The end of the year is a great time to spiff up your websites and marketing materials, because things can get very busy in the beginning of the year.

After taking inventory of my personal online marketing, I decided that it’s probably doing me more harm than good. Other than some minor tweaks, I have not really changed my personal marketing — "branding," as some call it — since 2006. And it was not all that great to begin with.

I started by writing a list of ideas that I want to emphasize. When I finished, I got on the Internet and started looking at how other agents market their services. I was looking for inspiration and ideas.

Here is a gem I found on one agent’s website: "I have more local websites than any other agent to feature your home for sale."

That agent has me beat. Does this agent really believe in her own marketing? Do sellers work with her because of this? Does featuring a home on any website — even one with a lot of traffic — sell it faster? No one really knows because there isn’t any data, just hyperbole.

Most agents offer a "FREE" comparative market analysis (CMA) on their website, but they do not define what that is. I searched everywhere and could not find an agent who charges for a CMA, which makes me kind of cynical about the word "FREE" in all caps, bold print and in bright red.

It’s hard for me to trust someone who offers something for free but nobody charges for it. There are agents who will give buyers a free list of homes that are for sale. Why would anyone pay for a list of homes for sale when they can get the information for free on a zillion websites? Would you even want to work with a buyer who was intrigued by an offer of a free list of homes for sale?

There are several agents who advertise that they are "the No. 1 agent" in a particular market. Sellers almost universally prefer listing with the "No. 1 agent." The problem is that there can be only one "No. 1," and it isn’t me.

Or maybe it is, if I look hard enough. How much credibility do we have when we say we are "No. 1?" If I say I am "No. 1," will I ever have to prove it?

Here’s another common theme in agent marketing: stress reduction. "Sellers, call us for a less stressful transaction."

The fact that they want to be called causes me stress. I don’t think we are helping when we warn people about how stressful buying and selling real estate can be. We might scare them into renting.

Agent advertising promises: "We promise to make it a smooth ride," and "We take the stress out of selling." I have had clients who get stressed out and obsess over problems that exist only in their own minds.

The best I can do for my clients is to be there when they need someone to talk to, and to take care that my actions minimize their stress. I can anticipate and educate, so that they are not caught off guard.

As agents we like to tell our clients that we can control everything and that we can fix everything, but we can’t. I cannot make one of the most stressful experiences in life stress free.

The typical marketing pitch to buyers is similar. We want to take the stress out of the homebuying process.

Generally the process goes fairly smoothly until the buyers make an offer on a home, and then the stress begins. The buyers do not know if the sellers will accept their offer, and neither do I. That alone can cause stress.

With so many agents offering a stress free and smooth experience, you would think homebuying would be stress-free. Yet it is still considered one of life’s biggest stressors.

There are websites that offer "one-stop shopping" for buyers. I am not sure what that means. I sure hope homebuyers do.

When I looked at the "about me" sections on brokerage websites I found different agents with identical biographies. Only the names were changed. Some have for-sale signs or balloons where their face should be.

It would be fairly easy for an agent to stand out on a brokerage website by personalizing the biography and having a current portrait. If 1995 keeps calling because it wants the photo of the agent talking on the phone back, now might be a good time to update that photo with a new headshot.

It wouldn’t be hard for an entire brokerage office to stand out by having each agent create a unique biography. I found a few brokerage and team websites that showed some personality. The agents’ biographies made them more real and likable.

Modern marketing for most industries uses the phrase "customer experience." The phrase is overused and not well-defined. I am inclined to consider it meaningless, and will keep it out of my marketing materials even though I am an experience that defies description.

My own online personal marketing is a disaster, which means it won’t be hard to improve. It should be easy to distinguish myself in the overcrowded market of real estate agents who take the stress out of homebuying and selling, and who offer free CMAs and lists of homes for sale.

What does your online personal marketing say about you? Would you hire you?

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