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Now is a good time to revisit tactics that strengthen the marketing process for corporate-sponsored and private home sellers alike

By Peg Guinta

At RISMedia's 17th Annual Leadership Conference, RIS Consulting Group presented a session to help real estate marketers gear up for the tougher market ahead. RIS invited two experts to share their ideas: Liz Talbot, president of The Talbot Group, based in Avon, Connecticut, and Barbara Brock, president of A Proper Place-Home Staging, in Manhattan. The Talbot Group, a relocation and real estate counseling company, provides corporate clients and their relocating transferees with professional home marketing and other relocation management assistance.

Multi-Faceted Home Marketing Process

Talbot set the stage by defining and highlighting the value of a structured home marketing service:

"A company-endorsed home marketing program is intended to professionally assist transferees to sell their homes and to generate the highest offer in a reasonable amount of time," she says. "In addition to happier, more productive transferees, employers realize significant cost savings by minimizing the number of properties going into inventory." She also explains that the homes that end up in resale inventory can cost twice as much to sell as homes sold on the market due to carrying costs.

Home marketing is a distinct process that can be managed as a relocation benefit separate from home purchase assistance (i.e., appraisal buy-out, BVO), she says. Even if employees are ineligible for home-purchase assistance, professional home marketing services is a low or no cost provision with significant value.

Talbot's message is focused, idea-packed and all-inclusive; it's her comprehensive approach that makes the difference between mediocre and high impact home marketing. While every home presents individual challenges, certain core elements are inherent in well-designed marketing plans and broadly include:

8Competitive and Strategic Pricing: Use at least two comparative market analyses to determine the right list price. Visit other homes that buyers will likely view along with the subject home. Is the subject home's price favorable in comparison?

8Advertising and Communication ABCs: Getting the word out with the basics of signage, MLS, open houses, agent tours, home-advertising publications and others are proven tactics, but the message can be enhanced. Understand the needs of targeted buyers for a particular home and determine attractants. Is there an appropriate place for buyer or agent incentives in the plan? Don't forget to solicit market feedback from agents and prospects to evaluate and assess next actions.

8Prepare the Home for Market: This category is very broad and requires looking at the home through the eyes of the buyer-from curbside to inside. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the home. What repairs have been neglected? What physical advantages do you want buyers to recognize immediately …square footage…woodfloors …great views? Why not do a pre-marketing home inspection and make minor repairs before placing the home on the market to avoid surprises later.

Zeroing in on Home Preparation

What exactly does "preparing the home for market" mean? It starts with de-cluttering and depersonalizing, and can include reorganizing and neutralizing furnishings or even repurposing and redesigning rooms-all to allow buyers to easily picture living in the home. The idea of "staging" a home for marketing purposes isn't a typical strategy, but we are hearing more about its successes-and that's where Barbara Brock comes in.

"Staging is a marketing tool…it's the process of transforming a home to a product for the market," Brock says. She should know-Brock is a professional home stager and accredited interior designer who has been successfully staging homes in New York for over five years. She adds, "How you live in a home and how you market a home are two different things."

"Placement of furnishings is the key to presenting space, and not necessarily the style of the furnishings," Brock explains. It's difficult for many people to picture living in another's, sometimes highly personalized, space or even to visualize a different use of space. But it's not difficult to see how a prepared or staged home may shorten selling time when features are displayed for the purpose of having prospects easily envision being there.

Staging is a versatile tool, useful in occupied or vacant home-selling situations. Because most often the subject home is occupied, staging or preparing the home usually involves removing extra furnishings, rearranging layouts and neutralizing.

Vacant houses, on the other hand, as in the case of corporate inventory homes, could be empty and on the market for three to four months or more, and in some cases, a home-staging strategy for one or two key rooms may inspire market interest and an earlier sale. Rented furnishings will have additional costs, but carrying costs can add up fast and if a staging strategy can sell a home sooner rather than later, it may reduce overall costs. In any case, weigh anticipated carrying costs against staging expenses for a particular home to determine if it makes sense.

"There are certain key elements of staging that really work," says Brock. "These are cleanliness, color, depersonalization, furniture arrangement, minimizing and lighting." The following ‘before and after' photos are good examples from Brock's project book that demonstrate usage of key elements:

Favorable Feedback and Usage

There are no industry-wide statistics to reinforce abundant anecdotal information regarding home staging. Stagers like Brock track selling statistics of the properties they prepare and these numbers-when compared to current market statistics-are favorable. Many estimate that staging a home may shorten selling time by as much as half as one unstaged, and that staging may yield approximately a 5-10% sale price premium.

Statistics regarding the usage of home marketing assistance within corporate relocation policies is readily available; according to a 2005 ERC (Employee Relocation Council) survey:

82% of companies who provide home sale assistance also provide home marketing assistance

79% require transferees to use the provided home marketing services

90% of transferees who are offered home-marketing services use the program

Real estate marketing challenges aren't new; home sales aren't on autopilot anymore and comprehensive home marketing skills are more important than ever. Whether you are a real estate agent, "for sale by owner" or relocation manager marketing vacant or occupied corporate properties, consider all the tools available to create a well-designed marketing plan. RE

Peg Guinta, CRP, project director, RIS Consulting Group, has supported corporate clients and relocation service companies since 1996 in market research and reporting, service satisfaction program management, relocation program analysis and design and policy writing. For more information, e-mail peg@rismedia.com.

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