The New World of Real Estate Listing Marketing

As a writer for the New York Times website at, I am privileged to write business advice and tutorials for real estate professionals. I find that there is still a lot of misunderstanding about the best ways to use the Internet to market their clients’ listings. Too many real estate agents and brokers spend too much money on print media, while neglecting the much richer environment and greater capabilities presented by the Web.

Back in 2005, selling a home was easy, fast, and usually profitable. Get a real estate professional to throw it into the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), run some ads, and go to closing. Some home sellers even enjoyed bidding competition for their homes. Those were certainly “the good old days” of real estate.

Contrasting today’s markets, we have double and triple the “days on market” in most areas, with homes languishing on the market unless aggressive price-slashing is implemented. And, that’s for normal homes at and around the median prices in most areas of the country. It is a tough market for those homes, but it’s even tougher for “special” homes. These homes could be special solely due to location, size and price. Others are homes on high value land with special development challenges and unique architecture. There is so much greater potential in the Web marketing of these homes than many real estate professionals recognize. Or, if they do recognize it, they still do not take advantage of it.

Whatever the challenges, real estate brokerage and getting a home sold is all about “marketing,” not salesmanship. What’s the difference? Marketing is a planned activity that uses advertising and media to get the product in front of as many interested prospects as possible. It’s about doing a great job of presenting the product, and getting that prospect to respond. Advertising is used to get the word out, but marketing is the plan and structure of the campaign, as well as the selection of the media in which it will be run.

How It’s Been Done

There have been a whole lot of real estate brokers and agents doing the very same things for many years. And, most of them are still doing the very same things over and over again. Remember the definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  • Put the property into the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).
  • Put some ads in the local newspaper real estate section, maybe some in color, others B&W. Almost all will have a single photo of the property.
  • Put an ad in the local “Homes” magazine; again with one photo, sometimes two or three if a larger ad is purchased.
  • In the last few years: put the property up on the broker’s website on a page titled “Our Listings” or “Featured Listings.”
  • Wait for the phone to ring.

Let’s talk about the print media advertising for a moment. While there’s still a place for print, especially for old style image advertising, the format can’t compete with the Web. Whether a daily or a weekly newspaper, the ads placed will achieve maximum exposure to the subscriber base of the paper only on the days it runs. If it’s a Saturday and Sunday placement, like many real estate ads, those two days garner the most eyeballs, but it’s over to a great extent when the next day’s paper comes out. Looking back to find a home in last weekend’s paper might involve getting it back from the bottom of the birdcage. Also, the only way a home buyer might see a home ad is to scan ALL of them. It’s not an efficient search process, and is more about convenience and having nothing else to do over morning coffee.

Wait, aren’t those full color homes magazines a lot better? Well, they’re more colorful. But, they’re not any easier to search, as they are laid out by brokerage advertiser, not home characteristics, and rarely by location. My experience with placing ads in those magazines was a deadline for placement almost two months in advance of publication. No changes were allowed after that deadline. So, the material the target prospect sees there is a couple of months old before they ever come across it. And, they must go get that publication, as it’s rarely delivered to their home. Again, it’s more about something nice to read while they’re doing something else or waiting for the dentist. By way of contrast, the Internet home listing can be up and running in hours, and changes can be made at any time.

What about the demographics for readers of newspapers? While they’ll happily tell you that they have maybe 178,000 subscribers, you really need to get the other characteristics of the readers. First, rule out any prospects too young to buy a home. Then, out come the ones with incomes below the necessary number to be able to afford the home you’re selling. Next go those who only read the “funnies” or the “sports” sections. Finally, throw out the majority of the remaining readers, as they’re not in the market for a home. That big number rapidly shrinks to a few thousand eyeballs, and that’s two-per-prospect.

If you have a very old stack of newspapers, or some of those old homes magazines going back a few years, compare one of each from five years ago to issues running today. The new ones will be a lot thinner, with fewer ads and less color. Budgets are being cut by real estate companies, and print advertising is suffering. Why? Because it really doesn’t work as well as the Web, and costs much more. Too many brokers are afraid to tell their sellers the truth, so they keep running ads because that’s what their sellers think will sell their home. It’s not that it can’t work, but it’s far less efficient than the Internet, and far more people are using the Web for home shopping. The truly advanced real estate practitioner will put most or all of their listing and marketing efforts into Web placement, syndication, and innovative ways to present their listings via images and video. the continuum

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