Behind The Sale: A Real Estate Blog

A Real Estate Marketing Blog

Making Something go Viral: A Challenge I Failed. — April 20, 2015

Making Something go Viral: A Challenge I Failed.

Reflect on your experience with viral content. Did it work? What did you do
to try to make your content go viral, and what (if anything) should you have done
differently? Consider viral content you’ve seen recently. What about it made you want to
click, share or like? Why?

Since this blog is also a school project, we had a fun little assignment last week to try an make something go viral related to our blog beat. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s not a lot of viral content about real estate out there. I made a list of reasons to move to Memphis. So, it didn’t gain much traction, but I’m going to try again with it this week because I did a LOT wrong. I only posted it to Twitter and since I do all of my work in the evenings after the kids are sleeping, I did not advantage of timing.

I do think the content is solid, though. I like lists, they usually get my attention and I’m often sharing them. I also find myself sharing content that makes me feel something, whether it’s funny or sad. I’m hoping this list makes Memphians feel a little pride. It’s easy to get caught up in all the bad of the city, but there are fabulous things about our city, too! I also hope I can make prospective home buyers realize Memphis isn’t a definite no. Just take a look!

6 Reasons to Make the Move to Memphis —

6 Reasons to Make the Move to Memphis

Let’s start out with some brutal honesty. Memphis has a lot of problems. We have a high crime rate, high taxes, and weak leadership. Our public schools are underfunded and often sub-par. Our unemployment rate is higher than the national average. So…how do you get somebody to buy a house in this city?

You have to remind people of the good things Memphis has going for it, and there really are a lot of those. So, here’s a quick list of things you can tell your clients about Memphis to help give them a nudge in the right location, location, location.

1. Our schools. No, really, there are great schools in Memphis. White Station High School is ranked the 9th best public high school in the state of Tennessee.
As private high schools go, St. Mary’s Episcopal School and Memphis University School are ranked in the top ten best private high school’s in the state.
Ready to continue your education? Rhodes college was listed as one of the top 11 colleges in the state and ranked #93 on Forbes list of the best colleges in the country.

2. Our Food. Luckily, somebody did the work on this item for me. Here’s a link to the I Love Memphis Blog: 100 Things to Eat in Memphis.Trust me, it’s way more the BBQ, although that’s good, too.

3. Things to do. There is always something to do in Memphis. Do you want museums? We got ‘em. Nightlife? Hello Beale Street (and so much more!). Theater? Concerts? Professional Sports? College Sports? We have all of that.

4. Things for kids to do. The Memphis Zoo. The Children’s Museum. My Big Backyard at the Botanic Gardens. The Pink Palace. Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms. Not to mention summer camps and other activities that pop up throughout the year.

5. Great People. Memphis has it’s share of problems, there are leaders in this city that are working for change. Don’t you want to be a part of something great?

6. The Housing Market. I didn’t forget that this is a real estate blog. Your clients aren’t going to want all fluff, so hit them with this gem. CNN Money listed Memphis as one of the top 10 hottest housing markets in the country.

No, not THOSE clients! — April 6, 2015

No, not THOSE clients!

I’ve never been a real estate agent. I worked for a well known (at least in the southern U.S.) real estate company for five years, as a listing secretary, office administrator, and marketing associate. Once I left the company I continued freelance marketing and real estate photography, so my real estate experience adds up to almost ten years. In all that time I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that I could never be a real estate agent.

Contracts I can do all day long. I know how to list, I know how to market and I know how to sell. I can learn closings. There’s one big thing I can’t do and can’t learn to do: deal with clients.

I never know what to say when I meet people, I’m terrible at small talk, oh, and I really don’t like people very much. You as an individual might be fine, but people as a collective are terrible. So, in that same vein, I offer you the clients that I’ve silently observed as a third party over the years and determined are deeply, truly, awful.

The one who never listens. Is there a hearing impairment? A mental disorder? Did you find a client that doesn’t understand what “clean the house before a showing” means? I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME WHEN I TELL YOU THE LISTING PRICE IS TOO HIGH! I can’t be a real estate agent because of this client. You hired me. You’re paying me. Do you just have a habit of paying people to tell you what to do then not doing it? Agents, tell me, what is it with these people?

The one that lives in his own world. This client is very similar to last one. It’s almost like they can’t hear you, but really, it’s just that they don’t get it. They don’t understand why they can’t find a 4 br/2.5 ba with a bonus room, and a laundry room, a fenced yard, granite counter tops, and two shower heads in the master bath shower, less than five years old, for $150,000. No, linoleum tiles do not look like real tile. Yes, people really will notice that water stain on the ceiling. For God’s sake, the cat odor is completely noticeable. It’s illegal to slap people, but I’m not sure how else to get somebody to snap out of this self imposed fog.

The one you can never reach. With papers to sign, appointments to make, and all the many other things you do to work for your client, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to never get in touch with your client. I’ve heard horror stories from agents. I remember one story about an agent who went a whole month without getting so much as an email from her client. She lived out of town, and when she finally contacted the agent, she only offered up only a laughing “it’s just so hectic selling the house.” WHAT? No. I couldn’t do it.

The one you can’t get rid of. It’s 10:00 p.m. You just got an email. Ten minutes later a text. Then a phone call. How many times do you need to confirm an appointment? The ones who are in constant contact also tend to be the ones that worry over every little detail, which is why they’re in constant contact. Triple checking appointment times, getting your advice on apple pie or pumpkin spice Scentcy for the open house, talking again about the flowerbeds. These tightly wound balls of worry can make even the sweetest agent a little cranky. Kudos to those of you who can do it.

Agents, who did I leave out? How do you handle tough clients? I’d love to hear your stories!

Flyers and Brochures for Real Estate — March 30, 2015

Flyers and Brochures for Real Estate

I am a huge fan of informational flyers and brochures. Maybe it’s because most of my freelance graphic design work has been real estate flyers and brochures, but I also believe they are one of the few “old-school” tools real estate agents should still be using.

First, before you even think about making a flyer or brochure you need great photos. If you’re not sure you can handle that, take a look at this blog post, then come back.

Now decide if you need a flyer, brochure, or both. A brochure gives you more room to showcase your property. Essentially it’s like a double flyer. I recommend these for more upscale properties or a property that just has a lot of extras that you want to feature. Your average home will be served well with a traditional flyer. If you choose to do both, be sure the same theme flows between the flyer and brochure. A consistent feel will reinforce your property’s personality, which I discuss next, and make it more memorable to potential buyers.

Flyers and brochures put your listing’s “feel” in print.  Every property you list has it’s own personality. A home with stables and 20 acres has an appeal that is very different from a condo in downtown Memphis which is different from the appeal of a five bedroom house in the suburbs, which is different from the appeal of a two bedroom bungalow in Midtown. The flyer you make for each of those properties should match that property’s personality.

Take a look at the images below of a flyer and brochure I created for a historic, upscale property in East Memphis. Compare that to the flyer I made for a cute starter home in a Memphis suburb.

Flyers and brochures give potential buyers something to walk away with. According to’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers in 2014 the average home buyer spent 10 weeks looking and viewed 10 homes before deciding on their purchase. With all that time and all those properties, don’t you want potential buyers to have something to remind them of your property?

Flyers and brochures are an extension of your brand. Whether you know it or not, you have a personal brand. You started building it the moment you began your career, probably even before that. If you have a newsletter, send out regular emails or mailers, take out ads, participate in your firm’s group ads, hold open houses, or have a social media account, you have a brand. Make the most of it! A flyer or brochure is another way to not just sell a home but to sell yourself.

Clients like them. Don’t overlook the importance of this. Clients like flyers. They look professional and they tell your client that you’re serious. They tell your client that you’re working hard to sell their house.They tell your client that you’re giving them the full range of services. All of these things go to building a relationship with your client so that once you sell this house, they’ll keep coming back to you and referring you. That’s how this business works.

If you’re sold on making some printed materials but don’t know your way around graphic design, there are some online templates you can use for free or a small fee. Free versions usually retain a watermark or logo from the company on your flyer. Pay versions do not.

I will say that if you’re going to pay for a flyer, I’d go the route of hiring an experienced graphic designer who is familiar with real estate marketing, you know, like me. A sloppy flyer or brochure can do more harm than good, so be sure you know what you want in a flyer and you know the person creating it can give you those results.

If you’d like to try it yourself, there’s a number of applications that you can use to create a flyer: Microsoft Word and Publisher, Pages (Mac), Google Docs and InDesign are the most common and accessible. If you’re brand new to the world of flyer making, start with Word. You can still produce some nice quality flyers in Word without having a lot of experience.

I’d love to know if you’re regularly using flyers or other printed materials as a part of your regular marketing repertoire. Leave a comment and let’s talk about what you’re doing, not doing, or want to do.

— March 23, 2015

My 8-year-old daughter loves exploring new things, my dad is a huge history buff, and I love photographing houses, if that whole “freelance real estate photographer” thing hasn’t given that away. Cue Friday’s final Spring Break activity: touring the Woodruff-Fontaine House in Memphis.

Grandpa and Monkey after our tour on the front steps of the Woodruff-Fontaine House.
Grandpa and Monkey after our tour on the front steps of the Woodruff-Fontaine House.

The Woodruff-Fontaine House originally belonged to Amos Woodruff who came to Memphis from the Northeast in 1845. He was a carriage-maker, and apparently a very successful one. Eventually his endeavors expanded into the cotton, railroad and lumber industries, bank and hotel ownership, and even politics, serving on the Memphis City Council and twice running for mayor. In 1870 construction began on this home, fitting for a man of such prominence. Completed in 1871, the cost of construction in today’s dollar would be over $1 million. The most ornate features were put in on the bottom floor, to be sure their wealth was appropriately showcased. By the time you hit the third floor there’s not much oomph left.

This is inside the fireplace in the dining room. There's more detail in a hole in the wall used to burn wood than there is in my entire house.
This is inside the fireplace in the dining room. There’s more detail in a hole in the wall used to burn wood than there is in my entire house.

I learned a bit about Victorian architecture as well, like the importance of symmetry. In one section of the house is the so-called “door to nowhere.” On one end of this room were two doors, and on the other, two doors as well, but one of those doors wasn’t needed. It opened to a wall. It was only installed to keep things balanced. This was apparently such a common practice that tradition dictated that family members and construction workers would sign the backside of the unneeded door.

The names on the door. Flash photography is not allowed inside, so that reflection is the flashlight our tour guide used to point out names.
The names on the door. Flash photography is not allowed inside, so that reflection is the flashlight our tour guide used to point out names.

The home is part of the Victorian Village District, and this is where my hard-sale real estate advice comes in. The district was created by Victorian Village Inc., a non-profit dedicated to reviving this section of Memphis. Keeping the original structures in tact is a big part of that. Knowing about these projects and districts is vital if you want to be a full service agent in your city. You might have a client that would love to be in a historic district, or locate in an up-and-coming community that they can really take part in. People are attracted to locations for all different reasons. The more you know, the better you can serve your clients.

The second family to own the Woodruff-Fontaine House (you guessed it, the Fontaines) had this house built across the street when their daughter, Mollie Fontaine (not the same as Mollie Woodruff) when she married. It is now called the Mollie Fontaine Lounge, open Wednesday-Saturday from 5 p. m. - 3 a. m.
The second family to own the Woodruff-Fontaine House (you guessed it, the Fontaines) had this house built across the street when their daughter, Mollie Fontaine married. It is the Mollie Fontaine Lounge, open Wednesday-Saturday from 5 p. m. – 3 a. m.

Really though, the big draws for me were getting to take photos of a stunning house and totally freaking out my daughter with the stories of the house being haunted. That last part is said to be true, and our tour guide claimed to have seen or heard a number of different ghosts. While one room in particular is widely believed to be haunted by Mollie Woodruff, who lost both a husband and a child in the same year in that same bedroom, our tour guide believes that ghost is Virginia Fontaine.

Here's the Rose Room, Mollie Woodruff's supposed haunting ground. This bed is not original to the house, but was once owned by Nathan Bedord Forrest.
Here’s the Rose Room, Mollie Woodruff’s supposed haunting ground. This bed is not original to the house, but was once owned by Nathan Bedford Forrest.

While I saw no evidence of ghosts during this tour, our tour guide was certain more than one spirit is contained within that house. While this house is now a museum, it did get me to thinking, what happens when you list a “haunted” house? Have you ever lost or made a sale thanks to rumors of the supernatural? I want to hear your stories, and if you have a really good one, I’d love to feature it on my blog.

Now, if you’re like me and just love browsing through photos, I’ve got a few more shots of our  tour here. If you’re ever in the Memphis area, I recommend a stop. The tour only takes about an hour for the Woodruff-Fontaine House, which is open Wednesday-Sunday 12 p. m. – 4 p. m. The other house I haven’t mentioned is the Mallory-Neely House, located practically next door to the Woodruff-Fontaine House. It’s open Friday and Saturday, 10 a. m. – 4 p. m.

Open House Bananza — March 9, 2015

Open House Bananza

Sunday is a sacred day in the real estate world: open house day. After lunch agents across the land put up their signs, open up houses, lay out their information, and wait. Some days it’s a long wait. That’s what the Carters said today at the 3rd house I visited, this really great house in Arlington. They are a real estate team, a married couple, and they said the normal flow of young couples just wasn’t happening today.

My open house plan didn’t work out like I wanted, either. With my daughter along for the ride, I mapped a fabulous route. The first house was great.

Jeffrey Britt is an Affiliate Broker with Coldwell Banker, and the listing agent for this house. He was friendly, knowledgeable, and possibly possesses secret real estate agent powers. Despite the fact that I like my house and we are in no position to sell or buy, and despite the fact that this house is considerably smaller than the house I have now, I really wanted to buy it.

House #2 wasn’t so magical.

House #3 was a contender, though.

We struck out with the next 3, yes, 3 houses. One of them I couldn’t even find. The other two were model homes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the open house experience I was going for. We did have some fun scoping out neighborhoods, though.

And maybe we peeked in on a few new construction houses that looked lonely.

— February 16, 2015

So I was clothes shopping online the other day when I ran across what might have been a cute pair of shoes. I don’t know because the site had no picture for them. What? Why would I be interested in buying something that I can’t see first, right?

This is what your potential buyers are saying when they run across your listing online and it has one basic front photo, or even worse, no photos. Photos help get buyers in the door and if you’re not taking good photos (no, I don’t want to see a blurry breakfast nook), then you’re not only doing a disservice to your client, you’re damaging your own business.

OK, so let’s assume you’ve never taken photos before and I just convinced you it’s crazy important to do that and you have to go out tomorrow and get started…but where do you start? Take a look at the rest of this blog post. This are a few tips to get you started. It’s not an all you need to know list, but it is enough info to get you a few good photos for your next listing.

Get comfortable with your camera. I absolutely recommend getting at least a point and shoot digital camera. A DSLR is better and adding a wide angle lens is even better. However, just because the idea of great wide-angle photos has you excited doesn’t mean you should run to the store and buy all that expensive equipment.

Much about the quality of your photo is going to depend on your level of comfort with the device. If you get a DSLR and only ever shoot in automatic mode, that’s a waste of your money. So, what I’m telling you is that whatever photo-taking device you have, know how to use it. Get familiar with it. Get comfortable with it.

Also a couple of cautions about using a wide angle lens. They are great for getting more of a room in your photo but watch out for the dreaded fish-eye. Beware of extremely cheap “wide angle” lenses. They will most likely fish-eye your photos. This type of distortion makes it very hard to get a real impression of what the room you’re shooting looks like.

The second potential issue is making your shot look too good. Wide angle lenses will get more of the room in the shot, but be sure the room doesn’t look more spacious than it really is. What you’re going for is the best realistic portrayal of your property. If you present a photo that is unrealistic to get potential buyers in the door, you lose reliability when they see the property and realize all was not what it appeared to be.

I’ve used a Canon Rebel for two years now. This is the newer model I got for Christmas.

Move your body. Anybody can put a camera up to his eye and mash a button. That gets you a picture, but not necessarily the picture you need. Getting the right shot means moving. Usually the best spot is in doorway or corner of the room, but you have to try some unique things. I’ve taken shots while standing on bathroom counters, crouched in closets and I’ve even opened a window and shot a room from the outside for one really uniquely laid out room. Don’t be afraid to take shots from over your head, on your knees, and any angle that might get you the look you’re going for. As any professional photographer will tell you, it takes hundreds of photos to get a handful of good shots.

This is what I mean by move your body. What a great shot of the living room that I would not have gotten if I hadn’t wandered up and down the staircase finding the right stair, which just so happened to be 3rd from the top.

Set up your shots. I hope it goes without saying that you should make any room you’re about to take pictures of look the best it can. Don’t be afraid to tell your clients that some things need to go. Be sure to check for things you might not take notice of every day, but that would stick out in a photo, like those speaker wires draped across the walls.

Also of note, don’t be distracted by the furniture in a room. Yes, it’s there and (hopefully!) it looks great, but remember that you aren’t photographing the furniture. You’re photographing the room. You can make the furniture work for you, but a picture of a bed in a corner isn’t giving potential buyers any idea of what that room looks like.

What a cute bed…but I’m trying to buy the house.
Ah, now I can see the room!

Once you have the room set up, take a look at your lighting. You want as much natural light as possible. Trust me on this, it just looks better. If natural light isn’t available, be sure to get some good lighting in the room so you’re not depending wholly on your flash. Flash can create some very harsh shadows. Also try not shooting directly into (across from) your lighting source.

Ah, natural light. Everything seems brighter and clearer. My main light source is to the right, a nice big window. Remember, don't shoot into your lighting source. This room was laid out just right, thankfully.
Ah, natural light. Everything seems brighter and clearer. My main light source is to the right, a nice big window. Remember, don’t shoot into your lighting source. This room was laid out just right, thankfully.

Keep in mind shooting outside is a bit different. You don’t want harsh sunlight, so try shooting during the magic hours, about an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset, or on an overcast day. The bright light that helps you inside isn’t quite as helpful outside.

Taken mid-morning, the bright light is casing some very dark and heavy shadows.
Taken mid-morning, the bright light is casing some very dark and heavy shadows.
This was taken on an overcast day. See the more balanced lighting here?
This was taken on an overcast day. See the more balanced lighting here?

So there you are, a few quick and easy tips to get you started on your way to great photographs. Don’t take for granted what photos do for you and your listing. They simply cannot be overlooked.