Lion & Orb founder and marketing expert Audie Chamberlain shares how investors can use their property’s history to attract guests and improve profits.

As the coronavirus continues to shake up the travel and short-term rental industry, property owners are upping the ante on their marketing, which includes highlighting the exciting histories behind their homes. On VRBO, Houdini’s former mansion is fully booked for September for a whopping $2,083 per night, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer House’s availability is quickly dwindling.

However, it doesn’t take a celebrity connection to keep the inquires rolling — on Airbnb, two renovated vintage Airstream trailers are top attractions in their respective markets with renters looking to relive childhood trips from the 1950s and 1960s.

“This little cutie home is magical,” wrote one guest for an Airstream going for $195 per night. “The tiny home is filled with the most beautiful touches and has everything you could possibly need for a perfect short or long term stay. It’s completely private, and it feels like you’ve been transported to a tiny little resort that is all your own.”

Lion and Orb founder and marketing mastermind Audie Chamberlain spoke with Inman about how to market these properties and create an experience that brings history to life. Here’s what he had to say:

Inman: As I was preparing for this interview, I thought about a previous article I wrote about Tom Hanks’s former boathouse that languished on the market. You’d think it would be an easy sell, but you have to bring the story to life. How can property owners become better storytellers?

Chamberlain: In the National Association of Real Estate Editors they teach us when you’re telling the story, what you want to do is nail the “who, what, where, when, why and how” in the first 50 words. And that’s critical to storytelling. Secondarily, the emotional hook is also something NAREE always mentioned to us. The emotional hook could be some special detail about the property that makes it so unique.

I certainly remember the five W’s from journalism school. Beyond writing, what are some other exciting mediums owners can use to tell the history of their rental?

The trend we’re seeing with our clients at Lion & Orb is video. You know the saying that “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” Well, videos are worth 40,000 words and they’re one of the best ways to tell your story. There are three [current] clients and a past client that come to mind where they shifted to making sure they’re always telling the story of the property through video. That’s a big trend. Just look at your social feed.

Notice how the news channels are going towards the little vignettes of video with words, text, footage and closed captions. They’re doing an incredible job of telling a story within 30 to 60 seconds and I think that’s where real estate needs to go with videos.

Video has certainly risen in popularity. However, I’m curious about virtual reality and how property owners can use that to give guests a sense of what their listing is like. What’s your experience been with that?

Since [Lion & Orb] started we’ve worked with Hawaii Life, as far back as 2015. They were early adopters of virtual reality and Matterport, so I’ve always been a strong believer [in that medium]. Even now, just look at the NBA Playoffs and how people sitting virtually in the stand. I think this technology is a perfect match for real estate, especially for luxury properties and luxury rentals. It’s just now we’re seeing [that coronavirus] is forcing people to catch up with the folks who’ve been using these technologies forever. It’s just becoming more standard.

Beyond marketing, how can property owners bring the history of their home to life through decor and the experience they create for guests? Like I mentioned before, it’s not just enough to mention that a certain celebrity has lived in your home. 

You have to remember you’re competing with hotels, so you have to make it an experience and you want it to feel turnkey. It’s got to be as good, if not better of an experience than what you would get from a luxury hotel. So you can take advantage of things like sporting equipment and going over the top with an indoor gym, an indoor office and those types of things.

With the decor, it should also match what the top hotel near you is doing. So if we’re going to Los Angeles, for example, it would be The Waldorf. That would be your standard [for decor] and that goes for marketing and advertising as well.

Last question about marketing. When should property owners pull in an expert to help them with video, virtual reality tours, listing descriptions, decor, etc.? 

Mm-hmm. Interesting question. I’m a firm believer that if you want to change your oil for your car, you don’t park it on blocks in your front yard and learn how to change your oil. You hire an expert, right? If you get to a point in your career, where you have enough listings, and you have the resources, you absolutely need a storyteller on your team and a marketer that can help bring stories to life.

So far, we’ve focused on places with fun, vibrant histories and backstories. But at Inman, we’ve definitely written about homes with infamous histories that certainly attract some people, but mostly scare potential guests off. How can a property owner deal with that?

You have to be tasteful and focus on what’s great about the property. There’s always something special about a property even if there’s a rumor about it. There’s obviously some great features about the property that attracted you to the property, so focus on that. At the same time if someone brings up that Marilyn Monroe’s ghost allegedly wanders the hall [of your home], just be ready to have that conversation.

Have a transparent answer to any of those questions about the negative association so guests never feel like you’re avoiding them. It’s not about pointing out the infamous history but about being prepared to address it if needed.

Great tips! I’m sure property owners reading this are wondering how they can unearth lost stories about their rentals. How can they get started? 

Property records. You can find those in whichever market you’re in. The second resource is Google News. Drop the address into Google and take a look at what’s been written about it because often the house could be connected to someone notable in the area. Also, if it has ever been written about in an [architectural] digest or something like that, it’s going to come up on Google.

One other thing about the property records that I should note is that it will often show you the history of ownership. So whether it’s an individual or an LLC, you’ll see all the history of all the owners.

Email Marian McPherson

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