analyze the current message you are sending out about your listing.
If you think I am one of those people that is always advising realtors to increase their advertising budget, you would be way wrong. The house featured in this case study did not sell even though the previous agent spent thousands of dollars on a multi-pronged marketing campaign. I spent less than $50 to print my listing promotion that I then stuck in the info box attached to my yard sign.
Message trumps conduit. Don’t worry if you’re using social media or not, if you’re on every website or not — it’s the message that matters more than the media used to convey the message.
Second, your message must connect with consumers at a deeper and honest level. You are guaranteed to have a failed listing promotion if you attempt to do this with only facts about the home.
Instead of using the “traditional” listing flyer with only bedroom, bath count, square footage — use a “story ad.” Story ads are listing promotions that tell an interesting and accurate story about the home, and are the way to reach consumers at the emotional level in order to sell homes quickly (and for the most money possible).
Above all, you must not let the fear of losing “some” buyers influence you or you are certain to write a wimpy listing description and lose the ones that will buy your listings.
What are you doing to get your listings to stand out and sell quickly?