Let’s face it, we’ve been stuck in our homes for far too long.
As a homeowner, the pandemic has led me to imperfections in my home that were formerly invisible to me. I took on DIY home projects that, in more social times, I might never have attempted. I even built a deck to get out of the house.
The pandemic has forced every homeowner to consider whether the place in which they live could be better. As a result, we’ve seen a substantial uptick in landscaping, remodeling and home sales. Families want more space with everyone Zooming from home. Condominium dwellers now see the appeal of yard space. Remote workers have come to find that “work from anywhere,” in many cases, really does mean anywhere.
All of this comes on the heels of what had already been a fairly hot market given the powerful combination of low mortgage interest rates and limited available home inventory. With the pandemic factored in, rates have declined even further and inventory availability has tightened further.
So, all of this combines to form a perfect storm of buyers and sellers beating a path to real estate agents’ doors with little or no effort necessary on their part, right? Wrong.
Pace and Competition
The current pace of the market exceeds the ability of many agents to either position themselves timely with potential sellers or get prospective buyers into well-priced properties before they sell. For newer licensed agents, about 20 percent or more of the real estate agent population in the United States, it’s even more challenging. Their referral networks are substantially smaller in most cases, so they have to market themselves even more than others to win new clients.
According to the National Association of Realtors, the number of real estate agents in the United States has been rising steadily for each of the past nine years. That count hit an all-time high in 2020 of nearly 2 million licensed agents. Meanwhile, less than 7 million existing homes closed that same year, the highest volume of existing homes sales since 2006. That’s 3.5 agents for every closed unit in the country.
What’s more, buyers increasingly begin their real estate search process online. Millennials, the largest cohort of homebuyers in America currently, begin every major purchasing decision with online research. Slightly more than half of the properties they purchased they found themselves through online research. GenZ, the oldest of whom are just beginning to consider potential home purchases, consume most of their information via social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Twitch and YouTube.
With the temperature seeming to only rise on this hot market, with younger “online-first” buyers coming to the market, and sellers going the For Sale by Owner or Zillow-style sales route, as well as a well-stocked pool of real estate agents available, how do agents stand out to win new clients?
Tools in the Tool Kit
If the postal service challenges of the holiday season proved anything, direct mail marketing should not be the only tool in an agent’s marketing tool kit.
Experienced agents can and should lean on their referral network of prior clients as well as professional contacts. For less experienced agents, this is more of a challenge but not impossible. New agents shouldn’t be afraid to have an honest conversation with their network — even if that network is light on previous real estate clients — and ask them directly to give some consideration to referring those they know who may be looking, now or in the future, to buy or sell a home.
More importantly, agents targeting millennial home buyers and sellers, as well as GenZ coming up behind them, must meet them where they live. This means online.
Some of the most successful agents I’ve worked with use video to their utmost advantage. They create neighborhood videos, highlighting the desirable aspects of the communities where they focus most of their work. Others shoot quick “did-you-know” explainer videos offering tips and advice to newer buyers and sellers. Others film brilliant home tours that might be the envy of many an HGTV producer. Also, while drone videos seem impressive, they’ve been over-used in real estate. Serious buyers would much prefer a video tour of the home by an agent who stops to point out impressive or unique features of the home that would otherwise be quickly overlooked in a quick overview video tour. Where video is concerned, think nuance.
These videos live on multiple platforms, including some of those noted earlier in this article, among others. Further, agents blast links to these videos out to appropriate audiences, which may include former and prospective clients, local businesses (especially the neighborhood videos), and some of their vendor contacts. That last category can be an especially referral-rich and high-profile marketing vehicle.
For instance, an agent may partner with a local plumber to shoot a “did-you-know” style video about home plumbing repairs and replacement issues, with the agent briefly participating to discuss the impact of plumbing upgrades on home values. The plumber will likely market the video through his or her social media, getting the agent in front of that audience as well. This model translates to mortgage brokers, insurance professionals, landscapers … the list is long. The non-agent professional will appreciate the assistance with their marketing, and the agent gets in front of broad and diverse audiences to which he or she might not easily have access. And both parties, potentially, expand their networks. Moreover, the agent’s reputation for expertise in all things real estate is enhanced.
Local and Real Estate Bona Fides
Community involvement is a great way for an agent to raise his or her visibility. However, COVID-19 has complicated this traditional Realtor marketing tool by limiting public events and gatherings. I advise agents, where they can, to continue to support community and charity events – even virtual ones. With organizations running more and more events online, there are opportunities for increased digital marketing and, in some cases, more video in the form of short testimonials or homemade commercials. If these aren’t offered as part of a sponsorship or advertising package, agents should ask. Perhaps the organization would allow a 20-second video to be shared on their social media platforms that briefly introduces the agent, with the balance of the video content focused on the organization or event so as not to be too promotional.
Additionally, charity organizations are very much in need of volunteers and donors following the end of many in-person events due to the pandemic. Virtual and in-person volunteering, where possible, is a great public good and another marketing opportunity for industrious real estate agents.
In an age where everyone is on a video conference for something, I encourage agents to do the same. Despite stories of “Zoom fatigue” hitting the news, the reality is most Americans are still social distancing and likely to continue doing so. That means video calls and meetings are here for the long haul.
Host an “Everything You Wanted to Know About Selling a House in a Pandemic But Were Afraid to Ask” Zoom event, offering tips and insights to potential sellers. If a local professional is willing to partner, the draw for viewers increases. In the above titled example, inviting a local health or medical professional to field possible health questions can be a further draw for the public to participate. Both the agent and the professional co-presenter will each market the event to their networks, expanding opportunities for both.
Finally, in a hot market agents must position themselves as subject matter experts. Reaching out to local newspapers with a one-paragraph statement on market related issues or making themselves available for market-related news interviews can help an agent, can help an agent earn a place in the local news outside of advertising if done correctly. Meanwhile, agents should also be curating content on social media that relates to their subject matter expertise. That expertise may be on relocation, home staging or purchasing rental properties, among others.
One agent I work with has cultivated an audience by highlighting his city-to-suburbs expertise. From telling his own story as a former city dweller-turned-rural farm owner, to sharing content on social media (and with members of the press where possible) on all matters related to urban flight to farm or “gentleman’s estate” living, he’s created a following that has garnered him business with those looking to do the same as well as Manhattanites looking for that ideal, bucolic second home in the country.
Inventory is likely to remain low. Interest rates aren’t likely to become a detriment to buyers in the near-term, and the pandemic has reshaped everyone’s work and home life, and especially the home life part, for years to come. The most successful real estate agents will find ways to stand out, reach out and demonstrate their value to buyers and sellers alike.