There is no denying agents are currently facing a challenging market.
On one side, fears of rate rises and soaring property prices has led many home buyers to sit cautiously on the sideline.
From a business point of view, the story is much the same.
Agent commission rates are under threat as vendors and buyers battle for the best possible deal. Some agents aren’t exactly aiding the situation, with many offering discounted commissions in order to secure listings.
With good listings few and far between, many agents are now in search of new and innovative ways to help drive their business forward.
However, there are some real opportunities to be had for those agents that return to their roots and really hone in on the basic fundamentals of selling real estate….and that includes the seemingly ubiquitous ‘For Sale’ sign.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Agents may overlook how important the ‘For Sale’ sign is as a marketing tool.
It is often seen as the face of the agency, made up of distinct features that create familiarity for potential home buyers.
The sign also operates as a point of contact for passers-by, helps create awareness of what’s happening in the market and operates as a subtle, yet extremely effective marketing tool.
Laguna Signs managing director David Falla believes the sign is an important promotion tool for real estate agents. “There is an old saying in the industry, if you haven’t got a sign, you haven’t got a business,” he says.
He estimates approximately 90 per cent of prospective buyers (and vendors) drive around the area of interest prior to contacting an estate agent, and that the sign plays an important role in their buying decision process.
Having a sign located in an open area at the front of the property acts as an agent’s business card. And while size doesn’t always correspond with who is really the best in an area, the sheer number of ‘business cards’ an agent has is a sure fire way to impress potential buyers and vendors.
According to John Runko, chief executive of Independent Property Group, “he or she that controls the signs in a neighbourhood, controls the market.”
While sheer numbers can impress potential vendors and home buyers, what’s on the sign also matters a great deal.
Katie Ripper, sales manager of Queensland Screenprints, has found over the years the effectiveness of a sign comes down to what’s on it.
When a potential home buyers view a vendor’s sign, Ms Ripper says they look to identify whether the property is for sale, auction or lease, who is marketing the home, the agent contact information and email address.
All of this information needs to be communicated in a quick and timely fashion, particularly in areas where buyers are looking at multiple properties.
“Today, people are time poor and want answers immediately, so the agent that better communicates this information on their sign will be the one to get a call from the prospective buyer.”
When it comes to real estate, location, location, location is often quoted as most important element of the property purchase decision. So it comes as no surprise that the location of the property is important when it comes to deciding on what type of sign to use.
Is the property on a main road or down a quiet suburban street? This is a key question all agents must consider before recommending a sign to their vendor.
For instance, a property situated beside a main road or highway may use a larger sign due to the continuous flow of fast-paced traffic, while a home located in a quiet street with higher counts of walk-by traffic could use a smaller sign.
While the layout and design of a sign ultimately rests in the hands of the vendor, John Kubatov of RE/MAX Results in Brisbane believes buyers will always take note of a well-presented sign.
Numerous pictures of the property strategically placed around well-structured text is the “money shot” for signs, Mr Kubatov says.
Vendors would be wise to choose a sign has a catchy and appealing opening sentence, often associated with the lifestyle or benefits of the property. Mr Kubatov says this would generally be followed by a series of bullet points that outline the core features of the home such as the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and property size.
In many areas signs need to sell the lifestyle first before focusing on the ‘bedrooms and bathrooms’. The Independent Property Group, based in the ACT, conveys both the lifestyle and property features in all advertising campaigns.
Using headings such as, “just a two-minute walk to restaurant row” or “low maintenance gardens, more time for living” should be considered, but avoid using lifestyle imagery, Mr Runko says.
“Images of the features of the property itself are more important to the potential buyer than a local café or restaurant.”
How many pictures should I include? What type of images should I use? How much is too much? These are the key questions that often plague the minds of all agents. And while a collage of images may look nice, keeping a sign as simple as possible may work better.
Geoff Lucas, chief operating officer of McGrath Estate Agents, says while the vendor does have the final decision on the layout and design of a sign, there are some cases where a simple sign may be more effective.
“In some circumstances it is more appropriate to offer alternative marketing solutions and we have introduced a generic signboard for this purpose to suit specific regions.”
But despite this, Mr Lucas feels that photo boards have a stronger appeal.
Mr Falla suggests it’s better not to use poor-quality photos.
“If you don’t have a good photo, don’t use any at all,” Mr Falla says. “The images on a sign reflect on the vendor, the property, yourself and the company, so be sure to avoid a poor quality picture at all costs.”
Over the last ten years, the type and style of signs have changed on the back of new technology.
At one end of the scale, we have seen the use of colour-laden pictures incorporated into the design of the signs.
At the other end of the spectrum, improvements to technology have led the way for amazing capabilities, including ‘QR’ codes and digital displays. QR codes appear as a barcode on the signboard. Through the use of a smartphone, prospective buyers can take a picture of the code and be redirected to the company’s webpage to receive additional data on the property.
For Independent Property Group, there is a balance between providing buyers with quality information and using new innovations that may end up more of a fad.
And while there is a lot of interest in the future potential of QR codes, for example, Mr Runko is prepared to wait before committing himself to the idea.
“The future success of QR codes will only be determined by consumer behaviour.”
“People need to install the app firstly and get out of their car so they are close enough to even scan the code.”
Glow in the dark ‘corflute’ signs could also be hitting the market in the not too distant future.
Queensland Screenprints is currently in the process of trialling this new product, which they hope will create a relatively inexpensive sign that can be clearly seen by prospective buyers 24-hours a day.
But for those agents always in search of the industry’s biggest and brightest marketing ideas, there is one new tool that will literally change the way agents present their listings.
ENTER DIGITAL DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY
In what a company pushing the new technology says will be “the next logical step” in the evolution of the common real estate sign, the ‘Live Board’ is set to be the world’s first outdoor digital real estate ‘For Sale’ sign.
The 1.3m tall sign will display moving graphics and live information on a 42” LCD display screen.
The company says information displayed on the sign can be uploaded remotely from an agent’s mobile device, allowing them to provide up-to-the-minute information regarding open house inspection times, auction countdowns, nearby listings, and other data.
In addition, the Live Board will display a profile of the sales agent handling the property that will appear on the board twice a minute, every minute, for durations of five seconds.
The Live Board Unlimited Plan starts at $495 per month. You’ll need an extra $190 for installation and $88 for monthly business insurance.
Vandalism may be an issue with these signs, and with the message on the screen constantly changing it may be harder for prospective buyers to absorb the relevant information, says Mr Runko.
For instance, he continues, what are the chances of motorists absorbing all the information as they drive by?
“The pros of using digital signs are outweighed by the cons. The main pro being that it is [new] is no comparison to the easy readability of a standard type sign,” Mr Runko says.