Don’t fall prey to real estate mythology

Relevant data can help agents and brokers make evidence-based business decisions

Experience teaches us how and where to market homes and that there is no one-size-fits-all marketing plan for all housing types in all neighborhoods and price ranges, but there are some basic rules. It has always surprised me that there is so little data on how to market real estate. The pieces of data that we have become the cornerstone of real estate marketing legends and mythology.

Last week I watched a video that was advertising a marketing system for real estate agents. It used what I call a leap of logic based on one statistic: People like video and 72 percent of home sellers want agents to use video. Therefore, the agent who used video would attract crowds to an open house, while the agent who did not use video would sit in an open house all alone with no visitors at all.  

Seriously? Does anyone even know if video helps sell houses? How do 72 percent of sellers want us to use video? I have never had a seller ask me to provide video — why don’t they ask for what they want? That 72 percent is a popular number and it is the cornerstone of real estate video mythology. No one, not even I, would question or challenge the 72 percent number.

"More is better" seems to be one of the central tenets of Internet-based real estate marketing. The website with the most traffic is where the home should be advertised, but that isn’t enough — we need to advertise them on any and all sites or be accused of hiding our listings from potential buyers or, worse yet, I could be called a dinosaur and be snubbed by our friends.

Do individual listings get more attention from potential buyers on huge national websites than they do on the smaller local sites, or is it just the entire site that gets more traffic because it has so many listings? Is all traffic equal? A national real estate listing syndicator will tell us how many visitors it gets, but it doesn’t tell us how many of those people buy a home that they found on the site. 

How many clicks does a property need to get before it sells? Does an overpriced property sell more quickly on Craigslist or Realtor.com? What about an ugly house? There are agents who give their sellers Web traffic reports, but they do not compare the homes they market to other homes on the market because they don’t have any data. 

The Generation X real estate experts tell me that Generation Y wants to use their smartphones in their home search. I show all of my buyers with smartphones various applications and the only buyers who use them are baby boomers. How can that be? Apparently people over 25 can use devices with touch screens and even mobile apps.

It doesn’t seem like a giant leap of logic that smartphones can assist in house hunting, but do we really know how they will be used and who will be using them the most or, more importantly, how to best exploit the trend? Please show me some numbers. Generalizations and assumptions are just not enough.

I have seen apps being marketed as being popular with buyers based on the number of downloads. I would guess that the apps from the large national sites would have a larger appeal than an app from our local multiple listing service, but does that make them better and how does it impact our marketing?

How many apps get downloaded but are never used? How many homes are on the market that cannot be found using the most popular app? Are buyers missing out when they use popular apps that don’t have all the listings or that deploy inaccurate information to mobile devices?

Currently, I have buyers who are using the websites of my competitors to search for a home, yet I have heard these brokerages advertise the amount of traffic they get on their website and use the numbers to recruit agents. Now that the listings can be found anywhere, do we even need brokerage websites with all the local listings on them?

Locally, the company with the most business has the best website with the most traffic, but they also have more agents than any other company and it is the agents who sell the real estate. Does having the listings give anyone an edge when the listings can be found most anywhere?

What does brokerage market share mean for the individual seller? Will a home sell faster because it’s listed under a big brand with market share? How much faster on average? I would love to see some numbers. Are buyers more likely to buy a home because it is listed with a big brand? Does national advertising help us sell local real estate? Do homebuyers go on national sites and conduct a nationwide search for a home? Are attitudes toward brand the same among people in every demographic?

No two homes are exactly the same and there are many factors that affect the sale of a home, such as timing, pricing, location, the economy, supply and demand, and more. Here in Minnesota few homes get offers on the days we have major snowfall or severe cold. I actually used real data and got numbers that graphed the phenomena and can prove it. I call it the blizzard effect.

I would love to see some numbers on how different marketing techniques affect the sale of a home and data that would answer all or maybe just a few of the questions I have about marketing real estate. How many websites should I have my listings on? Do Minnesota buyers look for homes on the same websites that California homebuyers use? 

Give me big data or small data, but give me data so that I can make decisions. I don’t buy into the legends and mythology that are created from one number and several leaps of logic. 

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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