Make yourself useful

Scanning through my inbox yesterday morning I saw a familiar newsy subject line: “Home Values Slip After Nearly Four Years of Growth.”

The sender and source: Zillow.

This is nothing new. Zillow’s been putting out housing market data for several years now. But it’s still puzzling when you step back and think about the implications and similar opportunities brokers almost never pursue.

Zillow – a media company that is in the business of selling advertising – has successfully positioned itself as a credible source of real estate market information. There’s something fairly big to be learned by this.

You can’t buy trust

Sure, Zillow (and and Trulia) has spent an obscene amount of money on marketing and advertising to amass a large consumer audience. But Zillow’s also been building trust with the media as a source since almost the beginning. In fact, cultivating the media came well before any money was spent on advertising. They knew that trust wouldn’t automatically come with consumer traffic, but was something they would need to tend to over time.

Brokers big and small still have an opportunity to do this.

There’s a fairly simple trick to becoming a go-to person for commentary on a consumer real estate story: Show your value to the reporter. Show your expertise in the local market and/or your niche.

How you do that is:

  1. Come to the table with ideas. They don’t have to be complicated, but they have to be original and interesting.
  2. Offer a new angle on a current event that shows off your expertise in real estate.

Your brokerage probably doesn’t compile its own set of comprehensive data and keep an economist on staff like Zillow does. But you don’t need to do that in order to become a credible source for a reporter.

You and your agents have something else that’s valuable to a reporter: you know the word on the street better than anyone else in your market. And you have access to buyers and sellers who have interesting stories that reflect the human side of the data.

In real estate, there’s an emotional side to every data story. And there are trends rising out of that data that you are perfectly poised to recognize and talk about.

For instance, where I live in Oakland, word on the street is that all-cash offers win almost every bidding war. Well, how do those who don’t have access to a pile of cash compete? The Realtors in my market know the answer, and they have a lot of interesting anecdotes from clients that bring to light creative, non-traditional ways in which they are competing.

If I were a broker, I’d talk to my agents and pull together an interesting story pitch along these lines to ride the coattails of the major housing data releases.

Another example: Back in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing gay marriage. An interesting story a real estate brokerage would’ve been able to flesh out would have been what this change might mean for gay couples who already own a home together – tax implications, etc. – versus those looking to buy a home.

Reporters and editors constantly look for new angles on a current hot topic. You can help if you’re paying attention.

Another idea is to use a service called HARO – Help A Reporter Out. I’ve successfully used HARO as both a reporter looking for sources and a publicist looking for opportunities for my clients to be called on as sources. How it works is reporters put out a call for help on specific stories they are working on, and sources or their representatives can respond with helpful commentary.

HARO is free, but be sure to follow the rules or you’ll get kicked out quickly.

Do these tactics always work?

Absolutely not. Nothing always works to get news coverage.

But if you pay attention to what’s happening in your market, and follow all the major housing data, you can come up with compelling story ideas that position you as credible, quotable and best of all, trustworthy.

That’s smart.