Not so long ago, marketing a house for sale was as simple as a newspaper ad, open house, the smell of bread baking in the oven, and a few shovelfuls of fresh mulch on the front gardens.
Oh, yes, and washing the windows to let in as much natural light as possible.
Most of those suggestions are still valid, of course, and although there are growing signs of the downturn easing and a turnaround in the offing, the task of marketing a house these days still requires much more effort by real estate agents than it used to.
In fact, most agents insist that they are doing nothing really differently - just more of it.
"Yes, I'd use the term more rather than different - more photos, more websites, more online presence, more recommendations to sellers to fix up, clean up, stage their property," said agent Ruth Feldman of Weichert Realtors McCarthy Group in Philadelphia's Mount Airy neighborhood.
"Sales often just take longer, so more marketing is needed," she said. Cleaning up and staging a property "leads to better online photos, which leads to more interested buyers, all circular."
Noelle Barbone, office manager of Weichert Realtors in Media, agrees that these times "demand strong Internet marketing capabilities because consumers are shopping for housing online more than ever before."
The importance of online real estate marketing cannot be overemphasized. When conducting its 2010 survey of buyers and sellers, the National Association of Realtors uncovered these interesting facts:
- 89 percent of buyers used the Internet as an information source.
- 66 percent of Internet buyers drove by or viewed a home they saw online.
- 41 percent of buyers first found their home on the Internet.
- 27 percent of "for sale by owners" used the Internet to help sell their home.
Remember, the experts say, the Internet is not the only tool in the toolbox, but it is the most multifaceted one. No matter who is in charge of creating that online presence for your house, make sure it is linked to every other real estate website possible.
Here's what agent Diane Williams, in Weichert's Blue Bell office, is doing to use the Internet as a marketing tool:
All of her listings go on Truila.com, and her assistant arranges for an automatic e-mail showing the "hits" each week on Truila to each of her sellers. The listings also are on Zillow.com.
She uses the "Enhance Your Listing" feature on Realtor.com. "For a hefty fee each year, you are allowed to put 25 pictures on Realtor.com instead of four, as well as post a magazine-style article with up to 2,500 characters to describe all the amenities and features," Williams said.
Her assistant goes to Realtor.com each week and e-mails the "hits" to each of her sellers, using color graphics to show them.
She has increased the number of pages of advertising in the Real Estate Book, which has "numerous Internet options for advertisers that I take advantage of," Williams said.
All of the appointments by other agents are made through "e-showings," and she receives an e-mail for each showing. The agents respond with e-mail with the feedback from buyers that she forwards to the seller.
"In the current market, every serious buyer is precious, and it is vital that every buyer see each home in its best light," said Jeff Block, an agent with Prudential Fox & Roach in Center City.
"I spend more time now than ever doing a detailed information sheet for every listing, complete with photos," he said. "I don't expect this to make a difference if the buyer has no connection with the home, but if they are deciding between several or on the fence, having a reference sheet that explains each attribute of the home can only help."
Block said it is important to understand the difference in buyer mentality between now and three or four years ago.
"Buyers used to feel lucky they were making a deal before they had to pay more," he said. "Now, the buyer walks into the exact same house - any home, really - and immediately points out why they should be paying less."
So, Block creates his in-home marketing materials to specifically deal with these buyer objections.
Gloriann Ellis, who is one of the Weichert Media office's top listing agents, said that she and others "are staying on top of the prices more than ever."
"All the marketing in the world won't help get an overpriced listing to settlement," Ellis added. "Even if a buyer is willing to pay the higher price, if there is a mortgage, the lender's appraiser is working under a new set of appraising rules."
What about open houses? Many real estate agents consider them useless, short on serious buyers and long on gawkers and neighbors taking notes.
"More open houses," Feldman said. "More marketing time."
"The real bread and butter of getting a home sold is absolutely cooperating agents showing their clients through the Multiple Listing Service," Block said.
"In this market, I think it is important to leave no stone unturned, so I think open houses still offer important exposure for a home," he said.
Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, email@example.com, or @alheavens on Twitter.