Marketing doesn’t just come from online platforms and social media. Some of the most important things you need can be found nearby.

In March’s Marketing and Branding Month, we’ll go deep on agent branding and best practices for spending with Zillow, and more. Top CMOs of leading firms drop by to share their newest tactics, too. And to top off this theme month, Inman is debuting a brand new set of awards for branding and marketing leaders in the industry called Marketing All-Stars.

During tax season it is always interesting to look at how much I spent on marketing during the past year and what I bought with that money.

Buying business cards, paying for property flyers and web hosting are normal marketing expenses that I only notice when they are too high or too low.

Marketing expenses that you might not have thought of for the 2023 tax season

There are other marketing expenses that I find more interesting and that I should examine more closely. I bought two shower curtains and a set of bath towels. I bought some hand soap and toilet paper, too.

As soon as I hung a pretty shower curtain and coordinating towel and took some new pictures of the bathrooms, showings increased.

Fresh flowers are a common marketing expense, as are vases from the thrift store. I bought a partial set of dishes from the thrift shop last year and a pie plate.

I donate the items I buy at the thrift store back to the store once the listing is sold, unless someone else wants them. The store is part of a charity that provides a variety of services to people in the community who need food, clothing and housing.

During the warmer months, I like to provide hanging baskets with flowers.

Marketing items you can buy at the grocery store

Some of my marketing expenses come from the neighborhood grocery store. Apples, lemons, cookies, donuts, a cake and, occasionally, colorful cooking implements. One store has many items branded “Minnesota” and “St. Paul.”

For Halloween, I like to put a plastic pumpkin full of candy in the kitchen. I always put a container nearby for the wrappers. Never put wrapped candy in a vacant house without including a trash can of some sort. Trust me on this.

Lemons look wonderful in photographs of kitchens that tend to be white and grey these days with a lot of stainless steel. The lemons not only add color but they freshen things up.

Adding a small green plant or two to a kitchen can make a big difference, too. I prefer low-maintenance succulents that do not require much water.

Marketing items you can buy at the hardware store

The faucet I bought was a marketing expense. The seller paid to have it installed. It happened because the plumber wanted to charge the elderly absentee homeowner a lot of money for a $60 dollar faucet.

It isn’t unusual to buy salt during the winter to be used on a client’s icy sidewalk, but I usually categorize salt as an office supply. The IRS has rules but it isn’t clear to me if salt is really an office supply if it isn’t used in the office.

The masks and hand sanitizers I put in my listings are also a marketing expense — especially the hand sanitizer. People seem to really like hand sanitizer. Who knew? If it keeps them in the house, the marketing category is a good fit.

One of the more unusual items I purchased with my marketing funds is a crate for small animals. It has been used for a dog and for a cat that would try to bite anyone who came into the house. I also lent it to a neighbor who needed it for a few weeks.

I don’t know ahead of time what I am going to spend marketing a home and sometimes the seller provides various items that I recommend.

Marketing is my single largest expense. I don’t have a one size fits all marketing plan for houses. It depends upon the location and if the house is occupied and the price range. I do not spend the same amount of money on each listing.

Sometimes I have clients who love to stage and decorate. They do the work and use what they already have. Other times the house is a disaster and the seller doesn’t want to do anything.

It is usually easy to see the return on my marketing dollars. Sometimes the return is a faster sale and sometimes it is a big smile on a client’s face. In my humble opinion, customer service is about making them smile and not about customer surveys or putting them on hold to a recorded message letting them know that their call is important.

Customer service is also about letting people know that their home is important to me. Nothing says important like fresh flowers and maybe some hand sanitizer or a floor mat.

Photography has the best return on investment. I know that video is the next big thing in real estate since 2003, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of photographs of homes for sale on the internet.

People see the picture of the house before the description or the video. If they don’t like what they see, they move on. If they do like what they see, they look at more pictures and read and watch the video, too.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of advertising, promotions and marketing managers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

That might be something to consider if home sales drop like a rock this year.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also the founder of

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