You are what you own in Australia. We are a shallow race. Paper thin. Whether it’s life or business, it’s the dumb basics that count here, on the edge of the known world. We go for what we see. What we can touch. Not for us the appreciation of fine wit or the poetry of lineage. Not for us the promise of potential. The chance that the person or the concept is so strong the project is worth lending against. No. Try chasing business investment when the backing offered is purely possible cash-flow and see the banker’s faces go ash-white. You need land for people, especially financiers, to take you seriously.
You can’t get anywhere with bankers or even local politicians if you don’t have a claim on a piece of Real Estate. People say they own a block of land when they own less than a couple of percent of it. Total strangers discuss their ‘investment holdings’ in the supermarket queue. They know they need to claim some credibility. It’s the biggest asset in most people’s lives and the driving force behind most fortunes and a fair few divorces. “Why wouldn’t I trade the bugger in? The house was worth over a million and I was sick of him. I could retire on that.”
Real Estate dictates a massive slice of the country’s alleged worth and the trade in it drives the building industry and stimulates all the others, from hardware retail, home wares, sheets and towels, furniture, to white goods, electronics, even your choice of food is affected by your living environment. Try serving BBQ chops and Big Red Sauce to a party in Toorak or Point Piper. I have. They think it’s a joke and don’t eat it, cause you’re obviously about to bring out the lobster.
Land is the fundamental physical asset that no-one can argue with. If you own Real Estate you can do things on it and make money from it. It doesn’t go away with a foreign exchange bungle or fly off to Cuba with your missus. And to quote the old Real Estate agent’s line, ‘They are not making any more of the stuff.’ So it has to go up over time. And go up it does. My family home (Mum’s) was bought 70 years ago for 5,000 pounds. That’s about 10 grand for those readers born after the sixties, who have never heard of pounds. It’s now worth close to a mill. Any way you do the multiplication, that beats the stock market and kills most financial/bond type investments. And it happens for virtually all land. (Except perhaps Moe)
Any dork can do it
Anybody can own land in this country. And any dork can sell it too. Don’t get me wrong. Many of my best friends are real estate agents. They are people who have a natural affinity with other people, often have good looks, and reasonable dress sense who drive nice cars. (I’m shallower than anyone.)
Selling real estate is one of the classic ‘used’ professions for private school boys and gals who don’t get into medicine, law or inherit the family business. One sells used shares, used money, used antiques or used houses. (Or used ideas and used designs, which most of my competitors are happy to sell to you.) The business can provide one with a healthy income, notoriety in the local area, plenty of free time if one happens to like mid-week golf, sailing or daytime affairs and it gives one close access to a proven investment strategy from the inside; perfect for the old boys network.
REAL ESTATE AGENTS
Your game is about listings
Anybody can get a good price for the right house, and yes, it’s damned hard work to talk someone up a couple of hundred thousand, but the selling end is the comparably easy part. It’s getting the gig in the first place that makes or breaks you.
Your business is about profile
When you are selling your home you have to trust somebody. The chances are you’ll interview three or four agents, decide who you like best, who’s promised they’ll get you the most and who’s regarded by your friends as OK, and they’ll get the gig. You can’t exactly see people calling agents they haven’t heard of. The agency business is hence just another brand and we marketers know you live or die on brand profile and positioning. In no other market is the ‘position, position, position’ line so ironic. It’s hard to differentiate when agents all wear similar suits, drive similar cars, work under identical professional guidelines, so the profile of the entity, the brand of the agency, is key.
Raising your profile
Make your brand desirable.
There are many competitors in every area and most use reds (for energy), Brunswick greens (for conservative values) or dark blues (for credibility), highlighted by either gold (for money) or silver (for money) or black (for ‘serious’ money). There’s the argument that you should show a building, there’s the argument that you should picture ‘happiness’ or ‘investment prowess’ (money again?). They have all been done. It’s a question of balance between simplicity – do they get the logo in the one or two seconds they look at the sign – versus stand out – will they remember our image long enough to call?
Get your positioning line correct
Hocking Stuart hit it right on the head with their fantastic campaign about the ‘hardest working real estate agents’. They straddled the key problem. How do you promise more for the vendor and not alienate the buyer? By promising both you’ll work harder, you skip that issue but still seem worth dealing with. The question is, what else can you say? The ones who try harder? The ones who are nicer to deal with? The ones who are more honest? The experts? Oh, please….
Get your branding bigger on ads
Yes, we all know the ads are for the benefit of the agent more than the vendor. Be up-front about it and make yours more prominent still. How well would you do if you could talk them into paying for a 50/50 slice? “Look, Mrs Public, your gorgeous house really shouldn’t dominate – we just need them to ring me and I’ll tell them all about it…”
Look after local causes
Any excuse to get your branding on high-traffic streets is worth using. Best causes are local kinders and school fetes; no-one can hate you for looking after the kiddies.
Get a real web presence
I can’t fathom why so many agents are allowing their brand to be beholden to the Real Estate.com type operations. For your brand/business to be powerful, you must have your own presence that may interact with them, but stands alone. And stands out.
Screw the local paper
And the local color supplements. And the dailies. They all survive on real-estate ads. You can gang up with a few of your mates and really screw them to the wall. Your competitors already do. Go for center spreads, back-pages, front cover ears and wraparounds. And do your own magazine as soon as possible. (See Hocking Stuart’s ‘Red’ magazine.)
Be a whistle-blower
A newsletter about real-estate prices and trends or relevant new legislation delivered regularly to your area works wonders. Best if it’s sent with a personal note if you happen to have met the occupants.
Work the suburb
Be the real-estate expert speaker at investment nights, banking seminars, be the auctioneer at the charity night, the sponsor of the local footy club, the prize giver at the cake stall.
Be there all the time
Remind us you exist with little notes through the mailbox, ‘Just passing, thought I’d see if you were interested’, letters about interest rates, school holidays, birthday, Xmas or Easter cards etc.
Get a fleet
You probably have a bunch of cars on the road. The same colour and model make for brilliant local presence, very popular in the USA, but almost never done in Australia. Why?
Do a uniform
It doesn’t have to be bright green blazers, but consistent colors and ties etc. make for solidarity in the team and power in your market.
Pointers indicating houses for sale are excellent branding tools. You can add more details, like why to choose you and use more of them than anyone else without anybody even suspecting – try running them for several streets, instead of just from the main to the secondary street.
Be the auctioneer on House Hunt, Renovation Revolution of whatever new show the stations cook-up this season.
I meet a lot of real estate agents and give them my name when I’m inspecting a house (understand I have two small kids and a small house – visiting prospective houses is a twice weekly past-time.) I almost never get a follow-up call.
Brand the thing
People can imagine/remember a building or complex much more easily if it has a snappy name and an apparent reason for being, beyond simply lining the pockets of the initial investors.
Do it all
Do the brochures, the floor-plans, the ads, the web-site. The booklet on terms and the location map, the signage, the PR in the paper. The glamorous opening if you can. Call me a cynic, but the more glamorous and glossy the brochures, the more the public are prepared to spend on the same four walls.
Use internal photos and artists impressions of exteriors
Avoid people in shots where possible as they add expense, slow a shoot down incredibly and take the eye of the reader off the main game and confuse them. They’ll start deciding whether that person looks like them or their renters, when you really want them to think about design, location, square meterage and investment income.
The exception to this is in the retirement industry, where the decision is more about companionship than percentage returns, so the right people in that market are critical. Too young or old, too good-looking or too ugly and no-one will call you. Get the people and the promise just right and the phones ring off the wall.
Build the brand
Stay in the market for months. Let them see the ads lots of times and develop a personality by varying those ads like you would for a car or a brand of jeans. Have a ‘conversation’ with your prospective customers and you’ll foster a desire to inspect your development by becoming a multi-faceted person. Remember, the customer is almost always female. She is by definition a social animal and responds to a complex variety of approaches. You’ll be amazed at how the response rate per ad actually increases over time if you give them real reasons to want to see the place.
Build lists by competitions or by taking names and numbers during inspections. Work these people with direct mail. Simple, to the point and consistent with the overall advertising. Keep them informed about key milestones. But be patient. Often it takes months for a punter to get their act together to buy.
Dominate the area
Signage on the development is critical – the bigger the better. Night-time too even if you have to bribe the locals not to complain. Get ads on the arterial roads leading to your location. Traditional Outdoor works brilliantly and as most developments take months to sell, you get good value. Dominate the local paper with big ads as often as possible.
Work the contacts
If a proportion of your market is straight investors, the local accountants, investment and financial consultants, bank managers etc. are key contact points and should be visited and kept in the loop about progress – a weekly fax about completion dates, recent sales, inquiry rates, percentages sold, return on investments etc, works a treat.
HOW TO SELL YOUR HOUSE
There are countless books, TV shows and websites on this stuff so, as not to bore you, I thought I’d list the things not to do instead. Don’t sell in the height of the season, write off Spring. Don’t Auction in a down-market and don’t Private sell in a boom. Don’t go cheap on your advertising or go to the market too quickly (do a 6-week campaign).
Selling or buying Real Estate is more emotive than having a baby. People lie awake at nights for weeks at a time wondering if they have painted the garage door the right colour, or whether to remove the lino in the bathroom. I think that’s all very sweet, but the real thing to keep in mind is that selling a house is a competitive market like any other. People shop for similar houses in the same area, and they are usually only in the market for a few weeks. You may be asking too much for a three bedroom brick Victorian. They may have five others to choose from that month. Alternatively, you may get the timing right and find yourself selling the only decent home for their needs. It’s the timing and the timing alone that makes a huge difference in getting a high price. Back to demand and supply – from Marketing 101.
I’ve put my attentions towards domestic real estate, in the above, but the basics remain the same for commercial real estate – the only real difference is that in commercial you are dealing with people who think it’s a purely financial consideration, so you need to kid them what is really a very emotional decision is all very business-like. If you want to copy everyone else use daggy typefaces, bad photography and talk dollar/percentage returns.