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Going head-to-head?
Stand up to the competition

Every time Gid Pool cruises by a real estate billboard, he looks up at the shining faces of those high profile, deep-pocketed associates and sighs.

A Realtor-Associate with Century 21 Almar & Associates in Englewood, Pool entered the Florida real estate market in January 2004, armed with six years of real estate experience (in Virginia, circa 1980s). He’s currently selling about $3 million in properties a year, but he’s looking to more than double production in 2006.

To get there, Pool knows he will need to overhaul his marketing, which right now costs about $1,000 a month and includes an underperforming Web site and a real estate newsletter that’s mailed to 42,000 homes. “I have money for promotion, but don’t want to waste it,” says Pool.

Enter the Expert
Pool’s issues are familiar to many Florida real estate professionals, who are all striving to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. He consulted with real estate marketing expert Dan Gooder Richard, who offered some advice:

1. Write a Marketing Plan
Pool has no marketing plan, and Richard suggests creating one immediately. Pool should focus on  a combination of prospects that will help him reach his goals: one-third local resale listings (Pool already boasts an 85 percent close ratio on listing presentations); one-third second-home buyers (primarily out-of-state buyers from states like New Jersey); and one-third new construction and builders.

The goal, says Richard, is to cultivate referrals by focusing on these three groups, all of which Pool is already working with. He suggests using the MLS (to find homes currently listed) and tax records (to determine when those homes were purchased by their current owners and establish how long potential sellers have lived in their homes). Pool can then begin to target potential listing candidates.

Richard advises Pool to cultivate relationships with builders as a way to generate listings of new, pre-construction and spec homes. “Bring them 30 buyers who are interested in new construction,” says Richard.
“In exchange, ask the builder for a list of buyer prospects [who have looked at their homes] that you can follow up with for possible listings.”

The suggestion switched on a light bulb over Pool’s head: Several builders with whom he was already working lacked a follow-up plan to continue contact with potential buyers. “If he can obtain that customer data from two to six different builders,” says Richard, “he would have an incredible mailing list.”

2. Create a Marketing Budget
For Pool to get his budget in line with his goals, he’ll need to either spend less on marketing (right now he’s spending 27 percent of his gross commission income) or generate more sales, to get into the 15 percent range. “I’m already acting like a $6 million agent,” Pool laments.

Richard says Pool should take full advantage of his broker’s willingness to pay one-half of the cost of real estate magazine ads (or $135 to $250 a page), 200 bulk mail pieces per month (including envelopes) and 50 just-listed/just-sold cards per listing or sale.

Another way Pool can boost sales  is by acquiring the customer database of a retiring agent, whom he might be able to find right in his own office (which means the broker wouldn’t have to “release” the information to another firm). Richard says the strategy works particularly well for associates who are striving for high sales growth, but who are working independently, without a team of other associates to help with sales and marketing.

“Keep an eye out for those opportunities,” says Richard, “and you might be able to step up to a $6 million year, or more, right away.”

3. Establish and Promote a 24/7 Brand
When consumers shop for real estate associates, they look for knowledge, experience and availability. By capitalizing on that third point through targeted branding, Richard says, Pool will be able to improve his visibility in a marketplace dominated by high-profile top producers.

It should start with a Web site domain name like “Friendliest Agent247.com” or “Port Charlotte Homes247.com” (both of which were still available at press time), says Richard, who urges Pool to promote his 24/7 availability by applying it to all marketing and advertising efforts.

“Build yourself a brand,” says Richard, who envisions the 24/7 brand being promoted through Pool’s current real estate newsletter (which should be renamed to reflect the new brand), broker-financed mail and advertising pieces and even his car — a Toyota Scion that already features Pool’s logos and business information on its two small side windows. “Get a car wrap decal and use your automobile as a mobile billboard,” suggests Richard, who points Pool to www.lowensign.com for more information on wraps.

4. Revamp Your Web Site
For Pool’s Web site to be more effective, it must allow him to capture leads. Richard suggests that Pool create 20 to 30 different lead-capture forms, which he can then follow up on by sending valuable information (such as tourist or relocation information) and plug into his database for future contacts. “Customers can visit your Web site all they want,” says Richard, “but if you don’t have a form that captures their specific interest, then they won’t turn into customers.”

On the Web site itself, Richard says, Pool needs to focus on the customers and their needs, and not on himself. Right now, for example, Pool’s picture is at the center top of the page. “I would take it off and move it somewhere less prominent,” says Richard, “and then put your 24/7 brand right up top, where customers can see it.”

Finally, because two-thirds of Web site hits come from direct navigation (meaning, the prospect typed in a specific Web address), Pool can improve site traffic through local promotion (by listing his site on all direct mail, newsletters, newspaper and other advertising as well as on his vehicle). Other good options include linking to quality Web sites (such as Realtor.com) and testing pay-per-click services offered through the four major search engines: Google, Yahoo!, MSN and AOL.

Pool isn’t wasting any time putting his new marketing machine in motion. He’s already secured the domain name www.floridahomes24-7.com, and he plans to start building his new brand around that “24/7” approach. He says the new site will include 20 or more forms, which will feature a mix of free offers and regular newsletters. And while his wife isn’t keen on driving around in a rolling billboard, he says the “wrapped” Scion could also be in the cards. “I expect to do more over the next few months,” says Pool.