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What’s the future of residential real estate signage? I think it’s like the recent history of digital printing — only much, much bigger

“The Barrys” on Real Estate Radio USA have a burning yearning to know just what it is that listing Realtors do to earn their commissions.

It’s a question that plagues me, too. As much as I talk here about on-line marketing, we draw a lot more attention from sellers with our real-world marketing efforts. We’re all about selling the house, and, oddly enough, this makes an impression on other people who want their houses sold.

But we’re deliberately not listing very much right now. We’ve turned down a bunch of houses we would have liked to have handled, but we will not list a house for sale if we don’t feel certain we can sell it. There was a span of eleven days when we turned down over $3 million in new listings — but every one of those homes is still unsold, despite repeated price reductions.

We’re gearing up to list 1322 East Vermont Avenue in North Central Phoenix. The house doesn’t go live until March 28th, but, because of an Easter-egg hunt in the neighborhood, we’re holding it open this weekend in advance of the MLS listing.

We’re going to be documenting everything we do to list this home for sale, both as an enduring record of the kinds of efforts we undertake for our sellers and as a step-by-step guide for Realtors who follow BloodhoundBlog.

The house has been repaired, touch-up painted and and staged. Some of the photography has been done, but I have not yet built the home’s single-property web site as I write this.

But because we want to have our yard signs up by the weekend, I built the signs today:

I’ve built an engenu page with bigger versions of the signs along with a link to an engenu site discussing our sign philosophy in detail.

Our yard signs are just one part of our listing strategy, but they form at least a piece of the answer “The Barrys” are looking for. We believe in marketing our listings, and we do everything we can think of to get them sold quickly and for top dollar. As we build out the engenu site documenting this listing, we’ll talk about other tactics we deploy to make that happen.

In the mean time, I’d like to talk some more about real estate signs.

Stifle those yawns! It’s a fascinating subject.

I had mail Wednesday from Jim Calabrese of RealEstateSigns.com. Jim made some Open House directionals for us a couple of years ago. Tent signs, heavy duty hinged Reprocor with steel legs, screen printed in Black and PMS 174, BloodhoundRealty.com’s corporate colors. Those signs are tough like armadillos — and directionals take a beating. We had one stolen the first time we used them — I suspect Redfin agents 😉 — but the rest have held up very well.

This is what Jim had to say:

My purpose for writing you is not sales related. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your blog. Partially because you are somewhat of a sign advocate. But mostly because it’s a good read. I try very hard to understand the needs of my customers and I’ve found no better way than following certain industry blogs.
 
I think your marketing ideas are fresh and bold. If you ever want to go over any ideas regarding signs, I’d be happy to give you my perspective – i.e.: you mentioned sign lighting. It is popular and it seems all my competitors are offering someone’s add on unit. Problem I see is that they’re all expensive, and only work marginally. A better idea would be to internally light the sign, just like illuminated business signs. I think it could be done cheaper and with better results than the current light products.
 
I attend a lot of sign industry tradeshows and I can tell you that we’re maybe 3 years away from a technology that would serve a guy like you well. It’s kind of like e-paper display films, but illuminating in color. Graphics can be uploaded to it, but once the image is there it doesn’t need any computer hardware to run it.  They just haven’t made it weatherproof — yet. The Asian producers are bringing the price down to where it could be agreeable for real estate signage. I think the first real estate use could be similar to your listing specific sign, but later it could be interactive. Now that would be cool.
 
There is also a way to make corrugated plastic (we call it Reprocor) act as a loud speaker. Actually a very high fidelity speaker. Combine that with dynamic, illuminated graphics — forget virtual tours — your signs could be the tour.

Man, I love it. Think BIG! The timeline for these innovations could be longer than Jim anticipates, but so what? Nothing changes until we get in there and make it change, and everything new comes to us sooner than we have any right to expect. These are incredibly cool ideas, and I’ll be happy to take ten percent down and the rest in installments.

I live in a more mundane world than Jim’s, so I’ll tell you (and him) what I need from sign vendors right now: On-demand, hands-free, internet-based four-color signage.

The signs you see above are printed on a self-adhesive vinyl material that is then laid down onto an aluminum sheet. The printing itself is done on an all-digital six-color ink-jet sign printer. That printer is not hugely different from a desktop laser printer, and I want to address it in much the same way.

We buy a lot of business cards — thousands for every house we list for sale. My relationship with OvernightPrints.com is utterly ideal: I prepare my files exactly the way I want them, FTP them to their server, pay by credit card — and then worry about my next chore. My cards are often printed within minutes, and the big delay in the whole procedure is the shipping process.

Interestingly — to me — the first time a live human being touches my work is when the finished cards are being packed to be shipped.

I prepare my files for my signs in much the same way — except that instead of using PDF files, for some reason I have to rasterize them as (enormous) TIFFs, an agonizingly slow process. But once that part is done, my files are like predigested pabulum to the sign printer.

Except… I can’t move them by FTP. They’re not that big — maybe .75 gigabytes total — but the sign vendor doesn’t have the horsepower on their server to take files that size. The solution? CD-ROMs and sneakernet, just like 1995.

That’s gotta change. Sooner or later, Realtors are going to wake up to the power of custom signage. If Jim is right, the bandwidth demands of interactive signs will be even greater. The return trip is always going to be a problem, since everything moves at the glacial speed of airplanes and trucks. But the inbound trip, moving the data to the printer — and moving the files through the printer — has got to become almost as fast as paper-based printing. My signs don’t have to be printed in minutes, but they do have to be printed and shipped back to me same-day.

I won’t wait longer than that, and, taking account of the way the world of real estate works by now, I can’t wait longer than that.

Give me illumination, give me sound, give me interactivity — yes, yes, yes. But give it to me fast…

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17 comments

17 Comments so far

  1. Cheryl Johnson March 20th, 2008 6:43 am

    Jim Calabrese, If you are reading this (and I hope you are!) let me second what Greg said. I would love to find a sign vendor that could turn out custom signs with images and text like Greg’s, and do it on the fly. ~And~ do it inexpensively, even though for individual listings the order quantity will usually be one only.

  2. Bob March 20th, 2008 7:21 am

    Ever see the Edward Norton movie, “The Illusionist”, where figures appear on stage and answer questions from the audience?

    I want the front yard hologram virtual tour that answers questions about, features, etc.

  3. Greg Swann March 20th, 2008 7:31 am

    > I would love to find a sign vendor that could turn out custom signs with images and text like Greg’s, and do it on the fly.

    To be fair, everything we print hits the vendor in press-ready form. We require nothing from an art department or a pre-press department.

    But this is a market opportunity for a sign vendor: Pre-designed semi-custom templates with a form-based input system. You transfer your images, type in your copy and preview the results. You tweak until satisfied, then proceed with the order. The better on-line business card printers have software like this.

    There’s more, though. A business card is tiny. Almost any digital photo will print fine at that size. For the elevation photo on our signs, I have to take a 5 megapixel image and scale it up. Yesterday’s elevation was 917 megabytes as a CMYK EPS file. You can do this. Most people can’t.

    But that again is a value-added service for a sign vendor — a robust art department to blast custom work out ASAP. Now we’ve added a day to the schedule, assuming you’re available to proof the work on line when it’s ready, but that’s still good timing.

  4. Greg Swann March 20th, 2008 7:53 am

    > I want the front yard hologram virtual tour that answers questions about, features, etc.

    Now that’s a talking house!

  5. Cheryl Johnson March 20th, 2008 3:13 pm

    If any sign vendors are reading this, and you can implement what Greg described below, please contact me! (you can use the email link in the BHB contributor list)

    “But this is a market opportunity for a sign vendor: Pre-designed semi-custom templates with a form-based input system. You transfer your images, type in your copy and preview the results. You tweak until satisfied, then proceed with the order. The better on-line business card printers have software like this.”

    I am ready, willing, and able customer, and I am sooo ready for something like this!

  6. Carl Minicucci March 21st, 2008 12:45 am

    Hi Greg,

    In respect of your above signage, I have the following unsolicited comments:

    – If I was driving (quickly) by 1322 East Vermont, it’s quite conceivable that my first thought would be that someone was selling their dog. Have you ever considered removing Odysseus in favor of some more interior pictures, or simply re-sizing the existing pics? The BHB logo on the top panel probably suffices insofar as branding goes.
    – Who is your intended audience for the small font copy below the pictures? Again, hard to conceive someone being able to read that in a car, driving by even at a turtle’s pace.
    – While I think the unique URL is fun, I don’t think it is as effective as a simple and easy-to-remember URL. It may woo the Vendor, but I would think a sale is the ultimate path to woomanville. If the URL is not easily recalled, it’s effectiveness is compromised.

    Hoping this provides some food for thought.

    Regards

  7. Cheryl Johnson March 21st, 2008 6:02 am

    Carl, I tried to imagine what it would be like if I’d never heard of Bloodhound Realty, and I was just driving around looking at houses … and I spotted that sign.

    I think seeing a big ol’ dog would be sufficiently unexpected that I would do a double-take, then I just might slow down enough for a better look, and in the process I’d read the small print.

    If that is what happens, then Odysseus is doing his job. :-)

  8. Carl Minicucci March 21st, 2008 6:53 am

    Cheryl,

    That’s precisely what I did…and imagined driving by.

    I supposed Greg’s thinking is that either Odysseus or the $400,000 price tag are the hope for immediate attention which will prompt the individual to stop and gather his/or her information. Certainly, it will be effective for the pedestrian passerby. Even then, that URL address may be tricky to remember.

    If anyone is reading this and they need to scroll up to Greg’s sign to recall the exact address, then my point speaks for itself.

    Perhaps an alternative may be to not include the actual number in the URL. The beauty of this approach is that it makes it that much easier to remember. However, the longtail benefit is that the URL will serve anyone else on the street and act as a subtle carrot for more business on the same street. Greg would now “own” the street, so to speak. I kind of like this idea. (Please send royalties to…)

    I still would increase the font size of the URL just in case the time-strapped, busy bodies with cellphones strapped to their ears are limited in the opportunity to park, scramble for a pen and record the necessary notes.

    It’s just the reality of our lives.

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  10. Jack LeVine March 22nd, 2008 10:30 pm

    Your right about the sellers. They’re seeing the signs and the flyers, and that drives them to the blog. The blog generates the “come list my house” calls.

    The buyers are googling and yahooing. The sellers are driving around looking at empty flyer boxes (except mine). Making the sign into the flyer is probably my next step also.

    My full color signs are printed on vinyl and glued to the metal. Now I see that I can make a unique sign for each house. Thanks!

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  14. […] Building custom yard signs and directionals. This is me again. We print these locally, with a company called Signs By Tomorrow. Why do we put a paragraph of small text on our yard signs? To stop traffic. The purpose of the sign is to sell the house, so we do what we can to make sure people stop and take a look. We also add a “rider” to the sign showing the price of the home in six-inch high numerals. It’s the first question anyone is going to have about the home, so why not answer it in no uncertain terms? […]

  15. […] Building custom yard signs and directionals. This is me again. We print these locally, with a company called Signs By Tomorrow. Why do we put a paragraph of small text on our yard signs? To stop traffic. The purpose of the sign is to sell the house, so we do what we can to make sure people stop and take a look. We also add a “rider” to the sign showing the price of the home in six-inch high numerals. It’s the first question anyone is going to have about the home, so why not answer it in no uncertain terms? […]

  16. […] Created a single site blog page and a custom sign for a listing.  The idea, of course, is stolen from Greg Swann sand some of the other brilliant minds that visit here.  The purpose is this: be so much better […]

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