What ‘Serial’ can teach you about real estate

A hit podcast has some storytelling lessons for your business

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If your family is like mine, sitting around the holiday dinner table means discussing the year that’s gone by and our aspirations for 2015. And if your family is really like mine, you’ll also discuss your theories about “Serial.”

“Serial” is a podcast that explores a nonfiction story over multiple episodes; the final episode was posted yesterday. Even before its debut in October, “Serial” was ranked the No. 1 podcast on iTunes, where it remained for several weeks after its release. Sarah Koenig, a producer at NPR’s “This American Life,” created and hosts the series.

The first season’s story follows an investigation into a 1999 Baltimore murder. Koenig has said that “Serial” is “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things.” She also has noted, “This is not an original idea. Maybe in podcast form it is, and trying to do it as a documentary story is really, really hard. But trying to do it as a serial, this is as old as Dickens.”

So why hasn’t the podcast format had a big hit like “Serial” until now? I am only a mortgage banker, not a media consultant, but I have an idea about that: “Serial” is the first podcast to tell us a story the way we want to hear it.

Podcasts generally are first-person monologues, interviews or “how-to” seminars. Some can be entertaining or useful, but they usually appeal to a specific niche and rarely keep an audience engrossed. Koenig is a masterful storyteller, and the serial format she uses is time-tested: In the days before radio, television and Internet spoilers, peopled crowded the docks of New York waiting for the latest installment of Charles Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop,” screaming at the boatmen, “Is Little Nell dead?”

Mark Twain famously said, “I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.” Koenig went out and found a new medium she could use to tell a story well, and when it comes to your real estate profile, you should take the time to tell a good story, too.

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Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client. You meet a Realtor or mortgage broker at a party, a business event or even as a warm referral. What would you do next? Odds are you would do the same thing most people do before going on a blind date: You would Google the person.

When the potential client types in your name, do you know what is waiting for them on the other side of the search? When that search takes a potential client to your website or your Facebook page, what is the story it tells about you? Ideally, you appear professional and emotionally stable, and there is nothing that warrants a raised eyebrow or a red flag. But not looking like a serial killer (pun intended!) is the bare minimum. You should be telling a story about yourself in a way that cements a deal with a referral but also draws brand-new potential customers to you like a moth to a flame, or Victorian bibliophiles to the New York docks.

I recently met with Jess Powers at Armory Properties in Providence, Rhode Island, a new agent who wanted my advice about inexpensive marketing ideas. As I would with any potential client, I began by asking her questions about herself. She told me she bought a multifamily property when she was divorced because she had two small children and wanted a second income stream. Soon after, she bought another investment property and then another. Her goal in getting her license was to help single mothers like herself become financially independent through real estate.

Now, I had known this particular woman for years, but I didn’t know her “story.” Her conviction and passion relating it to me was moving. On the spot, I was able to tell her, “That’s your story; that’s your pitch.”

Now consider her as one of two agents on the same listing call. One comes in with a comparative market analysis (CMA) and some accolades, but Jess comes in with a CMA and her story. She is on a mission to help her clients, and she has a compelling tale. All other things being equal, to whom would you give the listing?

There is another area agent who brands herself “the pet-friendly Realtor.” This is a story in a slogan and an agent looking to serve a clear, defined niche. She may not appeal to folks with allergies, but some people are very passionate about their pets. No puppy has ever signed a listing agreement, to my knowledge, but the pet-friendly Realtor’s story-in-a-slogan tells potential clients that she shares their passion about furry friends.

Your website should tell your story in a way that serves as an introduction but also an advertisement. You should have a professional-looking picture, and visitors should be able to read about you and learn about your story. That said, no one wants to read a list of your real estate awards or your sales volume in previous years. It’s boring and impersonal, and very few people will connect to such a list. The most effective profiles give the reader a sense of who the subjects are, not just their accomplishments. Maybe you garden, are heavily involved in your community, climb mountains. Including such personal details allows clients to see you as a person, not just a list of accomplishments. If the clients share your interests, it helps them identify with you and creates a bond before you even meet them.

And if you simply must include the fact that you won every award in 2007, try to include it in the body of a larger story that makes you seem like a person with great accomplishments, not a braggart who carries his trophies with him to listings.

In real estate, as in a podcast, it’s not effective to just tell a story on your terms. Think about for whom your story is intended and who is actually listening, and then tailor your story to the listener. You may find that telling your story well can convert more leads and create more opportunities.

TJ Curran is an executive mortgage banker for William Raveis Mortgage. He has over 10 years’ experience as a mortgage banker and 15 years in the real estate field.