By Peter Ricci
According to data from REAL Trends, @properties was the only large brokerage in Chicago to increase its sale volume in 2011, and it was one of only two to increase its number of transactions as well. A big part of that growth, explains Peter Moulton, the vice president of brokerage services for @properties, is the firm’s unique business models for marketing and training.
“While we provide the infrastructure of education, training, administration [and] broker leadership … agents are then able to provide very good services to their clients,” Moulton says. “So the agent is essentially our client.”
There are two steps, Moulton explains, to that process: first, the agent provides a complete list of his or her clients, with phone numbers, email addresses and other relevant information, which @properties stores in a database; then, the agent constructs a marketing plan using a combination of the programs @properties offers through its in-house, 14-person marketing department, all with the intention of designing a brand that is unique to that agent.
Joe Zimmerman, a team leader at My Kind of Town Realty within @properties, has found particular success with the @properties business model; since 2003, My Kind of Town Realty has sold more than $371 million, and so far in 2012, its sales exceed $31 million.
“We could have gone with many brokerages,” Zimmerman says. “We chose @properties because of its marketing.”
Among the programs My Kind of Town utilizes, Zimmerman primarily uses the firm’s brochures and e-announcements, an e-blast program that agents can schedule to be emailed to their database. The announcements, Zimmerman says, vary in content, and some are even seasonally themed – Zimmerman recently sent two, one for Father’s Day and one for the Fourth of July, for instance.
Another @properties agent who has invested in the firm’s mailing programs is Landon Harper, team leader of the Landon Harper Group, who sends both print and email messages to his database for upcoming events, properties that were just sold/listed in the client’s area, and, perhaps his favorite mailing, market data, which lists detailed information on sale prices, inventory absorption and other facets of specific neighborhoods and markets. Harper also uses the firm’s client appreciation program, which has a specific page on the @properties website and allows agents to schedule gifts for certain clients on certain days.
Harper says he has also found considerable value in @properties free training courses, which cover such topics as: how to talk to clients; how to justify your value as an agent; working with buyers; negotiating with other agents; and modern technology. “You can sign up for one or two a week, if you want,” Harper says.
In addition to its training courses, many of @properties’ marketing offerings are complementary, says Thaddeus Wong, a co-founder of the brokerage. Any @properties-sponsored projects – such as the aforementioned marketing data reports – are covered by the brokerage, and Wong says @properties is currently working on a new market report that will show the brokerage’s market share in specific Chicagoland markets.
Custom marketing efforts, though, do come with additional, “a la carte” costs, as Zimmerman describes it, but the costs vary from agent to agent based on two factors: the amount of labor the project requires, and the size of their database.
For instance, Harper says when he meets with an @properties graphic designer, he ends up paying roughly $30 an hour for the designer’s services, and then the costs for printing (which are handled by an @properties-owned printing company) and postage fluctuate based on how many mailings he is sending out. That hourly fee, Harper added, is consistent regardless of what the designers are working on, whether it’s a brochure, a postcard or even a bus bench, which Harper has done in the past. Initial photography and video for @properties listings (one video and eight photographs), is conducted by VHT, and the costs are covered by @properties; an additional eight photographs (for a total of 16) are available to agents for $25.
On Zimmerman’s end, he says his splits with @properties largely cover his marketing budget, and though he would not reveal his specific split with the brokerage (the splits, he explains, are based on the agent’s volume), he estimates that he commits 10 percent of his revenues for his marketing budget.
In regards to costs, Moulton, Harper, Zimmerman and Wong all speak to the fact that because @properties’ marketing is developed in-house, there are substantial savings passed on to the agents, both in time and money – time because marketing materials are all developed through one specific channel, and money because, as Harper explains it, agents develop a rapport with the brokerage’s design staff, so projects end up taking less and less time and costing fewer and fewer dollars.
In the end, the important thing for @properties agents, Moulton stresses, is maintaining constant contact with their clients. Even if the client receives a postcard and immediately tosses it into the recycling bin, the agent has at least reminded the client, even for 10 seconds, of their presence in the market. And with that repetition, the agent can become the definitive agent in the area.
“We know what the agents do well and what they don’t do well,” Moulton says. “Many agents are incredibly good at having relationships with people that are right in front of them. But they are not great at creating a consistent branding campaign. So, one of the things we really believe is that running a realty business is like running a political campaign. If you ever stop, you lose … You need to be in constant contact with people and making yourself visible.”