The Tenets of Successful Real Estate Neighborhood Farming
Farming a community is powerful. It’s a lot of other things too. It’s difficult and time-consuming which requires commitment and patience. It requires planning and yes, an investment of marketing resources, namely money. However, you don’t have to break the bank to develop a successful farming plan.
First, let’s hit upon 3 important factors about neighborhood farming before delving into some of the why’s and how’s.
- One or two postcard mailings do not a farming plan make.
- Immediate results from neighborhood farming are very much the exception and not the rule.
- Neighborhood farming still works – quite well when done correctly.
So, if you’re willing to put in the sweat-equity and work your plan then let’s start with the foundation for building a successful community marketing program:
The Tenets of Real Estate Neighborhood Farming:
- Selecting the right community. Do your homework. Utilize the tools provided to agents such as the Multiple Listing Services to examine the statistical data on the neighborhoods that interest you. If there isn’t a steady buying and selling rotation of the homes in the neighborhood then move on. There is little point in farming a neighborhood when there is no turnover.
- Select a neighborhood you love. Like a marriage, this venture will be an emotional, time and resources investment. You must be willing to research, learn and discover everything you can so that you can truly be the neighborhood expert. If you’re passionate about the community it will show in what you do.
- Understand farming is a “Touch” business. Lots and lots of touches – at least one a month over the long haul. It takes repeated exposure of your marketing message to build recognition and familiarity. Each time someone is exposed to your marketing that is a touch.
- Dedication to the endeavor. If you aren’t willing to dedicate yourself to the long haul that is required to capture a community’s market, then don’t even start. This is a long-term relationship commitment that you should expect to invest years into nurturing. Yes, I said years! That’s just one of the reasons I mentioned selecting a neighborhood you love earlier. You must be willing to keep the flow of communication flowing and be unwilling to give up when it seems the other side is ignoring you. This is relationship building at its finest. There is little to no immediate gratification in the real estate farming business. It’s a slow grow for the dedicated but it will pay greatly when it starts to produce.
- Know. Like. Trust. This isn’t just a sales philosophy but words/concepts true in the building of any relationship. People do business with other people whom they know, like and trust. That’s it. Period. No debate if there is the option of choice. With thousands of agents to choose from when buying or selling a home, you must understand this completely. Agents (any salesperson) fail because they abandon these two equally critical elements - time and touches. It takes time and touches for the homeowners in your farm to get to know and recognize you. They aren’t going to know, like and trust you based on a couple of postcards or other half-hearted marketing attempts. Some sources say it takes 12-14 touches for customers to remember you. I would argue the number is significantly higher. I will also argue they are going to forget you quickly if the touches stop. Out of sight. Out of mind. There is so much noise in the world that it is more and more difficult for your marketing message to be heard. The message gets lost in the chaos of everyone vying for your customer’s attention. Here you must create likeability in your marketing that additionally builds a sense of trust, familiarity and competence with your audience . . . overtime.
- Developing your brand. Every single touch must be professionally crafted and directly reflect you – your brand. Your marketing materials are a direct reflection on you. Bluntly put, half-assed, unprofessional content will kill your efforts quicker than anything else. And it simply pisses me off for those that care about my personal opinion. Professional photography, videography, edited grammar and spelling and other quality materials aren’t optional – they are required in abundance. Excellence is the language everyone understands. Never settle for less than perfect. Every touch is not simply a marketing message or brand building opportunity – it is an audition. It’s a sample from your professional portfolio. It speaks for you so make sure it is giving you a good recommendation every time. We all know the agents in our area who don’t get this concept. You’ve seen their cringe-worthy marketing, their vomit inducing listing photos and property descriptions. They don’t answer or return calls, emails or texts even when you have an offer in hand. Their “professional photo” was from the last decade and everything they put out there demeans the real estate profession as a whole. They don’t care and their potential customers won’t either. Rise above the mediocrity that perpetuates this industry. It’s the best way to stand out.
Congratulations to those that have made it this far in our discussion. The lazy and the shortcut, immediate gratification oriented have already left the room in search of the “next big idea” or magic fairy dust that promises them more business. Honestly, that’s the way I like it. I’ve been working with agents for years twerking around with sorceress’ wands dangling from their behinds trying to cast a success spell and I have little patience for those that want success but aren’t willing to work for it.
So, you’ve selected your neighborhood and made the commitment. You’ve put “a ring on it” so to speak and are ready to move forward. Here are some ideas to get you moving successfully in the right direction:
- Mailings. Yes, I’m going to be so bold to start with this old school idea. Contrary to the naysayers, snail mail marketing isn’t dead and it's still worth starting in the first position when it comes to neighborhood farming. Yes, there is a ton of junk mail that bombards our boxes every day and much of that ends up in the garbage can so why do I start with this idea first? Junk mail is only junk mail until the receiver has a need for the product or service. Need a new washer and dryer? Suddenly the junk mail advertising a washer/dryer product and/or sale suddenly become more noticeable. Need a new car? Notice how those annoying car advertisements suddenly get your attention? When someone is in a “need” or “want” condition they are receptive to your message. Farming is about being top of mind when the homeowner in your farm is in their buy or sell “want” or “need” condition. It’s about getting your message in front of them at the right time and that takes time and repetition. It’s also just one of the reasons postcards, letters and newsletters still work. Initially, they also serve as an effective way to introduce yourself to your farm and launch your campaign. When planning your farming approach, consider different messages and mailing opportunities you can utilize in the future. The possibilities are endless such as just listed/just sold, coming soon, open houses, special offers, available services, upcoming events, seasonal and holiday communications, etc. I’m often asked, “How often should I send something?” My response is always, “At least once per month!” That doesn’t mean you have to send a letter or postcard every month, it’s great if you can, but you can implement one of the other “touch” ideas I’m going to mention as well. Also, never underestimate the power of a hand-written letter, postcard or greeting card. That needs to be said clearly before moving to the next idea.
- Community Market Updates. Statistical information abounds within the available resources of most agents. The multiple listings services generally include all the tools needed to produce these on the fly based on nearly any criteria you want to share. These are especially meaningful to clients weighing their moving or staying options. More importantly from a branding standpoint is that marketing updates illustrate to your audience that you are the expert with the answers and information they need. Consider these for mailings or “value-added” door knocking hand-outs
- Door Knocking. Oh yes, I did! I totally went there! Yes, they rank right up there with cold calling on the much-hated list. Before you start moaning and groaning hear me out. Few people like knocking doors but it works, contrary to popular opinion. While outside the topic of farming, I want to point out some additional bonuses to door knocking especially for new agents. Aside from lead generation, knocking doors gives new agents the much-needed practice of operating in their new real estate attire. The practice that comes with learning to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk of a real estate agent is invaluable. This is also the primary reason most agents avoid this. Learning to think and talk on the fly is uncomfortable especially when you don’t have all the answers. The only way to get better is to prepare, practice and do it all over again. It’s just a confidence thang! It’s better to flub up on a knocking call than a listing presentation. Hone your craft here and you’ll be ahead of the competition. With that said, I want you to get out from behind the computer and out of the office. Human interaction has become very uncomfortable for many people. Get over it for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned. You’ve selected a career in sales and that means doing uncomfortable things until they are no longer uncomfortable but actually business generating. From a farming perspective, putting a face to the name behind all the wonderful marketing you’re doing will make you more memorable. This accelerates the timeline for establishing the know, like, and trust concepts faster than anything else. You’ve jumped way ahead on the relationship building scale and help cement your brand in people’s minds. Pick beautiful days and have something meaningful (business cards are not meaningful) to give and share with everyone that opens the door. Be the authentic you. Smile. Compliment. Thank. People can sense fake a mile away. Learn how to talk to people and be comfortable in your own skin while doing it. You might actually enjoy making new friends and connections.
- Door Hangers. I recommend mixing up the postcard mailings with door hanger delivery. Having door hangers as a ‘leave behind’ is something you should carry with you at all times when you are door knocking as well. Turn an unanswered knock into the opportunity to leave something behind to let the homeowners know you were there. Make the trip count. Door hangers can be purchased for about the same price as postcards and you are able to forgo the postage costs. You can reinforce your marketing message used on postcards and combine the hangers with small gifts or trinkets to gain attention. Invest in inexpensive plastic door hanger covers/bags to protect your cards and other items from the weather.
- Social Media Target Marketing. There are many free and paid options to get your message to your farming area via social media and digital marketing. It’s so easy to run your own ads online these days and specifically target the neighborhood you’re farming. There is a synergy that starts to develop when people are seeing you both online and off. Facebook ads are one of my personal favorites. You can quite literally direct your marketing ads to the same geographical area you’re mailing and visiting for a fraction of the usual costs of online marketing. Digital marketing companies can help you hit all the popular social media sights without completely breaking the bank and only those people in or near your farm will see them. Because you are targeting a very specific area you can spread those marketing dollars farther. Geo-fencing and other location-specific marketing can hit your farm’s mobile devices with effective ease.
- Facebook and Social Media Groups. Building on the aforementioned target marketing strategy, many communities have their own Facebook Groups or Pages. Depending on the rules of the group or page, you may be able to join and learn more about the neighborhood. Don’t turn your group membership into an opportunity to spam market. That will get you booted quite quickly and harshly. Participate in discussions or pose questions so members can learn who you are and your area of expertise. Your familiarity will grow organically. It just requires your participation. With that said, however, many groups that won’t allow you membership if you don’t actually live in the community may be willing to feature a banner ad or reoccurring social media posts with permission or for a small advertising cost. Respectfully inquire about advertising opportunities with the group’s administrator. Lastly, and even better, is when you discover the community has no group or page. Start it yourself! As the owner of the page, you can market and grow the community online. This will allow you to communicate with members of the neighborhood via the Facebook application. Establish online friendships and control the group! Bam! Slipping in an occasional real estate post won’t result in your being blocked either.
- Neighborhood Magazine Ads. Do your research here. Some neighborhoods, particularly the larger ones or more affluent ones have their own monthly or quarterly magazine. Some of these are exceptionally well-produced and offer advertising opportunities to businesses that work closely with the community. My experience is that you can expect to pay for the privilege of advertising in these magazines, but it puts you directly in front of your target audience.
- Open Houses. I love open houses. Not everyone does and that is fine. Those that know how to host an open house, however, will find this to be a great referral source. When done right, they can be incredible marketing and brand building opportunities. Open Houses are a great way to meet the neighbors and, done with flair and excess, you can show the entire community your commitment and marketing excellence. The hour prior to any public open house, I recommend doing a “Neighbor Sneak Peek” where the house is opened to neighbors only. You can spin them as “Nosey Neighbor Open Houses” (I personally call these “Knowsey Neighbor” events so no one is offended. “Chose Your Neighbor” open house is another option where neighbors get first peek and are encouraged to invite their friends or family that they would like to have living in their community with them. If you don’t have a listing in the community but another agent does, contact them and see if they would allow you to host an open house for them. You would be surprised (I hope) by the number of agents that are willing to let you. Obviously, it helps them out and they don’t have to do it themselves. The sellers generally love it too. Make sure it is okay with your broker-in-charge before committing yourself. Some brokerages may not allow cross-marketing.
- Community Events. If you want to get your name out there and meet the community members in a more casual setting, consider hosting or co-hosting neighborhood events. The more involved you become the more people will get to know you personally. I recommend co-hosting with a lender or other service provider such as a loan officer, home warranty or home security salesperson to share the cost as some events can be a bit expensive and time consuming for one person alone. In addition to the real-life networking that occurs, think about all the great marketing you get to share about the event. You have a perfect excuse to brand all the event flyers and notifications since you are the sponsor. Consider cookouts, block parties, pool parties, outdoor movie night, charity events/fundraisers, holiday events, pet adoption events, community yard sales, etc. These events make for great photo and video opportunities to share on social media! Again, touches! Touches! Touches!!!
- Community Websites. Google the neighborhood name. What’s out there? Community-specific websites are a great way to attract leads that may be interested in moving into that neighborhood as well as build more brand recognition for you from the folks that are already residents. Like Facebook Groups, websites can become a great ‘go-to’ place for everything happening in the community. The opportunities are too numerous to list here but you can attract new leads, build your brand recognition and use your community-specific URL on all your farming material to increase visits to the website. This will powerfully illustrate your commitment to the neighborhood and certainly set you up as the reigning real estate expert. Consider the benefits of having such a platform on which you are the only real estate agent. You can include a section or page about homes for sale, marketing statistics, calendar of events, etc. Let your creativity go wild. There are also a number of SEO benefits to owning and controlling such a website. Again, incorporating the assistance or funds to support the website can be often be obtained by other home service related professionals in exchange for some type of placement on the website.
- Dialing for Dollars. Personally, I hate that expression but let’s call it what it is. Touching base with the neighbors and making introductions and giving updates via telephone or text messaging can be a powerful farming tool. I won’t recommend a specific company but googling for “neighborhood phone numbers” will provide you an extensive list of companies that can provide you with instant telephone and mobile numbers of the people living there to get you started quickly. Getting your hands on the HOA list is golden but rarely will they release that information. It might be worth asking, however.
- Email Campaigns. Start building your community-specific email database. I’m a huge fan of Customer Relationship Managers (CRM) that help you build and maintain email drip campaigns and nurture those relationships via email marketing. Ask for business cards and/or email/contact information during your door knocking activities. Incentivize the sharing of contact information by offering free newsletters, home buying or selling guides or registering for door prizes during neighborhood open houses or other community events you’ve planned.
Who is ready? That’s not a question for you kind reader. That is THE question for your farm. It’s what you must understand during your farming campaign. Until someone in your farm is ready to buy a new home and sell their current one, you’re not likely to hear from them. It’s that simple. No one WANTS your services until they NEED your services. Farming is all about staying top of mind so that when they are ready you are the person they call. It’s at this time your marketing materials become relevant and your farming starts to pay off. That is why farming must be a continuous, long-term process – the goal is to touch them when they are ready. It’s a friendly tap on the shoulder to remind them you are the best for the job. You are the neighborhood’s real estate expert.
Remember the secret to community farming success includes these five elements: Time. Touches. Like. Know. Trust. and Readiness.
To Your Success