A flaming house, an amateur snowboarder tumbling end-over-end on a steep slope, at-home oral surgery, a skywriter spiraling out of control, a worse-than-bad hairdo — all examples of do-it-yourself efforts gone awry.
A Web site and marketing campaign launched this year by the Orlando Regional Realtor Association promote these fictional stories that demonstrate the potentially disastrous consequences of attempting tasks that the group says are better left to professionals.
Welcome to the world of Don’t-It-Yourself. Launched in April, the campaign is intended to promote the use of Realtors in real estate transactions and to discourage consumers from going it alone. And there are big plans for this Realtor-driven Don’t-It-Yourself movement — several other Realtor associations have expressed interest in creating similar marketing programs, and there are plans for the campaign to expand nationwide. A page at the site already features Don’t-It-Yourself merchandise for sale, including hats and T-shirts.
The site is thick with dark humor and satire, though there is a link to educational materials and to a Realtor-search page.
According to a National Association of Realtors survey of home buyers and sellers, about 28 percent of real estate transactions in the Orlando area last year were for-sale-by-owner transactions, compared to a national average of about 14 percent, said Sarah Sekula, a spokeswoman for the Don’t-It-Yourself campaign and a manager for the Knight advertising agency that created the campaign.
“Although the red-hot seller’s market had a big impact on that number, the association still felt it had a responsibility to create a campaign that would have a big impact on that number of FSBOs. We will see after our post-campaign research is conducted at year-end,” Sekula said.
“The intention of the campaign is to go national. We’ve already met with several associations including Flint, Mich.; Toronto, Canada, and the state of Florida about incorporating some or part (of the theme) into their campaigns for 2007,” she said. The Realtor Association of Northwest Chicagoland has signed up as a Don’t-It-Yourself campaign licensee and “will be using many of the Web components of the campaign for themselves and their members,” Sekula added.
Kevin Fritz, vice president of communications and marketing for the Orlando Realtor group, said that as other Realtor associations join the campaign, new links will be added to the site with information about those groups.
The whimsical nature of the site is not just for the sake of a laugh, she explained, though that is an intended effect. “Consumer behavior experts have discovered that people tend to remember things better when you make them laugh along the way. While the campaign’s main purpose is to educate, it begins by amusing and entertaining the audience,” Sekula said.
The site asks visitors whether they want to join the Don’t-It-Yourself revolution, which includes a pledge that they will “be less do-it-yourselfish,” “will trust the dentists, the doctors, the air-conditioning repairmen, the mechanics and the electricians of the world,” and “above all, when I buy or sell my home, I’ll trust someone with the experience, the resources, the networks, the time and the expertise. I’ll call a Realtor.” Site users have the option to enter their name and e-mail address under this pledge.
Sekula said that the information is used to keep in touch with site visitors. “Rather than look at this as a direct lead-generation tool, the true goal is to bring up the awareness level of why you should always use a Realtor,” she said.
David Goldsholle, president and founder of DoItYourself.com Inc., a home improvement and repair Web site launched in 1995, said he is amused by the Don’t-It-Yourself Web site.
“I think it’s cute, it’s attractive, it’s light-hearted. I commend them for it — not that I agree in every case,” he said. “There is a line of doing it yourself that one can cross from either direction. There are some great do-it-yourself stories that can be real nightmares.”
Goldsholle says he has never sold his own house, though he has assisted in the marketing of his own home by offering an incentive to buyers through his broker. There are many different points of entry to do-it-yourself projects, he said — changing a face plate on an electrical switch is a far more approachable task than rewiring a home, for example.
“We try to warn (consumers) in advance, depending on the difficulty of the project,” he said. “There’s a limit. Everyone’s got to know … what their limits are and not try to undertake what they can’t do.” He also said that there’s an undeniable sense of pride for many who accomplish tasks themselves. The Doityourself.com site has a number of forums, some relating to real estate, and attracted 2.1 million visitors last month. Do-it-yourselfers are definitely on the rise, he said.
The Don’t-It-Yourself site presents some extreme stories about do-it-yourself disasters that are not very realistic, Goldsholle said, and he would like to see the site focus more on the real estate business than on home improvement, adding that the site does “get the message across.”
A timeline presented at the Don’t-It-Yourself site begins in 1908, when the National Association of Realtors was established. “People find time to hold down jobs and raise families instead of selling their own homes,” the site declares. Another entry notes that duct tape was invented in 1947 and “becomes a staple of do-it-yourself projects, often replacing the proper adhesive that should have been used such as nails, tar, or nuts and bolts.”
And 1978 marked the year that Bob Vila’s “This Old House” program first aired, with Vila inspiring people “to buy old run-down houses and forget what weekends are,” the Web site states.
There is a top-10 list at the site of “things you should never do yourself,” including cremation, root canal, asbestos removal and heart transplant. There is also a bogus tale about a group of residents in a San Francisco suburb who establish a do-it-yourself citizens’ police department. One member was reportedly “hit by a bus while directing traffic, another accidentally (shot) himself in the foot,” and another was “electrocuted while installing a siren in his Volkswagen Beetle.”
A description at the site states that DontItYourself.com “was built to end the senseless destruction of free time, weekends, relationships, walls, pipes, dinner and your hand-modeling career. With our help, you can don’t it.”
Besides the Web site, the campaign is also communicated through radio and outdoor ads and print ads. “This is a living, breathing marketing initiative that will continue to evolve over its three-year life span,” Sekula said. A 1970s Ford Ranchero truck is a part of the campaign — “it’s piled ridiculously high with furniture and knick knacks … so that it represents a Don’t-It-Yourself family moving day,” she said.
Campaign organizers drive the truck to events in the Orlando area, and it is available for Realtor association members to display at open houses.
The campaign includes a Realtor-focused page, at www.dont-it-yourself.com/realtor that allows Realtors to download images and ads, and to send videos and other materials to friends and prospects.
There are plans to launch a contest through which people can share their favorite do-it-yourself disaster stories, Sekula said. So far the Web site has attracted about 12,000 to 15,000 unique visitors each month.