Real estate agent marketing strategies for listings

How agents market sales and rental properties to agents and buyers

When an agent has an exclusive listing agreement, it means no one else can market the property. That said, listing agents often cooperate with buyer’s agents. This means the two sides split the commission. For many listings, a substantial portion of marketing is just the buyer’s commission. As a result, most of the competition on paid channels like Zillow, happens on the buyer's agent side. In summary, buyer's agents find clients. Listing agents usually focus on appealing to buyer's agents.

Providing low or no commissions to buyer's agents often generates less traffic. In rental, changing the commission is often a core marketing technique. Property owners or managers often act as their own listing agent in these cases. They may need to rent the last few units and will offer three months of rent as a commission instead of a standard half or one. After the units rent, the property may then reduce the commission. This is less common in home sales because most home buyers are working with agents.

The multiple listing service, which often feeds to real estate portals

The number-one way to market a listing is on the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. The MLS is a private network for agents to post properties that offer commissions. Each MLS is specific to a region. They are technically organizations of brokerages who agree to work together.

Simply posting a listing on the MLS can be powerful. Brokerages that participate in the MLS must list new properties on it. As a result, most agents use the MLS as the most comprehensive source of home data. By pricing a listing competitively, entering accurate data, and ensuring the description is compelling, buyer’s agents will likely find the right properties on the MLS. They will then recommend it to their buyer clients. As a result, making sure a listing is attractive in the MLS is a large part of a listing agent’s job.

Most agents manage their listing through a Multiple Listing Services such as Bright (DC/MD/VA/PA). Often this is the main way a property for sale is marketed. Source: bright MLS.

Real estate portals and competing brokerage sites

Listing agents also understand that they must target potential buyers in addition to agents. They will make sure that their listings are also on popular real estate portals like Zillow. That said, much of this is automated. Many MLSs share their listings, also called syndicating, with popular real estate portals as long as the agent provides permission. The agent simply has to ensure that the property is presented the way they want on each platform. To be clear, the listing belongs to the agent and brokerage representing the owner.  Even for portals that sell ads, these ads are focused on buyers submitting inquiries. This makes sense because the seller is already represented.

Agents make sure that their listings are posted on popular real estate portals. But most of this automatic through a feed from the MLS. Source: Zillow.

Ways agents amplify their listings

Gaming the MLS and real estate portal alerts and search filters

Listing agents will use every trick they know to ensure a property gets the most exposure. The best way is amplify a listing is to make sure it has great photos and writing. But agents also strategically drop a prices or add features. This can help a property shows up on search filters or trigger an alert for recently reduced prices.

Listing agents know that buyers and their agents search certain price ranges or look for recent price drops. Often they will use this to their advantage to time price drops or determine pricing. Source: Redfin.

Internal brokerage tools

Agents have proprietary resources at their disposal to market listings. Access to these resources is often why an agent joins a brokerage.

  • Brokerage websites: Most major brokerages have a central websites with searchable listings. Agent listings are usually posted automatically via the MLS feed. Brokerages will also showcase and amplify new listings for their agents. This provides more value to agents at brokerages with popular sites.
  • Internal networks and message boards: Many brokerages have internal email lists and message boards. Agents can use these to showcase new listings internally or share with specific agent groups. This is often a large benefit to agents at brokerages with large market share in a local market. 
  • Pocket/exclusive listings: A pocket or exclusive listing is a property that is not advertised on the MLS for a certain amount of time. Agents often share a listing with their immediate network including agents at the same brokerage. This can reduce the reach of the listing. But it can also create a sense of exclusivity and secrecy that may help drive interest in the property. Some agents also use this approach to reduce days on market numbers, so the listing doesn't look as old.
Many brokerages, such as eXp, offer their own internal message boards. Often times, agents will share their new listings there. Source: eXp Realty.

Agent community resources

Besides the MLS, there are a few ways agents increase their listings’ reach with agents: 

  • Reverse prospecting: often buyer’s agents will indicate their client’s interests in the MLS. This is usually be specifying specific search criteria or flagging listings of interest. Many MLSs allow listing agents to then contact relevant buyer’s agents if their listing is a match. Many times, agents will also use this list to showcase price drops or open houses. The buyer’s agent will then share these updates with their client.
  • Broker tours: these are like open houses, but broker tours are only for agents. In some markets, like San Francisco, they are standard. This is because it can be so hard to get a private showing scheduled for clients. In other markets, like Philadelphia, they are less common. Either way, broker tours usually provide information, food, and a good question and answer session. Often, the quality of food is much better at a broker tour than it is at the broader open house.
  • Proprietary referral networks: some agents pay to be parts of referral networks. This allows an agent to help showcase a property to other markets or a certain group of agents they trust. For example, TopAgentNetwork agents can showcase a home to agents who rank in the 10% of production. Members of Proxio can share their listings with international agents.

Using sphere of influence on email and social

The largest free source of traffic outside the MLS, agent community, and real estate portals will come directly from an agent’s sphere of influence. Agents will use their sphere of influence to showcase a listing. This can include email newsletters, social media presence, and personal contacts. The top use of social media by agents is to promote listings. For this reason, the strength of an agent’s buyer network in a segment or neighborhood is often the reason they are selected to list a home.

Allan Domb Real Estate in Philadelphia specializes in Center City and Rittenhouse Square. By cultivating a strong sphere of influence with buyers in the area, they can amplify listings better for clients. Source: Allan Domb Real Estate.

Open houses and "coming soons"

Open houses and “coming soons” are two ways that agents drive excitement from buyers. That said, the success of both are fairly uncertain. According to the NAR, only 4% of buyers even visit an open house as their first step. This means it may make more sense to focus on buyer agents and online channels. Similarly, there is not a lot of consensus on the effectiveness of coming soons, so many agents address them on a case-by-case basis.

  • Open houses: this is what many people think about when they imagine searching for a home. An agent will set up a planned time for potential buyers to stop by a home and ask questions. Often an agent will post the open house times on real estate portals and the MLS and cater the event. While this may help drive some excitement in the listing, many agents use open houses to capture new buyer clients.
  • Coming soons: A “coming soon” listing usually means that the home is not officially being marketed on the MLS yet and may not have all of the information online yet. Usually this has to be done with the permission of the seller. On one hand, a coming soon may reduce visibility. This is because it will only be on a single brokerage site or have limited information in the MLS. But some agents find that this approach creates exclusivity and helps capture pricing feedback before formal launch. Both Zillow and Compass have launched strong Coming Soon platforms for agents.
Zillow launched its own Coming Soon platform in 2014. Source: Zillow.

Content marketing online and offline

Agents will use press and any offline marketing opportunities to push their listings. For example, agents in Brooklyn NY will often share their listings with Brownstoner. Other agents will also pay for visibility in notable press and publications.

Paying for online marketing via Facebook, Google, and other platforms

Using paid online advertising can be challenging for listing agents. This is because the audience for a listing is going to be small. For example, it would be very expensive to bid on “New York Homes for Sale” on Google. And It’s unlikely the buyer making that search is specifically looking for a home like the agent is offering.

Real estate portals do much of this work for agents. They advertise their website to buyers. Then buyers and their clients find a property on the portal. As a result, paid digital marketing for listings, if used, is usually highly targeted.  There are some marketing services, such as Ylopo that offer lead marketing for listings, focusing on targeting and driving traffic during each stage of the listing.

Companies like Ylopo focus on generating new clients for agents. They also provide amplification services for listings on Facebook. Source: Ylopo.

Expectations of sellers and why agents may spend less on listings

It’s important to note that paying to market listings has some reverse incentives for agents. Sellers are often not personally paying for marketing. Instead, they pay their agent for their home to sell quickly at the highest price. Agents have an incentive to spend the least on marketing while ensuring the home does sell.

For example, let's assume an agent has a 2.85% commission. They spend an extra $100 on marketing a property. They would need to generate over $3,500 in price appreciation to earn enough in commissions to justify that spend. As a result, the agent would do better if encouraging the client to drop the price $2,000 creates the same excitement as incremental marketing would.  A great agent will still work in the interest of the client. But it's hard to ignore this incentive structure.

Agents are typically willing to spend much more on marketing for new clients. This is because they are generating an entire commission from that spend. As a result, many agents spend the bare minimum amount on listings. They want to show their client that the listing received additional reach, but they also do not spend irresponsibly.

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