Another beautiful day in Los Angeles and I’m at the corner watching the traffic zoom by as I wait for an opening in the speeding cars. My eye catches a park bench at the corner with the smiling face of “Joe Realtor.” I suddenly realize that it’s my neighbor’s ex-husband grinning back at me.

What could make him think that this is a good way to spend his hard-earned money? In a city where everyone drives, is a bus-stop bench a good place to advertise your real estate talents? Who is reading his sign? If you don’t own a car in L.A., can you afford a house?

Later that day on the way to the movies with a real estate agent friend, I asked him what he thought of the bench ad. This guy sends out a lot of promotional junk to the people in his farm area.

“I would NEVER do that,” he adamantly replied.

“Why not?” I innocently asked. “You have your picture on all kinds of crap, including the car wash.”

“I can’t stand the thought of people farting on my face,” he replied. “All that hot air.” 

Oh the power of mass communication: potholders and kitchen magnets in the mail, carts in the grocery store, billboards on the highway. The face of real estate is everywhere.

On a recent trip north to Sonoma, I was stuck in traffic on the 101 freeway and looking for a diversion. Somewhere around Santa Rosa, I commented to my husband about the surprising amount of litter on the side of the road.

“This is disgusting,” I said as we slowed once again to a snail’s pace. “It’s beautiful up here and the highway is cluttered with junk. Even worse, this piece of the road is sponsored by a local real estate agent for the highway clean-up campaign.”

Isn’t there any truth in advertising?

Several miles later, the same agent’s face lit up the horizon on the only billboard in the area. “I want to call that guy and find out why he isn’t cleaning up the freeway like his sign says,” I told my husband.

My husband said he thinks the purpose of the sign is to attract home buyers and sellers – not animosity from tourists like me.

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What other professional group goes to such great lengths to get their name out in the community? Why do real estate agents compromise good taste and restraint in their desire to make themselves known?

“Would you give your million-dollar listing to someone who lied about picking up the litter on the freeway?” I asked my friends who we were visiting in Sonoma for the weekend.

How does a home buyer or seller choose the person they will ultimately rely on to guide them through the mysteriously complex process of buying or selling in today’s market? Does a memo pad or potholder sway them to their choice? Do real estate agents track the results of their marketing dollars and know that they scored the listing because of some piece of junk they handed out?

I know that I can “feel” the stuff that comes in the real estate promo envelopes and toss them as soon as they come in the mail. Do I want to write my grocery list on a pad that has the face of a local real estate agent on it? What is the proper balance between marketing and nuisance? And what about good taste?

A few days later, my husband and I were driving on Santa Monica Boulevard when we saw a homeless man sleeping on another real estate agent’s bus-stop bench. “Look,” my husband said. “There’s a socially redeeming purpose for that agent’s ad and the bench.”

I don’t think that’s what the agent had in mind when buying it.

Julie Brosterman is a consultant to the real estate technology, mortgage and servicing industries. She lives in Los Angeles and can be contacted at juliebrosterman@hotmail.com.

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