There’s always something to howl about

Listing real estate the Bloodhound way: Everything we do to list historic, architecturally-distinctive and luxury homes for sale

This is a detailing of the things we do to list a home for sale. We don’t do every one of these things on every home. For example, we know that if we list in a newer tract-home subdivision, much of the noise we try to make will fall on deaf ears. If I am listing a tenant-occupied investor-owned home, we won’t do much beyond the normal MLS, lockbox and sign kind of listing. But this is what we do when we pull out all the stops for those homes that are likely to excite the most attention among buyers.

  1. Setting the stage for staging. Cathleen Collins will go though the house with a fine-tooth comb, often taking many photos. She will make lists of repairs, touch-ups and redecorating she wants to do, and she will plan her staging strategy.
  2. Home-warranty pre-inspection. We put a home warranty on our listings covering the listing period and the buyer’s first year in the home. We use ServiceOne, and they do a fairly rigorous pre-inspection so that any pre-existing conditions can be addressed.
  3. Repairs, painting and cleaning. This can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Everything’s a trade-off, and we can’t always do everything we might wish for, but we want for our homes to be as clean, as homey, as livable and as turn-key as we can possibly make them.
  4. Staging. This is Cathleen, and she is a master at it. We own about three houses worth of furniture, and she is always trawling Craigslist to find more — period, modern, eclectic. She has tons of art and decorator items as well, and her modus vivendi is to take everything she thinks she might need to the house, then move back what she doesn’t use.
  5. Professional photography. We have just switched to Obeo for our virtual tours. They send in a local professional photographer to do hi-resolution and panoramic photos. In addition to forming the basis of the virtual tour, the hi-rez photos are also used for Obeo’s Style Designer, virtual remodeling of selected spaces.
  6. Floorplan measurement. We put an interactive floorplan on the web site for every listing. Buyers can interactively place their furniture, plus there is a printable PDF version that they can pass along to movers or decorators. We use Floor Plans First, but this is a service that Obeo offers, as well.
  7. Amateur photography. That would be by us. We like to have dozens of photographs of everything, including photos of the interior and exterior of the home in all the different colors of light of the day. We can end up taking photos of the home over the course of days, just for the sake of a static kind of verisimilitude. For what it’s worth, I think it is incumbent upon Realtors to do the bulk of their own photography. Use a pro for the print stuff, if you lack confidence, but acquire a camera appropriate for real estate work and learn how to take good real estate photos. You should get in the habit of having a good-enough real estate camera with you every time you leave the office. The language of real estate is photography, after all.
  8. Neighborhood photography. We like to have a fairly comprehensive selection of photos of other homes in the neighborhood. We know that buyers want to know for sure that they’re moving into a neighborhood that fits the home we are selling. We show them many of the nearby homes so they can get a feel for the neighborhood.
  9. Videography. We don’t do this for every listing. We only do it when we have a story to tell, because video without a story is anti-marketing — worse than doing nothing. If the sellers or the neighbors have an interesting story to tell, that can work. Often, just using the neighborhood photos with a voiceover can make an interesting film.
  10. Building business-card-sized Open House invitations. I do this, printing them with We print these in the thousands.
  11. 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.
  12. Building the custom web site for the home. Generally, we will acquire the domain for the home before we even go on the listing appointment. Using engenu, I can set up the gross anatomy of the single-property web site, then Cathleen or I can go in and finesse it page-by-page. In addition to many, many folders full of photos, which engenu will render as slide shows, we supplement our web sites with all the additional information we can find or create. For example, if we can lay our hands on historic photos of the home or neighborhood, we will scan them in order to provide that background information. The same goes for historic documents or newspaper articles. We will research the builder, the architectural styles or the construction methods and document those. Lately we’ve been building custom maps in Google Maps to help buyers discover local amenities. We try to have all these ancillary items done before the listing hits the MLS, but that’s not always possible. But we live by the idea that, if it looks done, it is done, so we don’t tell people about features that are still to come. That way, the web site always looks and feels finished, even if we don’t yet have the link for the finished virtual tour, for instance. Our sites are built to permit the easy addition of new or changed content, so we keep working on the site before and after the MLS listing goes live.
  13. Starting now, we are building coffee-table books for distinctive homes. We always have dozens of striking photos of the home, so a coffee table book is just one more way we have of getting those images in front of buyers.
  14. Listing the home in the MLS. By now we will have written a ton of text about this home. We use it all and then some in the MLS. We get 680 characters in the remarks and six photos with 250 characters each for captions. If we miss out on using three of the characters available to us, that’s a lot. We can have an unlimited number of “virtual tours,” which are essentially off-site URLs. We use as many of these as we have content for. One of our working precepts is that the listing may be our only chance to make our case for the home to the buyer, so we try to leave nothing to chance. If we can feed the buyer’s agent a good closing argument, we’ll do that, too.
  15. Compose the flyer. We build a full-color flyer using our best photos and our most rhapsodic text, printing it on heavy coated stock. We use flyer boxes that will hold the flyers but also have a pocket at the top for business cards. We put the Open House invitation cards in there, just in case someone doesn’t want to take a full flyer. We normally put flyer boxes facing in both directions on the post, and we will store extra flyers and Open House cards inside the home.
  16. Set the post, hang the signs and flyer boxes, mount the lockbox. For now we use a normal six-foot 4×4″ white post. When we can afford to have it done, we’re going to switch to a custom-made sign structure, framing off the big sign and the riders and attaching everything will small bungee cords to keep things from flapping around in the wind. We’re always looking for better sign-lighting solutions, too.
  17. Promote the listing with online listing bots. We’re using PostLets for the broadcast distribution, but we do Craigslist our way, by hand, and we will go in and hand-finesse other online listings.
  18. Write a weblog entry promoting the listing and linking back to the single-property web site. This has all kinds of benefits, as we’ve discussed, but here’s one we haven’t talked about: Linking to your single-property web site from a trusted weblog can break you out of the Google sandbox.
  19. Distribute the Open House invitation cards. We will do this with nearby employers and in two sorts of neighborhoods: Move-up areas for our listings, and neighborhoods where has a lot of fans. We know that people who like us will try to send us buyers, so we always want to let them know when we have a new house for sale.
  20. We hold Open Houses every week until the home is sold. Why? Because there are an awful lot of un- or under-represented buyers out there, and we want for them to be able to see our home. We avoid dual agency, but we have no problem showing the home to buyers who accidentally left their buyer’s agents at home.
  21. We service our listings. For vacant homes, we want to be in the house every other day, at the outside, ideally every day. For one thing, a home needs regular maintenance, and we can’t see to it if we aren’t seeing the home first hand. But very often we will end up taking new photos of the home, which we then incorporate into the web site.

We never stop thinking of new ways to promote the home. Our future success at selling homes is directly related to our present success at selling homes, but that’s a secondary consideration. The primary goal is simply to sell the home. We are always thinking and talking abut new ways to draw attention to our homes, new ways to make them more appealing to buyers, new ways to get the best results we can attain for our sellers. We’re not shy about talking about the things we do. We’re always delighted when someone picks up on our ideas, but that’s the rare case. But, regardless of what anyone else does, we are always going to be working at getting better at listing and selling homes.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Related posts:
  • By-owner home seller is no match for a skilled listing agent
  • There are no second acts in American real estate listings: It’s priced right, prepared right, presented right — and the house still won’t sell. What do you do now?
  • Google Voice Redux


    23 Comments so far

    1. Eric Blackwell March 30th, 2008 4:52 am

      Simply Awesome. Who’s gonna come back after that and gripe about price. Well done.

      BTW–Before anyone else says it–Glad your customer’s name was Chetson and not Monty. (grin)



    2. Ann Cummings March 30th, 2008 4:57 am

      Greg – really REALLY nice arsenal of tools to help each seller you work with.

      I love these sentences – “One of our working precepts is that the listing may be our only chance to make our case for the home to the buyer, so we try to leave nothing to chance. If we can feed the buyer’s agent a good closing argument, we’ll do that, too.” I see way too many agents in my area fail to understand just how important the remarks are and the captions that we can use with our MLS pictures. I cringe when I read some of what shows up, and just wonder what those poor under-represented sellers would think if they could only see how their precious property is NOT being portrayed to the rest of the world.

      Great list, and I may borrow a few to add to my arsenal as well. Thanks for sharing your tools.

    3. Cheryl Johnson March 30th, 2008 5:30 am

      Beautifully done. Very thorough.

      Here’s my question about Open Houses: When you are carrying 5 or 6 listings (or more!) you reach a point where it is physically impossible to personally hold every single listing open every week. Not to mention you might need that prime weekend afternoon time to show a prospective buyer around.

      What’s the Bloodhound solution? Have “interns” to man the open houses? Have sellers hold their own open houses? Allow hungry mortgage brokers to sit your open house? (This one always seemed like making a deal with the devil to me, and I never gave in to it.)

      Greg, I’d love to hear how you deal with it.

    4. Paula Henry March 30th, 2008 6:53 am


      Very Impressive! I can’t imagine your homes sit long with such thorough marketing. What is “higher priced” in Phoenix?

      I do hope you will be sharing some of these ideas at Bloodhound Unchained…….Yes?

    5. Dan Sullivan March 30th, 2008 8:40 am

      Posts like this are the reason I look at Bloodhound blog three times a day.

      Greg is teaching a graduate course in being a successful Real Estate agent. I feel pretty lucky to be a student.

    6. Greg Swann March 30th, 2008 8:59 am

      > When you are carrying 5 or 6 listings (or more!) you reach a point where it is physically impossible to personally hold every single listing open every week.

      Oh, Cheryl, to have that problem! I think the most Open Houses we’ve had to work in a single day is three. Our ideal case is for the home to sell before the second Open House, but that’s not happening as often, lately.

      We set up Open Houses according to a plan we borrowed from Dean Jackson. We announce a definite start time on our cards and on a rider on the signs, but no definite end time.

      The first Open House can be huge, 75 parties or more, and we can end up with both of us in the house, and sometimes a teenage helper or two, for five hours or more.

      Things slow down after that, if we’re unlucky enough to have more Open Houses, so we only stay as long as we have traffic, up to about 90 minutes. That way, we can schedule Sunday Noon and Sunday 2 pm, and Saturday 10 am, Noon and 2pm if we need them. One Realtor can work those Open Houses.

      A solution we learned in ABR classes, which we’ve done a few times, is to offer our Open Houses to agents we like in competing brokerages. We don’t like dual agency, anyway, and this is a way to stretch our resources and to help people we want to encourage at the same time.

      If a listing is near the commuter traffic flow — and most of ours are — we like to hold after-work Open Houses, too, just to see if we can snag people sick of driving.

      We hold Open Houses to sell the house — everything we’re talking about here is about selling the house — but we have met a lot of very interesting people at Open House. Sellers come to check us out, of course, and we meet a few buyers. But we also get to become acquainted with fascinating people who love our houses and know a ton about them. I can’t count how many times we have gained access to historic photos of our listings because someone wanted to see what had become of their old home.

    7. Greg Swann March 30th, 2008 9:05 am

      > I do hope you will be sharing some of these ideas at Bloodhound Unchained…….Yes?

      Tuesday morning, the synergy of offline and online marketing. A post like that takes forever to write, but it’s still only like the travel directions from Google Maps. Live and Unchained, we can take the journey and see everything.

    8. Greg Swann March 30th, 2008 9:14 am

      > Posts like this are the reason I look at Bloodhound blog three times a day.

      Bless you, sir. Thank you. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Just about everything we do consists of an idea we stumbled onto somewhere, stripped down to what we thought was its essence, and rebuilt the Bloodhound way. The price rider on our signs, for example — $400,000 in six-inch-high type — came from The Group in Denver. We heard about it from Ed Hatch in a CRS class and both of us immediately fell in love with the idea. I have no idea what the riders look like when The Group does them. We just do them our own way, and they bring us all kinds of good attention from buyers and neighbors.

    9. Greg Swann March 30th, 2008 9:23 am

      > What is “higher priced” in Phoenix?

      Sorry! I missed this.

      Our median price is around $500,000. The median for Phoenix is around $200,000. We work in the historic and mid-century modern neighborhoods of Central and North Central Phoenix, a finite supply of older homes with a steady and growing demand. Old is the one thing you can’t have in Phoenix, so what little there is gets bid up aggressively. That means the pricier neighborhoods do very well against the market, and the up-and-coming neighborhoods do even better. In the long run, we would like to work our way up toward the million-dollar homes, but we’re not snobs. We are more interested in the house itself than anything else, so we are delighted to list a great home in a less-than-great neighborhood at $250,000. If the houses are right, the neighborhood will come along, and the buyer will do very well for taking a chance on our listing.

      Coming back to this: The real issue with “higher priced” is whether or not anyone is paying attention. There is a golf course community out in Avondale where we pulled out all the stops for a $375,000 house with a lush back yard and a sybarite’s pool and got… two parties at Open House. The house still sold in three weeks for full price, but it was the MLS that sold it. Many of the ideas I’m talking about in this post work best for homes that people pay a lot of attention to — attention in terms of awareness, but also attention in the form of remodeling, refurbishing, rebuilding.

    10. Sue March 30th, 2008 9:23 am

      Greg, thank you for sharing that information. Quite a robust plan and I definitely picked up some good tips. Putting small print on signs to stop traffic is interesting as we typically think in terms of making it bigger so people can see it. I cannot imagine that someone else would get the listing over your team with that marketing plan!

    11. Greg Swann March 30th, 2008 9:27 am

      > Putting small print on signs to stop traffic is interesting

      I went to the Richard Riccelli school of testing everything. When I need to sit in the car and return phone calls, I’ll park up the block from one of our signs and watch how the drivers react to it. I can’t wait for full-blown electronic signs.

    12. Sue March 30th, 2008 9:44 am

      I was going to ask if you ever observed….wonder if anyone actually gets out of the car to read the info.

    13. Greg Swann March 30th, 2008 10:03 am

      > I was going to ask if you ever observed….wonder if anyone actually gets out of the car to read the info.

      They read the sign from the car, it’s big enough for that if you’re right in front of it. Then, many times, they’ll look the house over. Get out of the car and walk the lawn or grab a flyer. It’s never happened so far, but I would love it if someone would call me while I’m watching. Creepy for them, but fun for me.

    14. Wayne Long March 30th, 2008 10:59 am

      Wow! That is pretty impressive. What is a bottom price for the homes you list? Thank you for sharing your ideas. I feel like people have a hard time competing against your marketing system.

    15. Greg Swann March 30th, 2008 11:21 am

      > What is a bottom price for the homes you list?

      For that kind of listing, I think the lowest we’ve ever gone is $250,000. Normally they’re about double that, but, as I mentioned above in a comment, it’s more about the kind of attention people will pay to the house than the price. There’s a neighborhood just west of 19th Avenue in Phoenix, a tiny subdivision built entirely by the man who pioneered production building ideas in Phoenix. We represented his own family homestead a few years ago, so we can always pick out his houses when we’re in them. The neighborhood I’m talking about is a slum right now, but we would love to get in there with a few serious rehabbing investors and turn the whole thing around. The houses are unrepeatable, but they’re abused, so they sell for next to nothing now. It would be fairly easy to get them all to sell for quite a bit more.

    16. Flippy Fin March 30th, 2008 8:01 pm

      Great post. Why not take it a step furthur and turn it into a business. In your sales pitch to get the listing why not say something like this:

      Mr. homeowner if we do all of this work the house will sell. You can have to choices on how we can procede.

      1) Retail : Mr. homeowner if you pay for all of the improvments, I will pay the rest. If the house sells for less than 200k I will deduct the improvment costs from my commision.

      2) Wholesale: I will buy your house at a discount for 150K right now minus a full commision. You will have no risk and pain and can move in 30 days.

      The outcome of this presentation is testing your money, mouth and skills.

      Your exit strategy is quite easy. If you are competant you can either do the work yourself and buy it or sell the house to an investor with no commision due. You would also get a full listing with the investor and again get paid again for a true value add.

      In case 1) if you get the listing and it doesn’t sell for the price you sold the homeowner on, do you really deserve the commision?

      Soon every house you have listed is now in perfect condition. You have created a unique service that demands credability.

      Sorry for my bad spelling and writing.

    17. Flippy Fin March 30th, 2008 8:05 pm

      By the way. I am an investor and would buy with this type of valuable service from a realtor.

    18. Ted April 10th, 2008 11:22 am

      Greg -

      Impressive list of standard practice items. Obviously not for the “average” listing.

      I have a general query for you and your like-minded readers: Tech-savvy professionals that know how to deliver desired results and services to high-end clients.

      Background: Our company (ATSI) manufactures electronic test and surveillance equipment for government agencies and commercial firms. Specifically for this query, our product is the BuckEye Cam Orion, a wireless digital surveillance camera. Product: Company:

      Professionals like you can practice their craft only after first securing the listing from the seller. Of course, your list of services is an enticing card to play. I have an idea that may improve the prospects of landing that high-end listing. Please tell me what you think about it.

      We manufacture a weatherproof digital surveillance camera (Orion) that is battery/solar powered and radio-transmits the image files to a dedicated receiver base. The concept is similar to a wireless phone, which radio-transmits your voice to a dedicated receiver base. The receiver base can be connected to a PC with an internet connection, and then the images are emailed anywhere within seconds of capture. The images can also be posted to a web page for viewing from anywhere.

      So far our customers (and applications) for this product have been: Hunting ranch operators (deer, elk, etc.), US and Canadian Border Patrol (illegal border crossing), US Army (supply depot thieves – Iraq), Golf course operators (Pot farmers, vandals), Construction contractors (copper thieves, vandals), and hundreds of landowners (deer monitoring, trespassing, etc.).

      A real estate agent with a $500 laptop, $3000 worth of Orion camera gear, household power and an internet connection could set up 2 cameras in a home (or outside) and get them on the air within 20 minutes with no wiring, no holes drilled, and removed without a trace in the same 20 minutes to be used in your next listing.

      My Questions:

      1) If your potential seller is being transferred out of town or in some way being forced to move out on a schedule, would they like to be able to keep tabs on their now-vacant home from their desk at work?

      2) Would the possibility of having this service lead them to list with you instead of your competition?

      3) Once this customer was used to being able to see their home 24/7, would they be likely to renew the listing with your firm (if necessary)?

      4) When the reality of viewing their home (and the agent walking through with buyers, etc.) sinks in, how many of their friends would they tell about this unique service?

      My opinion is the camera will help you secure more listings, and form a tangible, marketable service to the seller, but I am interested in the opinions of real estate professionals like you and your readers.

      As of the date of this writing, there have been no marketing efforts made to the real estate industry. This is my first try at getting a read from your industry. Thank you for reading this lengthy query and for your honest responses.

    19. Greg Swann April 10th, 2008 11:46 am

      Ted: I think this is a rockin’ idea. We can’t afford you yet, but you’ve made my wish list.

    20. Sue April 18th, 2008 3:48 pm

      This is a good idea, however, its seems rather expensive and would be desired by a limited amount of customers. Watching the home from the outside is one thing, viewing agents and their buyers going thru the home on camera is another. I would think this is something that has to be disclosed to the buyers and might create an uncomfortable feeling, just as if the seller were there. Just my opinion.

    21. [...] I’ve written a ton about how we list homes for sale (and not just in that post; surfing the archives repays effort). At Unchained I illustrated some of our ideas, and you can catch this show on the DVDs if you missed it live. Everything we do is about selling the house — not selling us as a brokerage or as agents and not attracting buyers for other listings. We reap a substantial secondary marketing benefit from listing as hard as we do — both the efforts we undertake and our victory dance when we succeed — but our entire focus is on selling the house. [...]

    22. [...] I looked in on Cheryl Johnson talking about the coffee-table books we build for high-end listings. One of the comments was an eye-opener for me: Thanks for the BLOODHOUND link, I had not run across [...]

    23. Hunter Jackson June 17th, 2008 5:18 pm

      Beautiful Greg. For some reason, I just found this post. You do serve your clients, and you can dollarize it! wow!