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By Craig Proctor

RISMEDIA, Dec. 24, 2008-I’d like to discuss a form of advertising that many of you will think you know everything about: classified ads. While most of you run classified ads for your listings, I maintain that this type of advertising is one of the least understood but one of the biggest opportunities in your business.

Let me start by telling you a universal marketing truth that most agents don’t understand:

“The only reason to run an ad is to get prospects to contact you.”

Now that may sound self-evident, but as I’ll explain to you, most agents unconsciously write classified ads that actually “repel” prospects rather than attracting them.

To prove this point, simply pick up the classified section of your local paper and look under homes for sale to see what I mean. Chances are this section has dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of Realtor ads, all trying to get the prospect’s attention. Obviously, your first problem is getting noticed. After all, your ad must be “seen” before a prospect can respond to it. With all that competition, how do you ensure that prospects will “see” and then go on to actually “read” your ad?

Well, you do this with the emotional appeal of your ad. By using the right words (I call them hot words), you can actually pull your prospect into your ad and compel them to contact you.

More about this in a minute, but first I want to make a very important point that I believe will shock many of you. The fact of the matter is the role of your property classified ads is not to sell the property in the ad.

I’ll go further and state that it is virtually impossible to sell a house with a classified ad.

Now what do I mean by this? Well, there are really two issues at play here:

1. You Can’t Sell a House in an Ad – Think about this. How likely is it that a prospect would read your classified ad about a listing and be so convinced by what you’ve written that they buy the property, sight unseen, over the phone? Has that ever happened to you? How many of you have answered an ad call and had the prospect say “I want to buy this house.” Not “inquire” about the house, but actually “buy” the house because of your ad in the paper. It doesn’t happen right? The fact of the matter is you can’t sell any big ticket item solely on the basis of an ad – not expensive clothes or cars, and not homes.

2. You Can’t Sell THE House in the Ad – Think about it. In what percentage of cases does a buyer call you up on one of your listings, come to view that particular listing and then buy it? It happens once in a while, but that’s really the problem. As real estate agents, we get rewarded for bad behavior. Some things will work once or twice if you do them often enough, but it’s not predictable or consistent. What happens most often is that a buyer calls you about a listing, and as you begin to describe the property to them, the buyer begins to eliminate it and politely tells you that it’s either too big or too small, in the wrong area, too much money, etc.

An experienced agent understands the art of call conversion and understands that you must communicate something of interest to this buyer. If you don’t want the buyer to hang up, you must get them interested in another of your listings or something on MLS…and even if you are successful in converting this listing inquiry into a buyer you work with, in most cases you end up selling them a different property – which in most cases isn’t even one of your listings. So you can see that your classified ad did a job, but the job was not to sell the house in the ad, but rather to get a buyer prospect to raise their hand.

When I explain it in this way, you can see that the ad doesn’t often sell the house you’re advertising, so if it’s next to impossible to sell the house in the ad, why do agents keep trying to do so by babbling on and on with lengthy descriptions of property features?

When you’re writing your classified ads, you shouldn’t be thinking about how to showcase all the wonderful features of this house, instead you should be thinking about how you can get the highest response.

So what are the benefits that will be most motivating to prospects?

When you scan the classified section of almost any paper, you might think that buyer hot buttons are things like: walk-in closets, or close to shopping, or central vac. After all, that’s what most of the ads laundry list.

But let’s look at typical property descriptors such as “water softener,” “garage door openers,” “built-in dishwasher,” “new roof,” and “gas furnace”…and compare these specific features with descriptive images such as: “trees,” “fireplace,” “private yard,” “quiet street,” and “cozy family room.” Which words are most motivating to you? Which words help you picture yourself living in this home. Which words make you want to know more?

Let’s take a look at two ad examples:
NEWMARKET – 2 storey, 2 bedroom, new windows, corner lot, C/A, C/V, professionally decorated, main floor laundry. (905)898-1234. Bob Smith, XYZ Realty.


NEWMARKET – Lovely detached home, private yard, quiet street, zero down payment. Free recorded message 1-800-000-0000 ID#0000. Your Company Name.
I think you’ll agree that the property ad on the left is very typical of the kind of ads most agents run. The ad on the right is an actual ad I run in my local paper week in, week out, every time the paper runs.

If you’re like most prospects, the simple, emotional word combinations such as private yard and quiet street will be very motivating because they hit on your emotional hot buttons. It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. In the case of your classified ads, you must find the few words that will paint a thousand pictures, and it is words like “trees,” “fireplace,” “private yard” and “quiet street” that will do this for you.

Why is this? Because all decisions are based on emotion. Logic is only applied afterwards to justify the decision. The fact of the matter is, people don’t buy features, they buy benefits.

When your prospects are shopping for a home, they are not craving “a new roof,” “central vac” and “closet organizers.” Instead, they’re looking for a safe haven – a private world called home that they can escape to. The trouble with most classified ads as written by the average agent is that they simply laundry list unemotional physical features and fail to speak to the prospect’s heart.

Let’s try a little experiment. I want you to pause and think about how the following words make you feel and what images they conjure. For example, when I say “fireplace,” what does it make you think about? It probably makes you think about curling up on a couch in front of a roaring fire. It’s a good, inviting image. When I say “quiet street,” you probably think of a good family neighborhood with people out chatting or raking leaves, kids riding bicycles and so on. When I say “trees,” you picture privacy within a lush, mature neighborhood.

Okay, now pause again and let me give you some other descriptors:

Water softener
Closet organizers
Built-in dishwasher

What images do these descriptors conjure? How motivating are these words to you? Do they give you a warm and inviting picture of the home? Do these words make you want to know more? Do they make you want to pick up the phone and call me fast before someone else scoops up a home with such hot features? Probably not!

So do you see what I mean? If you’re reading these words like a prospect, your reaction will be “Ho hum, who cares.” In fact, you might not even have a reaction because in all likelihood you will have skimmed past these descriptions and not even noticed them.

The fact is, most physical features of a home don’t hit the prospect’s emotional hot buttons. Some do, but it’s your job to choose the ones that matter. As an example, “fireplace” does matter, because it hits a strong emotional hot button. Water softener does not.

I’ll go so far as to tell you that you’re actually penalizing yourself by talking about the specific, unemotional features of a listing. For example, if you identify in your property ad that the house is a 2 bedroom, there are many great prospects who will immediately eliminate this house as they feel it’s too small. The same thing applies to “corner lot.”

Some prospects like a corner lot but some don’t. The ones who don’t will eliminate your ad. Elimination means they won’t call you, which means you’ll never get a chance to convert them to a different listing they would be interested in and thus you never have a chance to convert them to a client. So as you can see, by focusing on the specific, unemotional features of a property, you’re vastly limiting the number of good prospects who will respond to your ad.

The beauty of classified ads is that they’re easy and inexpensive to run and they attract “now” prospects. Since you’re probably already spending money in the classified section, by simply tweaking your ads to focus on the emotional hot buttons of the property — rather than laundry listing the property’s specific, unemotional features — with no added cost to your budget you will easily and immediately multiply the number of qualified leads you’ll receive from each ad.

“In the world of high tech, fast decisions and glitzy high priced advertising, sometimes advertisers and marketers forget what really attracts normal attention from normal people: Simplicity, over and over again.

“A well worded, yet simple ad flies right into the consumer “need base” and for those desperate for real estate answers, they perceive success by reacting and following the “call to action” trail back to me.

“I use two methods of call to action, hotlines with pre-recorded messages and distinct, benefit laden URLs directed to my Consumer Information Space on the Internet. Both provide the sense of “solution” and both incubate the readers request for something more. That “call to action” is the most dynamic ingredient in a well-rounded lead generation program.

“For agents desiring more opportunities, start maximizing the capabilities of your local classifieds. I have for years and they provided tons of opportunities that in turn makes for more closings and the best part of all, they hardly cost anything to run.” – Rick Brash, Alberta, Canada

About the author: Billion Dollar AgentTM Craig Proctor has been in the top 10 for RE/MAX Worldwide for 15 years. Craig consistently sells over 500 homes per year to earn almost $4 million in annual commission. Over 25,000 agents nationwide use Craig’s system to make more money in less time. To learn about free Craig Proctor workshops held year round in cities across the country, visit: These three hour workshops coach agents on the essential success strategies for this market, including free lead generation, short sales, bank foreclosures and reverse prospecting.