Ask These 8 Questions to Test Your Agent’s Real Estate Marketing Plan

How can you be sure that your home won’t be marketed on a wing and a prayer? Head off possible issues with your agent’s proposed marketing plan during what’s known as the “listing presentation.”

This is when an agent makes his or her initial pitch to represent you in the sale of your home, and you get the chance to ask questions.

“During the listing presentation, see if the messaging is generic, lacks strategic direction regarding who the target buyer audience is, and lacks understanding of the home’s unique selling points,” says Chad Martin, president of Element-360, an award-winning real estate marketing agency in Asheville, North Carolina.

“See if the agent lacks a background and track record in the respective market niche. Pay attention to how well they listen.”

We spoke with the president of a regional real estate marketing association who’s overseen hundreds of home marketing plans, chatted up award-winning real estate marketing agencies and top real estate agents, and distilled findings from dozens of real estate marketing reports to walk you through this important conversation.

Here are 7 key questions to test if your real estate marketing plan is up to snuff.

A group of people making a real estate marketing plan.
Source: (Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst)

1. What kind of outreach will you do to draw in buyers?

An agent’s marketing plan for your home should provide a clear course of action for how they plan to attract buyers and generate buzz about your listing.

Think of it as a map that shows the road to the final destination—in this case, selling your home. The plan need not be a slick document, but it does need to be in writing.

If all your agent can talk about is putting your home on the MLS, which then syndicates your property details to top real estate sites like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, and Redfin—then drop them like a hot potato.

“The marketing plan is at least 50% of how a home gets sold and why you’re hiring a Realtor,” says Tiffany Fykes, a top-selling real estate agent in Nashville, Tennessee. “If an agent can’t tell you what they’re going to do to market the home, then they’re just going to put it on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), and they’re going to put a sign in the yard and they’re going to pray that somebody comes to buy it.”

In the event your agent’s got more meat behind their pitch, keep listening.

In a 2016 survey by HomeLight, top-performing real estate agents suggested that lack of exposure to a listing, especially online, “can lead to a longer time on market and fewer bids.”

Knowing that, see if your agent discusses strategies such as:

SEO and SEM

Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are two key terms to listen for when it comes to marketing your home, according to the experts we spoke with.

SEO drives free traffic to a web page (such as your real estate listing) from search engines like Google. SEM directs paid search engine traffic, such as pay-per-click ads, to places like your agent’s website to boost your home’s listing exposure.

Does your agent talk about optimizing your listing to include commonly used, sought-after keywords, such as your home’s location in the desirable “Webster Oaks” neighborhood?

Placing ads on Facebook.

When it comes to promoting your home on social media, Facebook reigns as king.

In a 2018 survey by Placester, a developer of real estate websites, nearly 85% of real estate agents said Facebook was the social media network they planned to use the most.

“Facebook’s large user base makes it the go-to social network for real estate agents looking to promote their services,” Placester says.

Therefore, it’s vital to ask how much Facebook advertising, if any, is included in the marketing plan.

Listen to whether your agent’s familiar with using the platform’s Facebook demographic buyer targeting tools. Ask if they can show you examples for how they’ve used Facebook to promote a Sunday open house, or drum up buzz around listings with a “Coming Soon” or “Just Listed” ad.

Harnessing other digital platforms to raise your home’s exposure.

Facebook shouldn’t necessarily be the only social media avenue for marketing your home. See if your agent touches on other platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, or whatever’s worked well for them in the past.

Are they offering up creative ideas specific to your home, like highlighting your spacious kitchen with the two Viking stoves, or posting a digital tour of your home on Instagram Stories to tease the listing? What about a video that spotlights backyard amenities like the in-ground pool and children’s treehouse?

Here you’re checking to see if your agent’s plan will hit buyers in as many places on the web as possible in creative ways that highlight your home’s unique selling points.

A group of agents discussing a real estate marketing plan.
Source: (Rawpixel)

Spreading the word about your house to local real estate agents and the neighbors.

Your marketing plan also should have methods for cultivating interest in your home among other real estate agents, such as those who’ve brought buyers to the table elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Find out if your agent has plans to:

  • Talk up your listing around the office?
  • Call buyer’s agents to generate buzz that’ll lead to showings of your home?
  • Shoot out an email blast to buyer’s agents in their network?
  • Send direct mailers to buyers in hopes of getting them to attend an open house?
  • Place ads in newspapers and magazines targeted at buyers who are in the sweet spot for your home’s price range?

Ask to see an example of your agent’s past marketing materials. Ads in print publications as well as fliers should feature some key components:

  • An eye-catching, professional design
  • Simple, easy-to-read fonts
  • The home’s full address
  • Basic property details such as number of beds and baths
  • Just a few high-quality listing photos (1 of your home’s front exterior; 1 back exterior; and a couple of the best or most updated rooms in the house, such as the remodeled kitchen, or master bedroom with vaulted ceilings )
  • Proximity to walking trails, local hot spots, top school district, or other attractions
  • Catchy copy to describe your home’s most desirable qualities, such as “Turn Key” or “$20,000 worth of upgrades”
  • A list of all your upgrades, such as a finished basement or brand-new master bath
  • Your agent’s name, brokerage, phone number, email, and website

If you’re seeing drab designs and 1995 Word Art ala Microsoft Office, that might raise some questions about your agent’s budget and creative know-how.

3. Who’s our target buyer pool?

Like a politician should know their audience before delivering a speech, your agent should have a clear understanding of who your target buyer is.

Ask your agent about the buyers they’re targeting with your home’s marketing plan. A good agent will have research and knowledge of the area and know the buyer pool like the back of their hand.

Listen for the agent to tell you about demographic shifts in the neighborhood, who’s moving in and who’s moving out, and make sure they have a clear and vivid picture of the people who would buy this house.

Are they young families looking to settle down before the school year starts? Are they older, making your single-story style an attractive option for aging in place?

A professional shot of a laundry room that is being marketed in a home.
Source: (Artazum/ Shutterstock)

4. How do you plan to market my home visually?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then great pictures could be worth thousands of dollars when you’re selling your home.

89% of homebuyers browsing online find property photos “very useful,” according to the National Association of Realtors. According to 2017 data from the National Association of Realtors, 51% of buyers found the home they purchased on the internet—more than any other source.

So, ask your agent point blank if they plan to hire a professional photographer to snap pictures that will put your home in its best light.

A professional photographer will take photos of your home with the right lighting, mechanics, and details, including:

  • A wide-angle lens to show more of a room at once
  • Natural light to make each photo feel warm and inviting
  • Angles that don’t show mirror reflections in the shower door, or windows where the view outside is blocked with bright light
  • A DSLR camera and tripod rather than a freehand cellphone
  • The right coloring—addressing any elements of the home that could give off an overbearing orange or yellow tint (such as dark cabinets and hardwood floors) with lighting and editing

Attractive photos of the interior and exterior of the home—the spacious living room, the updated bathrooms, the freshly painted walls—force a buyer who’s shopping online “to slow down and notice” your home, says Andrew Lowe, president of the local Real Estate Marketing Association in San Ramon, California.

In the 2016 survey by HomeLight, real estate agents cited professional photography as the second most effective form of advertising a home, behind MLS listings. Backing up that belief, a study of homes sold in the Chicago area in 2013 showed that properties that were professionally photographed sold 32% faster than properties that weren’t.

“If an agent pulls out a smartphone to take marketing pictures of your house, run!” Lowe says. “Quality, professional pictures are critical to catch the eye in this age of voyeuristic searching.”

Fykes says that if an agent fails to hire a professional photographer to take shots of your home, then they essentially don’t have a marketing plan, since everything begins with how the house looks to online shoppers.

5. How do I know whether the marketing plan is working?

If you’re the type of person who likes frequent updates, you want to find out if your agent will have the tracking metrics to provide you should you ask for them.

Will they text you, call you, or email you with new developments?

Even if you plan to stay at an arm’s length throughout the marketing process, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your agent’s staying on top of your home’s performance and buyer interest around it.

Listen to see if your agent keeps tabs on things like:

  • How much traffic your online listing is generating
  • How many showings you’re booking
  • Where buyers are finding your listing
  • Social media metrics around any ad campaigns

6. What happens if we don’t get any showings?

A marketing plan shouldn’t be set in stone; rather, it should be fluid like sand, able to shift and react to changing circumstances as needed.

You might listen for a response like Fykes:

“You’ve got to adjust to what the market tells you. At the beginning, we’re making really educated guesses on all of the pieces (of the marketing plan).”

For example, perhaps your home has been on the market for 10 days yet no real estate agents or buyers have toured it. Maybe, then, it’s time to bump up Facebook advertising or send marketing emails to a different group of real estate agents.

Marketing professor Randy Hacker, executive director of the Keller Center for Research at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, offers this word of caution: “Sellers should recognize that many marketing efforts require a reasonable amount of time to generate results, so don’t pull the plug too quickly.”

You want an agent who won’t panic at the first sign of trouble but can identify the issue, adjust fast, and tweak your marketing plan accordingly.

7. What’s your marketing budget?

Here you’ll get a feel for the money behind your home’s individual listing, but you also want to find out how much the brokerage you’re listing your home with cares about marketing their business and brand to the community at large.

“We spend a lot of money not just for every specific property, but for generating views online, attracting buyers, and we then convert them to buy the properties that we list. All of that marketing money is being funneled into these different listings,” says Fykes.

So not only should there be a strong marketing plan for your individual home, but you should see if the agency who will represent you has an effective overarching marketing plan they are willing to invest in.

An agent researching prices of homes within a marketing plan.
Source: (NicoElNino/ Shutterstock)

8. How will I know if the price is right?

Price, according to Lowe, “is the most important part of any marketing plan.”

Your agent should be well-versed in creating a comparative market analysis to price your home accurately from the get-to.

Fykes notes that if a home lingers too long on the market, buyers will question whether something is wrong with the property. A typical home spends three weeks on the market, according to National Association of Realtors data, so if you linger much longer than that, it’s time for a reboot.

“Pricing a property too high is going to lose you money in the long run,” Lowe says.

So you want your agent to be real with you about what happens if your home sits stale for too long.

According to data released in 2017 by the National Association of Realtors, 22% of recent sellers reported that they’d trimmed the asking price at least once.

How aggressive will your agent be in adjusting the price to market conditions and buyer demand?

Never settle for “posting to the MLS” as your marketing plan

Nike sells shoes with ads that inspire people to conquer their demons and “just do it.” M&Ms stays relevant with millennials using candy mascot Facebook groups. Coca-Cola puts names like “Joe” and “Taylor” on its bottles to make its big brand power more personal.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes rely on clever marketing plans to promote their products and services. Your home—which is a product, too—deserves its own tailored publicity roadmap.

But great marketing doesn’t come out of thin air, whether you’re selling a mega-brand or your run-of-the-mill home on Main Street. It requires deep knowledge of your target audience and careful planning.

That’s what you hire an agent for. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one with the advertising genius of Don Draper and work ethic of Casey Hurbis, the CMO of Quicken Loans who couldn’t sleep for the 7 months leading up to the mortgage lender’s Super Bowl LII ad campaign launch.

Start with HomeLight to find one with the marketing prowess you need.

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