How Marketing A Home Is Like Selling Drugs like a Freakanomics headline.  If you have read Steven Levitt’s book, you know his chapter headings often combine seemingly unrelated items to make his points.  For instance the first chapter is  “What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?”   I won’t tell you what he pairs real estate agents with but I will say that many of his conclusions in that chapter are wrong or at least wrong for this Realtor and most of the ones I know.

So, back to the headline.  Yes, marketing a home in today’s world is like the selling or marketing of drugs – legal prescription drugs that is.  The concept I am referring to is the difference between push and pull marketing.


When I first started selling real estate, there was no internet.  Walk in traffic was common and I recall that one of the advantages of myVienna VA office was that it was the first real estate office one would see when they came up Rt 123 from the beltway.  Buyers would depend on us to let them know what homes were available.  Sure they could drive neighborhoods and look for signs and they did.  Or they could pore through newspaper ads and real estate magazines but for the most part, they depended upon the Realtor to decide which homes were best.   Listing agents would spend a tremendous amount of time marketing to other Realtors to let them know about their listings as  Realtors were the gatekeepers.  (Levitt does talk about this in his real estate chapter and he is correct on that.)

Now, think back several years and how prescription drugs were sold.  There was general information available to doctors in journals and other sources just like information on homes was available to Realtors on the MLS.  To  get the doctor to prescribe a particular product, pharmaceutical sales people would visit the doctor to highlight the effectiveness of their product vs the competition which is very similar to how Realtors would try to get other Realtors to see the best features of their listings.

In both instances, the sales person was trying to “push” their product through a gatekeeper to the public.  But times have changed.


How long can you watch television before you see a commercial for a  prescription drug and at the end they say,  “Ask your doctor about __________?”    Sure, drug salespeople still visit doctors and continue to try to push their product through the marketing channel but now the companies are also “pulling” their product through the marketing channel by getting the consumer to go directly to the doctor and say, “I think this prescription is the right one for my condition.”

In real estate the same direct to consumer marketing changes are now the main sales strategy.  With many sites (and my home search feature is one) consumers can see all of the homes on the market that seem to be “the right one for their condition.”   More and more,  my buyer clients are calling me to tell me properties they want to see when we look at homes.   Of course, I will show them most of the homes they select and often they are the same ones I would have selected.  Bu toften, based on my experience and knowledge of the neighborhoods and what certain words mean in a house description, I will suggest we pass on a property and will offer up other selections that for whatever reasons didn’t catch the buyer’s eye online.

I am sure doctors are doing the same thing and there are conversations in  doctor’s offices throughout the country where the doctor says, “Yes that drug can do this or that but for you we need to go to a different brand because that one also offers x and y benefits.”


The main point is that in today’s world, in order to drive traffic through a home, a strong internet presence is mandatory.  Multiple, professional pictures and a strong virtual tour are a must.  Furthermore, prior to the pictures being taken, the house needs to be staged and set so that the photos show the home in the best light.

I can not emphasize enough that the photos need to be professional.  I can take photos but I can never get the light right on interior shots so I use professionals.  When you look at a professional shot next to a non-professional Realtor shot, it is obvious which home will have the most pop online.   (Believe it or not, more than once I have seen shots of a family room with the family sitting on the couch.  I can not believe it. Does anyone focus on the room when people are in the middle of the shot?  My second favorite is of the Realtor taking a photo of the bathroom and they appear in the mirror.  Please, these pictures have no place online.)

Staging, great photos and a sharp virtual tour are so critical yet I am surprised how few agents do this.  Now I know there are some properties that may not photograph well.  Perhaps  a home is going on the market as a tenant is packing to leave or the home is a potential tear down.  I understand not all homes shoot well but that is rare.

On the maximum number of pictures allowed is 30.  A Realtor needs to pay a nice annual fee to have the privilege of posting that many.  But isn’t it critical to be able to strongly present a home on one of the most popular websites in the country?   I think so and pay the fee so I can.  Without paying that fee, the limit is less than a dozen shoots.

Well, I just did a search on of homes in Vienna VA listed between $450,000 and $850,000.  There were 119 results.  Only 62 of the postings had 25+  pictures.  Surprisingly, 25 had 10 or less.

Even as a Realtor, when I am selecting properties to show, if I have more properties than I can show in one outing and need to cull down the offerings, I look at the pictures.  Those Realtors who post no pictures,  just one or two  or blurry photos usually find their homes in “pass” pile.   Pictures are important.  In another post I will discuss virtual tours and which are the most effective but for now, if you are planning to sell your home,  know that you must insist on a strong internet presence or better yet, just call me and rest assured it will happen.



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