Selling your home – a personal perspective: 3. The Marketing

Alistair Helm

Property marketing is one of my favourite topics and something I have shared my opinion on for many years both on the Unconditional blog which I started in 2007 and on this site. As regular readers will know, I have in all this time been consistent about one thing. That is, that digital marketing has taken over from print media in the minds of the consumer and consigned this former stronghold of property marketing to the dark ages – never to return.

So it should not come as any surprise that when it came to selling our home recently I was committed to a purely digital marketing campaign. 

So, having gone through the process of choosing a real estate agent to handle the sale of our house as detailed in the second article of my four articles about the personal perspective of selling our home, we came to the decisions around the marketing of the property

In my view, having spent the majority of my career in marketing-focused roles, I judge that marketing covers a wide gamut of components and is not simply the reserve of advertising placement. It is far more about what, how, when and where. In the case of property marketing it focuses on the form of marketing as in the platform of sale, the positioning of the property, the presentation of the property, the promotion of the property and the performance of the marketing through the campaign. Let me review and share the approach of each of those 5 P’s.

Platform of Sale

This refers to the various options – By Negotiation/ Auction / Tender / Priced. An imperative for me in property marketing is the need to drive the process. I think it is ineffective and lacking in focus to simply announce to the world through an online listing and a sign board, that this property is for sale and then hope that someone makes an offer. Urgency is a tool that should be leveraged. The reality of selling a property is there may well be a buyer out there who will judge that your house is simply the best, and the house they have always wanted, and that they are willing to pay way over the odds for your house. The cold hard fact is that though this could well be quite likely and even possible, what is highly unlikely; is that this ideal buyer just happens to be in the position to buy your house now. So you have to be pragmatic and deal with the market today – this month, and focus on the reason why you are selling – you want to move. If you don’t want to move, then don’t put your house on the market. The real estate industry really doesn’t need another listing that sits on the books for a year or more.

For this reason I have a preference for tenders. They appeal to me for the reason that they establish a deadline by which time buyers need to commit themselves. Are they in or out? Offers submitted as tenders can be either conditional or unconditional. Tenders force buyers to put an offer price on a contract that is their "full and final offer" - with no knowledge of what anyone else is offering. This compares to auctions which are public spectacles in which the winning bidder secures the property for a small (relative term) amount more than the unsuccessful bidder. Finally tenders allow the vendor to calmly and in their own time examine and consider the submitted tenders and accept, reject or negotiate with any of the submitters.

I have sold by tender in the past and therefore had a preference. However, I listened to my agent. Blair accepted all of these views as well as hearing (or knowing) my reluctance to the auction method. He articulated very well the benefits of an auction. It was a focused method which had a deadline. It ensured buyers were focused. He spoke of the recent sales experience with very similar properties in the area that he had sold by auction. He also shared the experience that Tenders were less common and therefore could create wariness in the minds of prospective buyers. We were persuaded, not easily I should add, that an auction would be the best method.

Another component of the platform of sale is the duration of the campaign. Given our pragmatic approach to recognising that you have to accept that the market will only deliver buyers who are ready to buy; it was our decision to go with a three- week campaign. This would allow sufficient time for all interested parties to view and assess the property while keeping the whole process moving along at a good pace and keep marketing impact high.

Positioning of the property

Positioning is all about identifying your buyer profile and creating the look and feel to attract them to view the property. In our area of Auckland there is a very common minimalist villa renovation-look that dominates – white surfaces, lap pools and large bi-fold sliders. Our house (as a reflection of our own taste) is what we judge to be a more sympathetic modernisation of a character villa appealing to people who want modern convenience without losing the heart of the property. This recognised that our house may not appeal to city dwelling young families but more to older generations who crave the convenience of the city suburbs but like the character detail. Positioning is not so much about choices as to how you might position a property as few people will be re-designing or renovating before sale. It is more about recognising who the prospective buyers may be and how to best appeal to them.

Presentation of the property

Presentation is all about creating impressions. Put another way, it's about creating an experience that ideally limits criticism of the property. It may be hard to believe but often people judge properties not on the attributes that are easy to see and tend to be presented in the listing details, but in the drawbacks and general criticism. Don’t like the curtains! The bathroom is too small! There was a strange smell! I could see the neighbour's messy back yard etc! 

Presentation is about literally "courting" prospective buyers when they check out the property at an open home. Working hard to minimise criticism and capture the hearts of those prospective buyers.

Promotion of the Property

For me this was the easy part – online. That’s it!

A key part of promotion is quality materials. This starts with professional photography. Blair recommended Open2View which I have high regard for and was happy to agree on. As well as a comprehensive photo shoot I also insisted on floor plans. These in my view should be mandatory – I find them invaluable and think they provide a great reminder for prospective buyers as they relax at home after a day of open home visits.

The online marketing was naturally Trade Me Property and Realestate.co.nz – again with the sole focus online the judgment was that a plain listing was not enough so a Super Feature on Trade Me and Premium package on Realestate.co.nz were booked.

The traditional elements of a street sign and brochures were not in dispute – they are a necessity.

With this comprehensive package of advertising and photo portfolio, the question was still asked by Blair about placing an advert in the NZ Herald. I did not criticise Blair for bringing this up. I can see the rationale for the belief that there could be a random opportunity of a buyer viewing a Weekend Herald; for them to see a house and fall in love with it. However I remained true to my principle. I would not pay for print but that did not stop Blair placing a quarter-page advert at his own cost!

Our investment in marketing totalled $1850. This included costs for a premium featuring on Realestate.co.nz for $400, listing and premium featuring on Trade Me Property for $400, photography and floor plan from Open2View for $650 and then signage and brochures for $400.

Performance of the marketing

The ultimate performance of the marketing campaign is judged in the result of the final sale, as to how much interest was generated and how competitive was the interest from prospective buyers in wishing to bid for the property. That outcome I will share in the final article.

In assessing the performance of the marketing campaign I will let the numbers speak for themselves.

Online advertising and profiling consisted of four websites. In addition to the premium advertising on both Trade Me Property and Realestate.co.nz, the property was featured on Open2View and the Bayleys website. Across the three weeks a total of 6,174 views were made of the property, with Trade Me Property accounting for more than half of all views as detailed in the chart below showing cumulative views across the four sites for the three weeks of the campaign.:

(Click to zoom)

The chart reminds me so much of the typical performance curve of online listings which I analysed on Realestate.co.nz a number of years ago. The peak interest for a listing is in the first few days as the combined impact of email alerts and "top-of-search" result pages drive huge awareness. That awareness and consequential views declines to a plateau very quickly. This firmly demonstrates the critical importance of ‘launching’ your home on to the market with a fanfare and grabbing the market opportunity quickly. There is an often-heard comment within the industry that the “the first offer is often the best offer” – this may have even more credibility than some may accept as early interest is high from real committed buyers who want to act.

(Click to zoom)

Our agent was very effective at not only providing the stats of web views he also prepared and delivered a written weekly report (not an online dashboard – which I would have loved). This report provided the following key stats, which I think are the key performance indicators of the property marketing process.

A very interesting analysis of the marketing. So we hosted 42 visits to our property over the three weeks. Without doubt, the largest driver of visitors (19) identified their source of information as the web and the largest driver of that was Trade Me Property.  It was interesting to note that what is not detailed on this report was email enquiries. There was just one from Trade Me Property. To my mind, this was a success! Let me explain. The listing provided all the necessary information and we held weekly open homes. The photos and floor plan gave all the necessary insight into the property – so why would you need to send an email. Email is not a key indicator of performance, if the marketing is well executed.

With the three-week campaign completed, 42 visitor groups and 6174 online views the key question was: Had we done enough to attract a buyer and was there a buyer out there whose appreciation of value in the property matched our expectation of the value of the property? That test would come on the day of sale.

See part one and two of the series.

Former Realestate.co.nz CEO Alistair Helm is founder of Properazzi.

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