Daily posts on my real estate blog and my interactions on Facebook constantly remind me of how local real estate is.
Yet much of the information about real estate on the Internet, including agent marketing materials and testimonials, is generic. Some days it feels like we are in our own separate world.
There are a ton of generic agent websites out there. There are even special themes for real estate agent blogs, so they all have a similar look and feel. It’s as if someone decided they have to look a certain way and feature the same stock photography.
On third-party listing websites, the page for Iowa looks exactly the same as the page for New York. It is all generic, and it doesn’t always speak to homebuyers and sellers the same way an individual agent can.
As a real estate blogger, I know I need to write about how to buy or sell a home, about local market conditions, and national and local real estate news stories. I also know that it is the unique content and photographs that keep people coming back.
Where I live, in the older part of the city, we are into historic preservation. A couple of weeks ago I got to photograph a house being moved to a vacant lot on the next block so that it could be renovated and saved instead of being demolished. There isn’t any generic content that can match a house moving.
Our local laws are quirky too. It seems like everything is illegal and if it isn’t, it is taxed.
One of the strangest traditions we have is that buyers and sellers come together for real estate closings. We close at the table. No one "opens escrow." For the most part, buyers and sellers enjoy meeting each other, and often they exchange phone numbers.
Agents from other states are horrified at the idea of buyers and sellers all in one room swapping money for house keys and garage door openers. But one real estate closing can generate several ideas for blog posts.
It’s not just home prices, rules and regulations, and business practices that are local. One of the most popular articles on my blog is about parking meters.
The article would not have gotten much traction had it appeared on a Minneapolis real estate blog, because in Minneapolis they have a system that makes sense. Although Minneapolis residents are also passionate about parking, there is information about their system on the city’s website, and it isn’t a travesty like ours is.
In St. Paul, for the most part, we still need quarters or a special debit card that is no longer issued. Few people knew about the cards when they were available. It was a closely guarded secret.
So a person has to have a lot of quarters, and anyone parking at an expired meter gets an expensive ticket the second the meter expires. It is my belief that the money is used to pay the mayor’s salary.
Parking is a big deal where I live, and so is transportation in general. A new section of light rail transit is being built right through the heart of the city, which is also making biking more popular than ever before.
I show up for meetings in downtown St. Paul with "bike helmet hair" all the time. It is considered a badge of honor — much like an ostentatious gas-guzzling car is in other markets.
With each new fad or piece of advice, I have to ask myself if it is a fit for my local market and for my business. If it works in California, will it work in Minnesota? I have to remind myself that my most successful competitors are mailing post cards instead of blogging.
To bring traffic to a real estate blog and build credibility as an area expert, some experts recommend writing restaurant reviews, or articles about places to go and things to do. But real estate is local and, in my market, there are many websites with restaurant reviews.
It’s almost impossible, however, to find information about how to buy a parking meter debit card or get a parking permit in St. Paul. In several neighborhoods, including my own, we need permits to park on the street.
Each agent is a little different, and I am no exception. My clients are unique and they appreciate real over generic, even if there is an occasional typo on my blog.
Creating original content is more time consuming than using someone else’s content, but there is little competition. Find out what people want to know about in your area and consider writing about it, or taking some photos or shooting some video.
Each market is unique and there are submarkets in every corner of the country with their own little quirks. Yet agents tend to follow the generic advice or imitate someone in a faraway market who has been successful.
What do your neighbors care about? What makes your area unique?
Take a picture of something ordinary in your neighborhood. Write a few words about it. Put it on the Internet.
But don’t take a picture of a parking meter and write about it just because it worked for me.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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