So, the other day I receive a newsletter from a fellow mortgage person detailing how the “little squabble” (i.e. the trade war) between the US and China is keeping mortgage rates down. Makes sense: the longer the squabble lasts and more tariffs are introduced, the longer the global economy will hold its breath waiting for the next shoe to drop, and mortgage rates will remain lower. It’s a tale as old as time – at least as old as my time. Obviously, this little bit of news is intended to make us want to break into song in the middle of a crowded train station letting our fellow commuters know that all is right with the world.
While the rest of you are sorting out who’s going to sing the melody and who’ll harmonize, I started thinking about the many ads I’m seeing on social media trying to catalyze people into buying a new home or selling their existing home to trade up or down size. The ads all seem to have a common theme that play on the topic of the aforementioned newsletter: the rates aren’t going to be this low forever, so get off your hindquarters and do something! Sure, some of the ads aren’t quite that discrete, but I think I’ve captured the general mood, right?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve created a lot of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – ads in my lifetime, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them if they motivate someone to respond. The teenie tiny problem I’m seeing here with these “rates” ads is that they’re all practically the same. Sure, the FOMO factor may motivate a reader to respond to the message, but are they going to respond to YOUR message? In other words, if your ad looks and feels like everyone else’s, what are the chances that YOUR ad is the one that lifts them out of their malaise and gets them dialing the phone – or is your ad going to be lumped in with everyone else’s, and the reader will eventually call on your competitor’s ad? Let the fear of missing out on a chance to set yourself apart be your motivation.
The next Facebook Ad or Instagram post you put out there should tell people why they should call YOU – why your brand and product are going to change their lives. And when they do allow you to meet them face to face, make sure you have something unique to offer or they’ll feel like you duped them. I have a unique way of making contact with real estate agents, I’ll admit, and when I am able to convince them to give me fifteen minutes of their time, I make sure I offer them something none of my competitors are offering (that’s legal, of course). After one such meeting, this is what the agent said to me, “I’ve been in real estate for over 15 years, and I’ve never had a loan originator offer that to me.” I’m not going to tell you what “that” is (but get your minds out of the gutters, kids!) for two reasons: (1) it’s something I worked very hard to perfect and make valuable, and (2) you should stretch yourself to come up with a unique offering that sets you apart from everyone else, too. But I will give you this last piece of advice: whatever you come up with, I can assure you if it involves a photo of you flexing in the mirror at the gym or of the kale smoothie you’ve convinced yourself to drink, you’re on the WRONG track!
Rest assured, this article isn’t going to devolve into something reserved for late night or cable television. The “F” word of which I speak is “free”. In many instances, free is not necessarily a good thing. I’m reminded of the saying, “You get what you pay for,” and that often means the thing you get out of a free transaction is absolutely worthless. Along those lines, I present you the term “gluten free”, which usually means it’s free of taste. But I digress.
Recently, I was following up with a couple who was referred to me by an agent, and the wife said she and her husband wanted to put off applying for a mortgage until they’ve worked on their credit. And then she went on to say that they were scheduled to meet with a credit counselor to start that process.
I smiled and asked if this counseling service was going to charge them for this meeting, and she confirmed that they would be. Sensing that there was a reason for my asking such a question, she felt the need to justify this by explaining that this counseling service was going to help them pay off some debts to clean up and improve their credit. Well, yeah.
At this point, I described to her the process the counseling service would go through and what the couple would need to do, and then I dropped the “F” bomb: I told them that I would do all of those things for the couple for free. While she was letting this new piece of information sink in, I told her that whatever the counseling service or I directed them to do, it would be up to the couple to do it. Meaning: neither the service nor I can pay off their debt or physically do anything else that is going to help them repair their credit – they alone would have to do it. And then I gave her this analogy.
Many people who need credit repair can be compared to someone who needs to lose weight. In both cases, they hear about this person who helped their friends, and the cost of the service wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t outrageously expensive either. So, they sign up and sort of breathe a sigh of relief feeling that their situation would soon be a thing of the past. They plunk down their money and have their first meeting with the expert. She tells them what they need to do, pats them on the head, and shoos them away so she can work with the next client – she got her money up front. Whether it’s credit improvement or weight loss, it’s the client who has to do all the work. In the case of weight loss, the expert can’t lift the weights for them or eat the right foods for them – she can only advise them. And the same goes for credit repair. It would be a whole other thing if the payment arrangement were such that the expert didn’t get paid UNTIL the client reaches their goal.
With me, on the other hand, there’s no up-front payment because my incentive is to get them qualified for a mortgage – I get paid when the client reaches their goal of not only repairing their credit but realizing their dream of buying a house.
As a real estate agent, if you have a lender who works directly with folks in need of credit repair instead of referring it out to a service, you could do very well with a marketing campaign that tells people they can get FREE counseling services to repair their credit to help them get into a home. This campaign can take many forms ranging, of course, from social media to directly reaching out to past clients asking them if they know of anyone who needs this kind of help. So, go ahead and start dropping the “F” bomb in mixed company – you’ll turn heads, in a good way.
Back in a high school or college history class, your teacher/professor probably shared the following piece of information with you concerning life in the Old World back in the 1600s: the average life span back in that day was 35 years (or something like that – exact accuracy isn’t my point). And when you heard that, if you were like me, you thought, “That means if I were living back then, I should be having my midlife crisis right about now. Ouch!”
Your instructor wasn’t lying to you. He or she just wasn’t qualifying the statement correctly. The AVERAGE life span was, in fact, very short, but that didn’t mean that people were keeling over right and left after blowing out 30+ candles on their cakes. The truth lies in the word “average”. At that time, you had quite a few people living into their 60s and beyond, but there were equal numbers of infant deaths due to disease and poor living conditions – if you average the life spans of everyone in that time, you naturally get a number that skews much younger than expected.
For this and other reasons, statisticians like to use the median of a number set rather than the average (or in statistic speak, “mean”). The median is the exact middle of a number set. By going with the number that falls smack dab in the middle, you’re able to omit the outliers. For example, you’re looking at income data for a marketing project, and you have someone who falls into the data set who makes $1 million. Everyone else is ranging between $30K and $75K. Your average by including Ms. Million Dollars is going to be MUCH higher than what you’re really seeking. By going with the MEDIAN number, you’re going to come up with something that falls within reason.
I told you all that just so I can present you with this little piece of data I got from the National Association of Realtors:
If I’m being honest (when have you known me to lie?), I was a bit surprised by these statistics. I would have thought the ages were slightly younger. And because I assumed the numbers were slightly higher, my past marketing efforts, most likely, have been a tad misdirected. For example, in running a Facebook ad, I was reaching out to people in their mid 20s. Why would that make any sense? Sure, you could make the argument that I’m planting seeds for future buyers, but that argument is full of holes because marketing really should concentrate on getting customers NOW (or at least in the next few months).
On another front, I’ve toyed with the idea of going to college groups to educate them about saving for a down payment and the advantages of homeownership. It’s not a bad idea if it’s not going to take a lot of my time or cost me much (or anything) dollar wise – this is where planting seeds isn’t a bad thing. But if this or a similar exercise is going to cost me time and money, I need to abandon that idea and go where I’ll see a much quicker ROI!
For those who already knew this, may the gods of real estate continue to smile upon you. But for those of us who are JUST having this lightbulb moment, I hope this helps. Either way, give your history teacher a call and let him know you want a refund for his class.
Whatever you like to do in your spare time (keep it legal), I would like to recommend that you carve out a little time to read a book called All Marketers Tell Stories by Seth Godin. You’ll enjoy it, I promise, but if you don’t, send a letter to Mr. Godin instead of sending one to me.
From the book jacket, we read, “All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better – and look cooler – than $20 no names . . . and believing it makes it true.”
No major “aha” moment in that piece, right, but it did make me think of our industry. As real estate and mortgage professionals, we do this to some extent all the time – and there’s nothing wrong with that. For example, an agent is showing a home that has breathtaking views to her client and notices that he has that same look in his eye that a young man gets when he’s fallen in love (or lust). The agent knows it’s time to seal the deal on the house, but the client asks one last question in something akin to a hormone-infused stupor: “How are the schools in the area?”
If the local schools were notorious for churning out criminals, meth heads, and homicidal maniacs all the while breaking records for the lowest graduation rates in the state four years in a row, an ethical agent wouldn’t evade the truth and just tell a fluffy story. However, if the schools were just average, she’s not going to say, “Meh, they’re average.” She’s going to tell a wonderful (true) story about how three of her friends graduated from the local high school and went on to have very productive lives,and the client’s going to believe her because he WANTS it to be true. He really couldn’t care less that the agent’s friends, alumni of the local high school, are productive members of society.
Mr. Godin goes on to say that to be a successful marketer, confine your efforts to those people who share your world view (his words) rather than trying to convert people over to your way of thinking. The moment I read that little piece of advice, the words “preaching to the choir” immediately popped into my head, but it made sense. In our industry, many of us spend time, energy, and money on trying to convince people living in apartments that they’ll be better off if they gave notice to their landlords and bought a house. We have the numbers to PROVE how wise a move that would be, right? However, Seth (I feel I’m on a first-name basis with him now) tells us that we should leave the converting up to our customers and keep marketing to the people who are already singing our tune. He adds that when someone is already converted to our world view (usually through the efforts of a friend), they’ll embrace our stories and buy what we have to sell; buyer’s remorse doesn’t exist.
Whether you’re reading this while sipping wine from a $20 glass or a $1 mug, this much is true: this one little tweak to our marketing can make a huge difference. We may not save enough money to trade in our Touaregfor a Cayenne (or buy a Touaregfor that matter), but we’ll look and feel cooler regardless of the shoes we’re wearing.