For decades, the real estate industry has chanted the mantra of “location, location, location” as the key defining point of value for listing and selling homes. To a large extent, location is certainly a key factor in pricing a property: homes in nicer towns with lower crime rates and moderate taxes certainly price nicer than homes in run-down neightborhoods near a crack-house. Good school system, higher price. Gridlocked transportation system, less desirable. Near the lake – add a premium; impossible street parking, take a cut in price.
Most research supports the strength of location as a key pricing factor. The NAR Survey of Buyers and Sellers annually ranks the desire for a nicer neighborhood as the second or third most important reason for sellers to sell, and driving factor for buyers in selecting their next home. Moving for a better neighborhood is as American as apple pie.
Location is also “relevant” to the consumer, too, which is good news for every property. A condo near the train station may be an “undesirable location” for the retirees looking for some peace and quiet; but Gen Y buyers might be excited for the same spot if they’re looking to reduce commuting hassles. Every property, it seems, has a certain “location value” no matter where it’s located, if the real estate agent can connect the dots. The trick is to market each property “uniquely” by determining it’s “location value” then targeting the marketing to consumers who desire such values. Near the lake – target the boating community. Central downtown – find the empty-nesters who want to walk to dinner and theater. Every property has a location statement and once found, the agent’s job is to then “position” the opportunity in front of the consumer.
Which is why it’s stunning that an industry that regularly chants “location, location, location!” does such a poor job demonstrating that location online. If location is third most important to most consumers, why isn’t it more dominant in online marketing? Take a look at some listings and you’ll see the problem.
Most listing advertising online is features based. Lists of stuff. Room sizes. Floor types. Heating units. Facts and figures and lists. Pretty dull. Adding the word “spectacular” or “fantastic” doesn’t spice it up much, either. A laundry list of rooms and paint colors is still a list of stuff. Oh, sure, there are some photos: but that’s just more visual stuff. A photo of a kitchen – look, it has counter-tops! Whew. Oh, a bathroom with a toilet; good to know. Wow, a doorway leading from the kitchen to the dining room; who would have thought?
This kind of “stuff marketing” makes listings very dull online. Bullet points and photos of shower curtains don’t excite buyers. Remember, they’re moving either for job reasons, family situation (need more/less space) changes or desire for a better neighborhood. After determining that a house is closer to work (that’s what online maps can tell us) and that it has an extra bedroom and plumbing (from the photos of rooms and baths), buyers are looking for more than just a list of construction styles and flooring to excite them about a potential home. It could start with some better descriptions – perhaps describing what it’s like to live in the home, in the neighborhood, in the town. A story, perhaps, about the experiences of living – not the purchase of stuff – that makes a home more than just a house.
Of course, the real deal would occur in the photography and video tours. Photos of the street, the lake, the park, the shops downtown. Images that help build a story. Like illustrating a short novel, photos of the location would go a long way toward creating an image of life in that home for potential buyers. Does a particular home sit nearby a sports field? Position some images of a fun day at the ballgame. Are there rooms with particularly stunning views of sunrise or sunset? Get those online, too.
There are so many photos that could be taken to leverage location for every home that REALTORS might soon find them “running out” of photo slots online, rather than under-filling most of the slots with a measly few pictures that is the norm today. Taking a lesson from the last few years, REALTORS should know by now that buyers are frequently willing to OVERPAY for a property if they perceive it to have a desirable value. During the last boom, the bidding wars weren’t over the two-sink bathroom or the extra 10 square feet in the living room; Buyers paid more than asking price because something made them want to live there, at any cost. Those conditions haven’t changed: Poeple still move for deeply personal reasons: shorter commutes, more space with the family, a better neighborhood to enjoy. If REALTORS started marketing those values – rather than laundry lists of room sizes and 2-by-6 beams – something remarkable might occur: Sales.