Digital marketing - the solution for selling or renting property

by Alistair Helm in ,

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Whether you are a property owner of an investor there is certain to be a time when you need to sell a property, or find a new tenant. 

You may well decide as part of your strategy that engaging a real estate agent or a property manager is the smart decision, after all they are professionals and they know best. They are self-employed and earn their living doing exactly that – finding buyers or finding tenants.

Whether you choose to use such a professional or you choose to do it yourself, in my mind there is no excuse for abdicating responsibility for the marketing of your property. For despite the well intentioned job title of many agents who profess to be “Marketing Consultants” very few actually are functionally trained or experienced in marketing and even fewer are up-to-speed on digital marketing.

I make this assertion; as over the years I have been astounded by the lack of appreciation by most agents as to the power, impact and cost effectiveness of digital marketing. Too many agents fall into a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to marketing a property, or to be more accurate advertising a property.

They are very likely to come out with a spiel such as “We’ll undertake an extensive 3 week advertising campaign starting with letter-box drop to local addresses, weekly full or half page advert in the local property magazine and newspaper and of course we will display an impactful 'For Sale' sign outside your house. I will then undertake an extensive telephone outreach to my database of buyers which will secure great attendance at the weekly open homes and should secure a strong buyer interest within the first couple of weeks”

It is highly likely that this proposed ‘personalised’ marketing campaign would have been recommended 20 years ago as much as it is the generic line for most agents today. The only addition that has crept in over the past decade is the additional line “of course we will also feature the property on our website and of course Trade Me and” – sadly often thrown in as an after-thought.

Contrast this with the fact that over three quarters of all property shoppers, whether looking to rent or buy a property use the web as the first and main source of information and more commonly these days use mobile devices. This data sourced from the annual Nielsen Real Estate Report is unfortunately a couple of years old, but logic would say that the percentage has only risen. These savvy online property shoppers use multiple services such as daily email alerts for new properties, saved searches on their favourite website, as well as planning open home schedules on Google maps.

There has been some heated debates as to whether a property can be marketed entirely online or whether there continues to be value and unique appeal in print media. In my opinion we have pasted that point – you can successfully and confidently market your property entirely online. Simply put, the reason print media advertising of property still exists is entirely for the benefit of real estate companies and agents. They love the branding and exposure, the solid blocks of multiple consecutive pages where the property image fights for attention against the company branding, providing questionable value to home shoppers, as after all what they want to see is all the properties in an area at a price point, not what Agent X has to offer!

Having made this firm assertion, the next question is how should you advertise online and where? Trade Me Property smartphone apps.png

The where is easy. Whereas in the past multiple website profiles was seen as beneficial, the fact is today there is no incremental value in being on more than 2 websites – Trade Me and Why so?

Trade Me is the most viewed NZ website for people looking to buy / sell  / rent anything – if you are not on Trade Me you are not online. If this comes as a piece of news to anyone I would be surprised! on the other hand is valuable for two reasons. Firstly it has reputation as a specialist site, and whilst people who use it to search property more than likely also use Trade Me, they do show a strong loyalty to the site as well as more importantly the mobile app. Secondly, there are a number (albeit few in number) of real estate agents that still hold out from using Trade Me. I know it seems unbelievable but some of the smaller independents do.

Do you need to use any other sites? No.

So the question then becomes how can you make sure your listing attracts more attention / visits than other competitive listings. You need to think about advertising your property for sale or rent as a competitive play. If you don’t attract the right buyers or tenants you will diminish the value of what you offer.

There are just two golden words to remember PRESENTATION & PROMOTION


Presentation is all about the photos. Recent research has shown that when it comes to real estate listings 95% of people, when viewing real estate websites view the first photo for around 20 seconds. It’s all about the photos; as the study went on to find that a staggering 4 out of 10 people completely ignored the agent spiel in listings. People trust their eyes and not (so it seems) agent hyperbole.

Get a professional photographer to do a broad portfolio of your property, this is as important for rental properties which suffers as all too often landlords forgot how important photos are to presentation online. Take the time to photograph the rental property between tenants when it is clean and tidy, with a minimum amount of furniture, just enough to show the feel. You can then reuse these images again and again.

I believe that the optimal number of photos for a property is around 20 and for most properties you can really show all aspects within this portfolio. It is unlikely that an investment property needs more. As important as a good number of quality photos is the critical aspect of choosing the first photo. This photo is the one that really has to work hard to grabs the attention of the shopper. It has to be of the most relevant aspect of the property, in the case of a standalone house it must be the exterior as seen from the road. In the case of a townhouse or apartment the living area is probably the right choice.

A final point in regard to the photos, if you organize the photography directly and I would; then ensure the agreement with the photographer means that you own the images and thereby you can use then when you like – too often photos are notionally owned by the listing agency despite the fact you paid for them.


Promotion is all about creating standout. The base cost of listing on websites is often free. Generally the agent will include the cost of a listing on, and possibly Trade Me as well. As a private seller Trade Me listing for sale, only costs $349; or $399 if the RV is over $450k. Given these minimal costs there is more than enough scope to invest in promotional features on these sites. This type of promotion does work to ensure your listing stands out from the crowd of other listings.

If you chose to use an agent to sell your property then your marketing costs should not need to be more than $1,000, this would comprise the photography of around $300, a Super Feature Combo on Trade Me for $299 and a Quality Package on for $250. Compare that with a single page in a Property Magazine, which will cost you well over $1,000. That print advert lasts barely 3 days and is only seen by locals as compared to the online campaign which lasts 3 to 4 weeks and is potentially seen by a global and local audience.

If you chose to do it yourself you would need to add the listing costs for Trade Me, but then in that case you would not promoting the property on as their listings are by real estate agents only so you could step up the promotion on Trade Me.

Digital marketing for property is easy, accessible and affordable – take control of the marketing of your property, get engaged and benefit from being a smart operator online, it’s that simple!

This article is also published in the June edition of NZ Property Investor Magazine


What you can learn from tracking the 'digital history' of a property listing

by Alistair Helm in

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There is much to be gained as an active property shopper online in tracking the history of a listing to get a sense of the mindset and personal situation of the vendors. To me this history of listing activity online can really help you better understand the current market dynamics and be better informed as to the situation of particular house on the market.

To help you better understand to what I am referring let me show you by example a recent properties I have tracked for sale in Auckland. I think it is best not to reveal the actual identity of the property as it is still on the market. That is part of the reason why this is relevant, as the property has been for sale for a period longer than the emerging standard these days in Auckland of 3 weeks. Part of the reason why it has not sold in my opinion is because the vendors have too high an expectation of sale price. This I think is endemic in Auckland at this time as seller’s expectations are getting ahead of the market.

The property in question came onto the market back in early January. A leading boutique real estate firm with an auction date of mid February listed it. The agents had high expectations of a selling price “well in excess of $2m” as was presented when the property was profiled in the NZ Herald property supplement.

The auction date came and went with clearly nobody prepared to meet the vendors reserve. The decision between the vendors and the agent post-auction was to change the method of sale from auction to ‘by negotiation’. Clearly though the vendors ‘showed their hand’ and their eagerness to sell, as a few weeks later the listing was changed to show a price of $2,750,000.

Time passed by and the listing remained on the market unsold. The next milestone occurred in mid April when the 90-day period of the original listing agreement expired. At this time the vendors decided to give another agent a go.

This is where things got really odd. The new listing agent from a large Auckland real estate company decided to list it with a price indication of $2,850,000. That was $100,000 more than an advertised price that generated no buyers. I have no idea what prompted this decision. I can only imagine the conversation with the vendors must have gone something like “I believe there is a strong interest in this property and clearly your previous agent failed to reach the right buyers, not only can we find those buyers but we can convince them that the property is worth $100,000 more than advertised last week!

As a point of note one consequence of listing with a new agent is the fact that the property appears online as a new listing with a new current listing date, in this case of mid April, rather than the true "placed on the market" date of mid January. This may have partially assisted in pitching a new price for the property.

Weeks went by and the property remained unsold. Then strangely just a week or so ago the listing became an auction with a date of auction set for mid May!.

This property has clearly not found a willing buyer despite two agents, two auctions and clear price expectations. The vendors clearly have signaled that they want $2.7m minimum for the property and yet nobody is prepared to pay that sum. Potentially this new auction (set for mid May) might well see the vendors set a more realistic expectation with a reserve below $2.7m, if not, I would judge the agent is wasting their time as this is clearly a case of the vendors expectations being well removed from the reality of the market.

So what can be learnt from this analysis and tracking of a listing:

  • The web allows anyone to now see very clearly the marketing of a property and as a consequence of actions what the market is saying about price expectation
  • In my judgment it shows that the choice of agent has no bearing on success. I say this because the platform for marketing properties today is entirely focused online. Every agent has access to this platform where the property sells itself; the profile, scale or expertise of the agent has no bearing on the online presence.
  • Whist the agent in my opinion has no bearing on success the quality of presentation and the extent of online promotion certainly has an impact. However in the case of this property I could not fault the standard of marketing online.

So in my opinion the failure to sell this property after over 100 days does not lie with the agents or the marketing, simply this is a case of the vendor’s expectation of price. There is always a buyer for a property – at a price. The question is always is, does that price the buyer is willing to pay, match the vendor’s expectations – in this case (so far) it does not.

Now I would concede that this property in the higher price range will not have quite the number of prospective buyers as would be found around the level of the median price of Auckland properties at $590,000; however I believe this form of digital investigation is valuable to all property hunters to assess.

As a final comment there would be those reading this who might well say that agents should be more professional in managing vendor price expectation; they should challenge the vendor and if they believe that the expectations are unrealistic they should walk-away to uphold their professional reputation and not waste their time with a property that is clearly not matched to market expectations. However it would be a brave agent who would confront this by declining a listing on the grounds of an unrealistic vendor price expectation, after all they rely solely on commissions, and for many agents having a listing (irrespective of whether they sell it, or not) is a status point of value for their current profile and reputation.