Tag : real-estate

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180: How to Build a Brand When Your Auctions Vary Greatly in Value

This is the second of two posts about advertising strategies from resort areas. (Here’s the first one.)

I had about an hour to kill before a meeting with an auctioneer in Camps Bay, a bustling community wedged between the mountains and the ocean at the southernmost tip of Africa. So, I did what I normally do in vacation destinations: I stopped by a few real estate offices to look at their advertising.

Every listing there was significantly more expensive than my house back in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but there was a wide range of prices—from $500,000 to $15,000,000. Despite that disparity, there wasn’t a wide range of design from one listing’s advertising to the next or even from one agency’s materials to the next.

Varied AssetsThe homogenous feel matched what I’ve seen in other resort or urban destinations but stood in stark contrast to what I’ve seen in the auction community.

Most auction companies book deals with a great disparity of values. And not just in real estate. Estates, business liquidations, and farm packages come in all shapes and sizes. So do their advertising campaigns.

Part of that makes sense, right? When a budget scales, why shouldn’t everything in the campaign get bigger and more expensive?

The answer to that question depends on what you’re trying to say to potential buyers and future sellers.

Uniformity makes your smaller listings look more valuable.

“Yeah, it’s easy when it’s luxury real estate,” you counter. First, tell that to a luxury asset broker. Second, proportions work regardless of the number of decimal places in the price. In Camps Bay, the top and bottom properties were separated by a factor of thirty. That means you can use this homogenous model, if you sell estates that range in value from $5,000 to $150,000 or farm equipment from $15,000 to $450,000 or real estate from $50,000 to $1,500,000.

Your biggest auctions won’t look shoddy, if they follow the consistent minimalism leveraged by premium global brands. Quite the contrary. Your small and medium auctions’ assets will look more valuable by association with your halo projects. That won’t go unnoticed by potential sellers of future small and medium auctions.

Trust a succinct first impression.

All advertising media apart from our website—our marketplace—should be treated as first impressions. It’s easier to have a premium and consistent advertising presence, when you simplify all advertising to the most intrinsic sales pitch and no more than a handful of supporting images.

Driving people to your website allows you to better track advertising response rates. After consistently collecting traffic data and comparing it to sales data, you’ll be better able to reach bidders and buyers and predict outcomes for future auctions—all because you forced yourself to say and show less with your first impressions. (One of my clients can predict within 5% the quantity of registered bidders his auctions will have based on Google Analytics the morning of his simulcast auctions.)

Consistency builds your brand more efficiently than fluctuation does.

If your brand’s impressions are inconsistent, the consumer either doesn’t connect current media to past ones they’ve seen; or they connect your brand with inconsistent asset values. So, that farmer on your mailing list who gets three different size postcards and two different-size brochures from you will wonder how you’d choose to advertise his assets, when it’s his turn to sell.

Also, buyers will assume the stuff crammed into small print media must not be valuable. Rather than send mail (or place newsprint ads) of different sizes or templates, distribute the exact same media layouts for every auction but to varying quantities of people (or different quantities of publication placements). Use Facebook’s Audience and Lookalike Audience tools to hit the folks you had to trim from direct mail.

Your advertising can grow cheaper.

If all your media requires just a few copy-and-pastes and a couple photo swaps, your pieces will become much cheaper to build. If in-house staff create your media, this saves you hourly wages and/or frees that staff to handle a wider bandwidth of projects. If you outsource, efficiency empowers you to negotiate lower design charges. You can spend that cost savings on professional photography or larger mailings or bigger Facebook audiences.

One of the reasons huge corporations overshadow small companies in advertising is that their wide reach forces them to simplify to consistent impressions. Simplification isn’t patented by big companies or luxury brands, and consistency doesn’t have to be expensive. If you want to grow your auction business or have more deals from which to choose, why not adopt some of that restraint?

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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4 Stats REALTORS Use That Auctioneers Don’t

A lot of airports use their interior billboards to advertise their respective metro area’s appeal. Usually, the signs tout the city’s hospitals, higher education, technology, entertainment district, or headquarters of international corporations. Walking through Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, I saw one that fit in none of these categories.

The headline: “Within 500 miles of 43% of the US population.”

I turned to my wife and asked, “What do I do with that information?” I mean, what difference does it make how many people live within 500 miles? That had to be the first time I’ve seen anyone bragging about 43% of anything. So weird.

I’ve actually seen an auctioneer do something similar, advertising a property as only 300 miles from a metro area. I’ve also seen a local real estate agent list Colonial Williamsburg—170 miles from here—as a “local attraction.” (I’ve lived here 13.5 years and never been there.)

Statistics can be powerful tools, though—especially when they support your assertions. I’ve seen small businesses take big sales away from large firms by capturing, sorting, analyzing, and explaining data their competition either didn’t have or didn’t use.

Seller Stats Postcard

Seller StatsMy wife and I live in a fast-growing subdivision in my area. People who don’t live in our subdivision get on our neighborhood’s Facebook page to ask if anyone’s thinking of moving. It’s in high demand because it’s the closest new subdivision to the schools in a coveted district. Also, we have the lowest property tax rates in the area. So, buyer agents are looking for sellers; and one local REALTOR tried to use statistics to tease us to leave.

If you’re auctioning real estate, you should consider using the statistics leveraged on this postcard in your seller presentations. In the seller proposals and presentations I’ve been asked to design over the last 13 years, I don’t need all of the fingers on one hand to count the times I’ve seen any of these used.

Number of Nearby Properties Sold

Only an absolute auction guarantees a sale, but you can give all sellers confidence in the market to bring buyers—if this number is significant. If it’s a low number, you can use that to educate sellers and massage their expectations. If you have a breakdown of properties auctioned vs. properties listed, this stat increases significantly in value.

Local Market Sales Rate

This information is apparently easy to find, because I’ve had multiple REALTOR friends show me this data at different times. This number compliments the first statistic and can give context to expectations. While a metro area or county might be trending one way on the aggregate, a specific slice of it may not. This is true of commercial, industrial, and agricultural real estate, too—even though the statistics might be harder to find or less concentrated than residential numbers.

Average Days on the Market

If this number is high, the time benefit of an auction will seem that much more valuable. If this number is low, the timeline of an auction is actually longer. In that case, you have to sell the competitive-frenzy aspect of auctions. Also, knowing this number might help you in your due diligence to know whether you should take the auction in the first place. (This number might be skewed a bit for our neighborhood, since builders often list their homes very early in the construction phase.)

List Price to Sale Price Average

This stat can indicate that sellers have good sales agents and/or that local comps are reliable, or it can suggest the opposite. If the number is above 100%, you can make the case for the value of a competitive-bidding marketplace. If it’s drastically below 100%, you can discuss how well-marketed auctions—not comps and appraisals—determine market value.

Auctioneers regularly tell me how much they want to work with REALTORS. Maybe they should first pursue working with their statistics.

Postcard scanned. Stock cover image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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137: 5 Ways to Generate More End User Bidding

There are essentially only two ways to grow your business: get more transactions or get bigger transactions.

For auctioneers, there are two ways to accomplish bigger transactions: book auctions for assets with a higher intrinsic value or create more demand for the assets we already sell.

This is usually the part where a bid caller will interject that an auction inherently creates a higher demand because of the competitive nature of price realization at an auction. I’ve been to enough auctions to know that to be true. At the same time, you and I both know that even this very real dynamic sometimes isn’t enough to achieve reasonable reserves (or decent absolute auction prices). I know this, because—when auction prices don’t match their reasonable estimates—auctioneers turn around and ask me what more we could’ve done to acquire bidders.

Sometimes, the timing is off. By that I mean market conditions don’t match with the seller’s situation or the seller’s schedule. Candidly, there are times when we could have done something more or something better with the advertising budget. Other times, the terms of the auction limit who can bid—attracting the investor class’ cash buyers but not retail consumers.

Consumers outnumber investors. So, if we want more bidders at our auctions to create more demand, it makes sense to pursue end users. Here are several ideas to attract consumers that I’ve seen in the auction industry. Some require significant shifts for the auctioneer, but I’ve heard good results from those who have adopted them.

Implement a “Buy It Now” option.

Buy It Now option

Online retailers now mix retail and auction options.

Buy It Now buttoneBay has been doing this for years and honing how it works. Why? Because consumers often don’t have time to wait for an auction to end. Traditional auctioneers push back against this feature because it bypasses the auction process. Could the item sell higher during the auction process? Sure. Could that purchaser also not participate in the live bidding (and push your other bidders) because their need was satiated by a more prompt option? Yes. Real estate auctioneers advertise “pre-auction offers welcomed” regularly. So, this isn’t a stretch for real estate; and eBay has proven it’s a good fit for personal property. This wouldn’t need to be an option for all items, either. Also, this would make far more sense for online-only auctions where there’s less of a halo effect than at live, on-site auctions. Obviously, special language would need to be crafted in absolute auction contracts unless this is used only in minimum bid/reserve auctions.

Allow item returns.

So much for “as is where is.” This would rock the industry more than a Buy It Now button. That said, I’ve seen it done by an auction company for whom I’ve worked. The returned items get recycled into a subsequent auction, and the consumer gains confidence in their bidding. Return PolicyObviously, this isn’t for every asset category or even every item within an asset category. For those auction companies who could handle the auction terms and logistics, though, this could gain a higher price ceiling for all items on the aggregate—because consumers wouldn’t be hedging their bets.

Order & publish home inspection reports.

Real estate auction firms around the country are already doing this, but they are in the minority. Even if the terms remain “as is where is,” you can raise the price ceiling by letting the consumer know in advance what issues will need to be addressed. Consumers will compensate for the cost of remedying those issues in their bid, but that compensation will probably be smaller than the hedge on a mystery. Also, this disclosure is a good brand strategy to developing trust in the marketplace. I doubt home inspections are cheap. The question—after your own property evaluation—is whether or not it would pay for itself.

Home InspectionAdvertise where consumers congregate.

Auctioneers tend to congregate their advertising where other auctioneers advertise. I understand the defense: “We have to be in that paper, because we don’t want people to think we’re doing less business than our competition.” But what if this contest is being held where end users don’t gather? In past auction polling, one auction company for whom I’ve worked found that the paper with the largest circulation in their market brought the fewest bidders and that an inexpensive regional paper brought a lot of bidders—with a much lower budget hit. Let the other companies waste their advertising budgets, competing in empty arenas. Use Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, auction polling, and other analytical tools to find where consumers hear about you; and spend your money there.

Write advertising copy from a consumer perspective.

The vast majority of auctioneers suck at Facebook marketing and design their print media backwards, too. Their marketing message is out of order, emphasizing what’s important to the auctioneer instead of what’s important to the buyer. Consumers are interested in assets they want, not events you’re hosting. PerspectiveSo, don’t headline with auction information. Some of the most effective auction advertising doesn’t even use the word auction—or uses it only at the bottom of the advertisement. Why? If a consumer doesn’t want an item, they don’t care that there’s an auction event, let alone what date it is. If they do want that item, where they get it is less important for them that the attributes of the item they want.

The difference between wholesale and retail prices should be enough incentive to investigate changes to our workflow, terms, and marketing. Your path to consumer-driven prices might be on very different paths than these five options. That’s okay. What’s important is that we’re interacting with the marketplace, evaluating our processes based on the feedback we gather, and then making changes to our practices to adapt.

Feature image purchased from iStockPhoto.com. Others linked to sources.

54: Auction Pornography

Family Watching AuctionDuring the 1964 Supreme Court case regarding First Amendment rights related to pornography, Justice Potter Stewart wrote “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” [Emphasis added.]

The public knows what we’re selling when they see it.

If they don’t, they probably aren’t prospective bidders.

I design more brochures for real estate than any other kind of auction segment. And I can’t tell you how many times, my auctioneer will send me advertising copy that starts with “real estate auction.” To be fair, I also get text for agricultural machinery auctions that start with “farm equipment auction,” too.

If we have only three to eight seconds to communicate our core advertising message, why would we waste redundant words on what the 1,000-word picture says for us? Or are we trying to sell a commodity to someone who doesn’t know what it is?

Since people buy items—not auctions—the word “auction” and its date are secondary information to what your selling. So, “Auction” or “[Type of] Auction” should not be your headline. “WWII-era Comic Books” or “Premium Fly Fishing Lures & Tackle” should be, for example. Sell what you’re selling first; sell the auction second (or third after location or bidding platform if online-only).

Well, what if we’re selling real estate and personal property at the same auction?

First, I would consider having different mailer panels for the parts of your list going to each related mailing list. Even without variable-data printing, postcards and brochures can be printed with separate mailer panels. It’s not always cheap, but it holds potential to increase your effectiveness. The inside of the brochure or opposite postcard panel can cover both bases, while your first-impression panel can appeal to specific recipients of your respective mailing lists.

Usually, one of these commodities has a greater worth than the other and should take precedence. So, your mailer might have the factory building big and a small inset picture of a piece of equipment—with a smaller headline line like, “Also selling presses, CNC machines, and lathes.”

If you’re selling different types of commodities, your headline can be something like “2,450SF, 4BR, 2BA Home & All Contents” or “Early 1900’s Impressionist Art & 1800’s Original Manuscripts.” You can reinforce the separate markets under the “Auction: Friday, March 26th” line by listing underneath: “[Commodity A] to sell at 5pm. [Commodity B] to sell at 7pm.”

Even when a benefit auction event is a bigger draw than the items being sold, the beneficiary, cause, or even the venue will usually deserve the primary headline. Pictures from past black tie events (or stock photos) will communicate that a fund raising event with live bidding will take place.

One related, notable exception is when the breadth of sale item categories is wider than what can cleanly be demonstrated visually on the mailer or cover panel—like “Farm Machinery • Antiques • Household • Small Business Machines • Vehicles • Hunting Gear.” In that case, listing categories can be effective, alongside a picture of the biggest ticket item(s). Sometimes, it’s the quantity instead of the specificity that makes the auction unique: “170,000 Sports Collector Cards—33,000 NIB.” But even that should be accompanied by an image that communicates the size of the collection—maybe a staged shot of them stacked in the back of a box truck or on top of an announcers’ table at a sporting venue.

Your buyers will know what you’re selling when they see it. So, show it first; headline it second; and tell them about the auction third (or fourth). On the part of your sign, direct mail, ad, email, or Web page that makes your first impression, kill the words made redundant by pictures so that the words that are left get read.
[tip]

The world knows a changed life and a worshipping soul, when they see it. In the rare instances when we happen to categorize ourselves or our faith in a conversation it should seem redundant, almost unnecessary to those who observe our lives. In the least, our followship should not come as a surprise.

The world has a hope of what to expect from Christianity; and that hope isn’t in labels, badges, or Sunday suits. It’s not perfect attendance, an inked checklist, or boycotts.

If you want to know what a life expedited by the Spirit looks like, ask an unchurched person to describe Christian love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faith, etc. Their definitions will have nothing to do with liturgy, denominations, or systematic theology. The sanctifying life requires more than attendance, participation, and good citizenship. It blossoms as a pervasive, holistic lifestyle that leaves a wake of healing and hope.

[footer]Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

18: Night Makes Right

Night PhotographyWhether you’re selling luxury real estate or a less-than-photogenic property, you can accentuate the positive the same way: night photography.

While in the Reno airport on my way to an NAA event, I picked up this flier† from Michael Yoelin of The Yoelin Group. With no special paper or printing techniques—and no complicated design—the piece exuded the beauty of the Casoleil condominium community.

What grabbed my attention was the same thing that catches everybody’s attention: the picture(s). The public is accustomed to MLS-style curb shots; anything you can do to shake their visual expectations will make your advertising more memorable and attractive.

Soleil

In the Casoleil case, the main shot had been taken at dusk with the warm light accentuating the architecture and ambiance. While even the day time photo displays an inviting neighborhood, the nighttime image takes it to another level. Ads for premium properties in duPont Registry and Unique Homes often use this same technique.

Interior shots can also be warmed this way, too—even in the day time. Don’t forget illuminated fountains, submerged-light pools, and moonlit pond/lake/river/ocean shots. If you’ve got a hard-surfaced driveway or patio, spray it with a hose first to catch the reflected light.

Nighttime can also cover up an average (or worse) property’s foibles, make a small house seem like a cozy home, and make a commercial property look alive (If possible, illumine the signs; and don’t forget to capture those tail lights to illustrate traffic count). A farm at sunset may have a great silhouette, too.

If the idea seems too complicated or time-consuming, confidently hire a local professional. Pictures typically sell your property more than design does; it’s worth the expense, when you’re dealing with a premium property. With the advent of digital photography, there are more photographers in the marketplace and, thus, great values available.

It’s not fitting or practical to use this technique for all properties, but it can make a significant difference for the right subjects. If you doubt that, know that National Geographic‘s current photography policy rejects any landscape shots taken between dawn and dusk. Anybody can shoot in the day time, even your competitors. Stand apart from the pack; come to the dark side of the force.

[footer]†Used with permission.[/footer]
[tip]

I was told during my formative years that all Christians should aspire to vocational ministry—that the highest goal of any Christian should be the pastorate or international missions or Christian education. This mind set creates castes: leaders and attendees (and stages in between). My Dean of Art at college even told me that they preferred us to design for ministries, not companies.

The Bible doesn’t present this hierarchal system, as all true believers are called priests and ministers of the Gospel. If light-shiners only huddle with other light-shiners, the only way their light can be seen is if they outshine their peers. This tends toward legalism, sectarian squabbling, and—too often—hypocrisy or catastrophic personal failure. I’ve seen it first hand. You’ve seen it on the news.

However, if we’re focused on working in the darkness of secularism and the night of unbelief, even a small, Jesus-fired light will pierce our environment. Jesus lived and dined (and worked) with the unreligious, the spiritual castaways of his day. Why shouldn’t we?

If I had taken that ministry job offered me out of college, the top half of this post would never have been written; and this bottom part wouldn’t mean as much to you. You expect a pastor to be a lighthouse of faith. A graphic designer? Probably not. That’s why I write about my spiritual journey here: because you might not choose to read about it anywhere else, especially church.

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