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Realtors Get Creative In Heated Market

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Karen Hall, a Virginia realtor with Century 21, works with military families. She says there are several bases as well as the Pentagon close by. She logged 6,139 miles for business last year. She says the first question she gets is about fuel efficiency, and says she gets 10.4 miles to the gallon.
Kavitha Cardoza
Karen Hall, a Virginia realtor with Century 21, works with military families. She says there are several bases as well as the Pentagon close by. She logged 6,139 miles for business last year. She says the first question she gets is about fuel efficiency, and says she gets 10.4 miles to the gallon.

Real estate agents are always looking for ways to stand out from each other and get people's attention -- from sponsoring sports leagues and hosting open house barbecues to creating Facebook pages and producing podcasts of the latest trends in the real estate market.

Getting noticed … everywhere

When Karen Hall moved to Virginia she didn't know anyone, and connections to a community are the life-blood of a realtor. She needed to get noticed, and fast. So Hall did what she thought was an obvious way to get attention: bought a $42,000 dollar bright yellow Hummer.

Hall is used to seeing heads turn while driving. “I'm big and bright,” she says.

But when she gets out of her vehicle, observers can be in for a surprise. "People say, 'You're awfully tiny for such a big vehicle,'” she says. “And I just tell them it matches my personality more than my stature."

Hall helps military families buy and sell their homes. She's very comfortable with service members because she grew up in a military family and married into one. She understands the acronyms they use and how their housing programs work. And she says the Hummer helps create a level of comfort.

“The military drive around in Hummers when they're deployed. I was out with a Marine Corps general and he was talking about being in Afghanistan and riding around in a Hummer,” Hall says. “And Air Force lawyers, they get a kick out of it because they don't get to do that.”

The Hummer has her name and number plastered all over it as well as the military seals. Hall says it's a conversation starter -- especially its fuel efficiency.

The number one question she gets is how many miles the Hummer gets per gallon. The answer: 10.4. “I have to find gas stations that don't cut you off at $75,” she says. “A lot of people spend a lot of money on mailers and postage. I kind of look at it as a marketing expense almost."

Method to the marketing madness

There's research to back the concept that creative marketing helps sales. Chris Pullig, a professor at Baylor University who studies real estate marketing nationwide, has found traditional methods of marketing such as direct mail and an advertisement in the Yellow Pages don't work as well as more unusual methods.

“They don't have a level of sameness that everyone else has,” he says of the alternative marketing tactics. “If they can gain a certain level of awareness, that's really the first step in getting someone to maybe listen to what they have to say and engage in doing business with them.

Koki Adasi-Efuya with Long & Foster realtors says it's critical to carve out your own space. He estimates in D.C. and Montgomery County alone, there are 10,000 real estate agents, but last year less than 6,600 homes were sold. And business isn't equally distributed.

“The top 5 percent of realtors will typically do 85 to 90 percent of that entire business. So the pie for the rest of the realtors is very small,” says Adasi-Efuya.

Reaching out through web videos

So how does Adasi-Afuya stand out? One way is to email clients little personalized videos.

On the realtor's computer, a video message he recently recorded and sent to a client is playing. “Good morning Joan! Happy birthday,” Adasi-Efuya says in the video. “Wow! Today is an awesome day!” Next thing you know, he's doing a celebratory dance to congratulate his client on her birthday, and on her pending real estate purchase.

“It really has nothing to do with real estate,” says Adasi-Efuya. “It's more a quick video that someone's going to laugh at. When they're at work or with their family, they'll say 'man that guy Koki is so silly, he did a video and danced' and I hope when the opportunity arises in the future, and they have friends and family looking to buy a property, they'll remember to contact Koki.”

Adasi-Afuya uses technology but also old fashioned handwritten cards he 'snail mails' to keep in touch with clients. And Pullig says such a personal connection can work.

“It has the opportunity for that realtor to create a deep emotional connection and really creates a certain amount of liking,” Pullig says. “That translates into wanting to do business and definitely you may refer that person to someone else.”

And it seems to work just fine for Adasi-Afuya; he helped people buy or sell 42 homes last year -- that's six times the national average.

Going the extra mile for the sale

Donna Evers with Evers and Company is walking a house in Chevy Chase, Md., priced at just under $2 million. Every realtor asks themselves: “How am I going to be the one who gets chosen?" she says.

Evers says one of the ways she gets picked is she stages -- that is, prepares a house for selling -- with expensive furniture for free. Paying for an outside company to do this can cost up to $3,000 a month, Evers says. She has approximately 300 pieces of furniture, including more than a dozen couches and 10 dining room tables. They're all beige and tan and off-white.

“It’s going to look a lot like the Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel catalogs,” she says. “They're going to be popular with people who are looking at this house and in this particular price range.”

Evers has accessorized this Chevy Chase home with a fresh potted plant in a corner, some books on the coffee table and a globe on a desk. It's all part of creating an inviting atmosphere. She says the mood a home creates can be can be a deal maker, or breaker.

“Think of the house as a job interview. If you're really well dressed and well put together the person who's thinking about hiring you is going to be a lot more impressed,” she says.

Evers also creates podcasts on real estate trends as an added service.

As Hall drives around showing houses she says occasionally someone will say something about her Hummer. "I had made a remark about the gas prices and one of my clients he made a remark: ‘oh what a bummer, I mean hummer,’” she says.

But even with gas prices rising, her yellow rolling billboard has paid for itself. She sold 25 homes last year and 80% of her business comes from referrals. Hall says she knows what she wants people to think as she drives by.

"They're somewhat successful if they’re driving around in a Hummer. And hopefully an ‘out-there’ image,” she says. “I'm obviously not a timid person, driving around in an obscure vehicle. And I’m fine with that."

For D.C.'s real estate industry, there's a value to anything that gets you ahead -- even while you're on the go.

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