At the start of every year I think it’ll be the year that the condo marketing folks will embrace the Internet and shift their marketing focus online. Every year they haven’t, but I bet this year will be the year they do it because they felt so much pain in Q408. Those three months are going to cause them to think long and hard about how they need to restructure their efforts to be competitive in a completely different marketplace.
If I were in their position this is what I’d do.
Understand Your Buyers
The reality of today’s real estate market is that folks don’t believe condo marketers or real estate agents any more. Why? Because for the last three years you’ve been saying it’s a great time to buy and really only the first of those three years was an okay time to buy. Many of the folks who bought in years one and two got screwed and aren’t afraid to talk about it.
Just as people talked up the bubble they’re talking about their post-bubble pain which is going to scare everyone who didn’t buy.
Secondly, potential buyers have no clue if it’s a good time to buy or not. Why? They have no trusted advisers. They certainly don’t trust real estate agents hungry to close any deal, they don’t trust the media which tried as long as it could to maintain that things were still rosy when in fact inventory was piling up and nothing was selling, and they don’t trust their financial advisers because their 401k’s just got cut in half.
How do you rebuild the buyers trust and arm them with the information that gets them to buy at your project instead of the one down the road? Especially to out of state buyers who need long distance movers.
Only Invest In What You Can Measure
Whose money do you spend when you market a project? You spend your future buyers money and you can bet they’d rather pay less for that condo than more.
In Seattle, more so than any other city except maybe San Francisco, you have a super high tech community who doesn’t believe in things they can’t measure. It baffles those of us who work in high tech that folks continue to invest in advertising on the sides of buses, in the paper or in the glossy Seattle magazines. Please show me the evidence that the outrageous spend for that is justified while you completely ignore investing in online advertising which is more cost effective and which you can measure its effectiveness and tweak your message on a daily basis enabling you to iterate towards higher conversion numbers. (How do you A/B test a bus ad??)
It also baffles me that many projects will spend tens of thousands of dollars to build a Flash based website but yet don’t have any understanding of how many people visit their site, how many people their site converts to leads, how their site ranks for searches on Google, how their site ties in with their other marketing efforts, etc etc.
I really thought 2008 was going to be the year that a condo project started a blog. Guess not. But don’t let that stop you from starting one tomorrow because I’m now betting that 2009 is going to the year that a project both starts a blog and starts to Twitter (Twitter is similar to blogging but instead of long posts the posts are limited to 140 characters and are more like status updates.)
There are a number of reasons why I’d blog if I had my own condo project but the most important is to keep people up-to-date; it’s shocking to me how many buyers find out news about where they bought from this blog instead of from their site agents or condo team. You should be ashamed of yourselves when that happens!
What could you blog about?
- Permit planning & design reviews – how did you listen to the community? What were the compromises or changes you made?
- Construction progress – people love pictures. People love hearing about how you agonized over sprinkler placement in their loft.
- Move in schedules – take the mystery out of the process.
- Delays – communicate openly and honestly. We know it’s not our fault and that it’s because the Kone elevator failed inspection again.
- Sales #’s – potential buyers think that no one is buying right now so I’d blog about every sale because every sale is a success story.
Don’t hold anything back. Blog it all. If it’s bad news I will find out about it eventually and blog it here. Wouldn’t you rather talk about it on your own terms first? And if it’s good news WHY AREN’T YOU TELLING ANYONE? By blogging the good and the bad you will start to rebuild credibility with your potential buyers. Hell, even blog about current rental rates in your neighborhood. If you can, make the case why people are better off buying instead of renting. If you can’t, blog about it any way and why people should still buy. BE HONEST.
Blogging is good for your PR because you can bet that the condo bloggers (Seattle has more high quality condo blogs than any other city!) will pay close attention to your blog and will re-blog the interesting bits because bloggers are lazy, they desperately need material. Make it easy for them to blog about you.
Get rid of the stupid mandatory sign in forms at your sales center. If people want to sign up to receive email updates or a phone call from time to time make it clear how they can.
What would you rather have – a lot of low quality leads or a smaller amount of high quality leads who are willingly paying attention?
Make All Your Inventory Available
Your buyers are smart and see right through selling projects in phases and all that other bullshit sales voodoo to manage supply. Put all your inventory online both on your site and in the MLS. If your project is already built photograph every unit. Include those photos with your MLS listing. Give your buyers what they want when they want it. Don’t force them to drive down to your sales center!
People hate being pressured and sold to. With the economy collapsing their bullshit detectors are functioning better than ever.
Why not remove the pressure by trying something radical this year and hiring your site agents as full or part time employees. Compensate them based on how happy the visitors to your sales center are instead of pushing them to close a deal. (Read about how Redfin uses something called Net Promoter Score to measure customer satisfaction.) Yes, you may lose some short term sales but projects are now taking years to sell. Your project’s reputation is something you need to be proud of, make sales center visitors promoters of your project not detractors.
Buyers don’t think of themselves as leads or referrals or even buyers. They think of themselves as people. And they don’t think of buying a unit which is part of some amount of inventory that your project needs to sell in order to repay your loans. They think of buying a home. That home when in a condo is part of community.
How do you build community before folks move in? How do you do it online? Fortunately Facebook makes that easy to do. So create a Facebook group and connect people. Buyers will want to meet each other, or at least cyberstalk their new neighbors that they’ll be sharing their common spaces with. You’re organizing social events for them right? They are your best sales force, remember.
Buyers, what did I miss? How would you change the way condos are marketed and sold?
Condo developers and marketers, I hope a few of you emerge as leaders in online marketing in ’09 because right now the playing field is wide open with no clear players never mind winners. (I’m betting the winner is a small boutique 10-20 unit project from a developer personally involved in the marketing. Unfortunately off the top of my head I can’t name any developers in that category who really truly get the Internet.)
Disclaimer: I run marketing a Redfin. We help people buy and sell homes by recognizing when folks want to use the web and when they need to talk to a real live person. We believe in providing a no obligation service with a lot of transparency and so far our little experiment in changing the world, one home sale at a time, is going really well. I wrote this because I believe a lot of what Redfin is trying to do in ’09 would work well for some of the condo projects here in Seattle.
Update: Trulia must be thinking the same thing, Did we just pass the tipping point in online real estate?
Update 2: CondoDomain links here and asks:
Question – If you could by your next condo for $5,000 less, would you care that it didnâ€™t have supermodels and full page NYTimes advertisments to â€œBrandâ€ the property?
Update 3: Was reading a post by Brandie Young and it referenced ‘Word-of-mouth’ the most powerful selling tool: Nielsen Global Survey [PDF] which confirms that consumers trust other consumers above all else.