It’s hardly even a buyer’s market, as few have money to buy. So what does a real estate broker do for branding when the market is temporarily kaput? How does a Realtor create a personal brand when there is no activity to brand, budgets are tight and all your activity seems to be dealing with unresponsive mortgage companies and short sales?
We think of the old-school real estate broker, who knew that the down times were when his business was built up. In the down times, he connects himself with a particular market niche, and not only knows it, but concentrates on it with a singular passion that ensures that when the market changes, he is the expert. An agent creates a sense of community by mere presence and is often the neighborhood “glue” that helps define a place. While “old-school agent” didn’t think of himself as a brand, he was.
We gathered a few ideas from calling around to some top brokers in Virginia, Florida and New York. While some are obvious, it is important in a time of market negativity to re-assert the old tricks, and try some new ones. Who has time to be negative? What am I going to do TODAY to make the phone ring, and make my (diminished) monthly goal?
Small things help. Hand out business cards and pens at Saturday yard sales. Ensure that all the immediate neighbors of your listings have sales sheets on your nearby listing. Be active and visible in the community, and attend community events and join local charitable groups. Try out a new, non-newspaper method of advertising, like team or event sponsorships. Go to the local visitor center, identify yourself, and ask the clerk about new relocation trends, and then give out your card. And critically important in this Internet age? Make sure that your web presence is optimized for search engines. Read our story on How to Make Your Brand Search Engine (SEO) Friendly for some advice on revving up your site.
Here are some of the ideas we gleaned from broker friends including Alison Elizalde (Michael Saunders, Sarasota), Ellen Sykes (Corcoran Group Real Estate, New York), Chris Small (Small & Associates, Richmond) and George Cumming (Re/Max Commonwealth, Richmond):
- Don’t let up on marketing. “Branding yourself does not really change when times are slow,” says Chris Small, who is an expert in urban property in Richmond, Virginia with his firm Small & Associates. The firm runs a heavy schedule of ads in the Richmond alternative weekly, and Small also stays visible in local civic affairs and preservation issues. “The key is that you have to continue to promote and manage your brand while the market is slower. Many agents make the mistake of not continuing to market themselves during a lean time but in fact it is a great time beat out the competition with continued marketing.” Check in with him at Chris Small, Small and Associates, Richmond, Virginia.
- Information, information. “We have noticed that clients appreciate knowing facts that are supported by data,” says Alison Elizalde, a Realtor with Michael Saunders in Sarasota, Florida. Elizalde, who also stays extremely involved in the community and is on the vestry of her church, positions herself with market data. “Realtors send newsletters that include information that has nothing to do with real estate, for example, recipes or jokes. We have gotten results by providing potential clients with information on current market conditions. We send a quarterly newsletter via email that focuses on different neighborhoods or topics that are directly connected to our real estate market. We have gotten very positive feedback (and business) by providing this service.” Visit her at www.sarasotapropertyconnection.com or the main Michael Saunders site at www.michaelsaunders.com
- Hand out your name, and get back to folks fast. “Never, ever, give out anything that does not have your name, telephone and email address on it and possibly your picture,” says Ellen I. Sykes, a vice president and broker with New York’s Corcoran at their 660 Madison Ave. office. “No property info, floor plan, small note should be without it. At Corcoran our pictures are on our business cards, and people love it. On your web site, put the latest market statistics, trends, etc. in bullet points for easy reading.” And one other thing. “Our market research shows that people who call brokers expect to be responded to within 3 (three!!!) hours of an initial call; don’t waste time getting back to future customers.” See Ellen Sykes at www.Corcoran.com
- Oh the options! If a person can’t afford to buy, but has a reasonable chance of getting financing later, try to get the buyer to take an option or first refusal on the property. And there is your time consuming old friend, the lease/purchase, or owner financing. While often time consuming, at least you have forward movement to show sellers, and a bit of hope for the buyer. Broker Chris Melson of Palm Beach County has had to adapt. “Short sale and bank owned REO’s sell in this market, even if they are a pain in the rear,” says Melson. “A great example can be found at my blog www.PalmBeachShortSales.com that has received some local press lately. It truly is all about taking lemons and making lemonade in this real estate environment. Also, commercial real estate is about to take some lumps in the market, so that is another niche that will need distressed property experts.”
- Be an advocate for your neighborhoods. If there is an issue that is important regarding zoning, demolitions and the like, speak your conscience and get involved. If there is a problem property ruining a neighborhood, offer to call the county or city. While you don’t want potential clients to think of you as a partisan, the reality is that real estate brokers have enormous influence in shaping public opinion on neighborhood and zoning issues. You are professionals and experts, and people trust you (see #2). In addition, if you are quoted in the newspaper on a local zoning issue, you immediately become an expert on a particular place.
- Create customer lists: During World War II, car dealers created customer “waiting lists” and took small, refundable deposits for upcoming models. While there is no sense taking a deposit on something no one is actually bidding on, start calling on your customer list. Listen to their personal tale of recession woe (schadenfreude!) and then ask these folks if they did want to trade up or trade down a few years from now, what neighborhood do they want? Do they want to sell the McMansion, or trade down. And where might they might be looking. You will then be able to position yourself for the turnaround. Since it is all hypothetical and wish-driven, they won’t feel pushed.
- Kick tires, push dreams. The extraordinarily low prices in some areas have made dream houses more affordable. But since folks have less money, they can’t afford it. The good thing about it is that all of a sudden, customers might feel “allowed” to look at a house they couldn’t afford just last year. So take future clients on wishful group tours to look at houses that they might be able to afford down the road.The power of suggestion is powerful.
- Your name is on it. In an era of foreclosures, ensure that your listings are maintained respectably. Across the street from us, a set of four lots is for sale, and the owners will not cut the grass. The broker signs are broken. The flier box is empty. What buyer would even make a call on that listing?
- Brand your individual listings. Each of your listings has an identity. So your house on Maple street becomes 212 Maple Street. In one market, 212 Maple Street is a perfect second house. In another market, 212 Maple Street becomes an empty nester house. Brokers take this approach with big listings, but what of smaller ones? If you have the time, set up an independent URL for each address as they are less than $10 with Godaddy.com.
- Embrace the “2.0” web: In Richmond, broker George A. Cumming of RE/MAX Commonwealth sells houses in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. These historic neighborhoods have houses with wide variations in price range; some starter houses attract university students whose parents help buy a house in lieu of room and board. So Cumming has done YouTube tours of houses, as well as his own Internet site, www.homesinrichmond.info. On his Trulia profile page, he also answers random real estate questions. Blogspot blogs and Flickr accounts cost nothing, and they are perfect for posting listing information and photos. Always link back to your broker page.
Any more suggestions or ideas? Feel free to comment below?