Property signboards - a vital part of real estate marketing

by Alistair Helm in


Whilst the days of newspaper advertising for property may be numbered, I believe that the traditional property signboard is here to stay and very likely to be immune to technology advances.

The signboard strategically placed on the boundary of a property which sometimes regarded as visual pollution are in my view an integral part of marketing a property. They are akin to the promotional sticker on the supermarket aisle that draws attention to the special product when doing your weekly shop. Whilst not every property on a street is for sale the ones that are, are suitably highlighted for those on-the-look-out for a property to buy.

I was drawn to this subject by an article on an Australian real estate site - Property Observer which posed the question as to whether this form of marketing has a future. One of the contributors argued that, rather in the same vein as open homes - signboards are purely for the benefit of the agent, another put forward the view that electronic signs will replace current printed sign boards.

I hold the view that neither of these predictions will come to pass. Signboards serve a valuable purpose.

They highlight to the local neighbourhood the availability of property for sale which can be vital for those serendipitous opportunities targeting people who might not feel they are ready to move house but for whom the attraction of a specific house in a particular area can prompt the call-to-action. For these people email alerts serve no purpose as they are not actively searching. This is an important aspect of the property market, as not all buyers follow a logic path of making a conscious decision to start looking which results in a purchase and a house move. Property buying is not a linear process.

The other value in house signboards is actually as a visual indicator of the property market. A lack of signboards means a quieter market, lacking demand. A lot of signboards indicates a tricky market without much activity and a nervous set of sellers looking to move. A healthy number of signboards many with the classic 'Sold' sticker signifies a dynamic market.

Innovative digital signboard - CodyLive

Innovative digital signboard - CodyLive

As to the form and size of a signboard, as stated earlier I do not see the evolution of electronic signboards. An Australian company CodyLive produce these high end LCD signs - I sense that local authorities would judge these as a step too far and ban them as their night time display would be intrusive and potentially distracting to drivers. The purpose of the signboard is just that a sign, not a substitute to an online listing which has all the images and facts regarding the property. I can imagine some real estate agents salivating at the branding opportunity of such technology beaming out at night the smiling face of the local agent, but I can't see that eventuating!

As to size, I think in the main in NZ we have a good balance. The traditional sign is around 1.2 m2 which provides ample space for a single main image, a couple of smaller images and the contact details and open home times as well as the agent brand. A suitable mix of content. Signboards that fail to show a image are clearly nothing more than advertising for the agent and the property owner should charge the agent a rental for such space.

In Australia size of some signs appears to be getting out of hand as I found on a recent trip over the Tasman.

Property signboards that totally obscure the front of the property would seem to defeat the very principle of what they are there to do!


Agents and portals - the differing approach of UK to NZ

by Alistair Helm in


UK agents for sale sign.png

The real estate industry is universal, and in principle operates under a similar business model of commission based services in many countries of the world. The migration from print to online is well developed in most countries and therefore it is always interesting in my mind to explore the different approaches to marketing property from country to country.

I was recently in the UK, visiting relatives in Scotland when my eye was caught by this “For Sale” sign outside a property in Edinburgh.

As a backgrounder, the UK model of real estate is somewhat different to NZ with real estate agents largely salaried off a lower commission of around 1.5%. For this the role of the agent is more as a facilitator of the contact and managing the listing. Most properties are sold by negotiation. In Scotland the model is more unusual with a lack of real estate agents as independent entities. All properties in Scotland are sold through solicitors who operate real estate services within their company and therefore provide what amounts to an end-to-end service including conveyancing.

The property I was looking at in Edinburgh was being marketed by McEwan Fraser Legal. The marketing of the property through the exterior sign board was what captured my interest.

The most conspicuous aspect of the sign was the lack of smiling face of an agent. The property is being sold by a company, not an agent - a specialist real estate team as part of the legal company ready to take your call up to midnight on weeknights!. The prospective buyer will enquire of the company rather than calling a specific agent.

The other aspect that caused me to pause and capture this picture was the brand references to the main real estate websites on which the property is being marketed. The UK has a dominant player in this space - Rightmove; a significant competitor in Zoopla and also the Scottish market has a regional portal S1Homes

The selling company has a website on which the property is featured but the pragmatic approach by them is to highlight that this property is being featured on the major UK property portals and a specialist Scottish portal - a clear demonstration to the interested buyers that the property can be found and examined exactly where they expect to find them. This makes total sense, buyers are used to the functionality of these dominant portals - why encourage them to a company website that they may not have used?

I ask that question rhetorically - NZ real estate has always seemed reluctant to advertise any other website on street signs other than their own; this despite the fact that the consumer has little interest in checking out the details of a property on the agents site, when the details will be on Trade Me or Realestate.co.nz - sites that the consumer knows well and is aligned to the functionality and established process for storing favourites.

I find in retrospect this example in the UK even more bizarre when you consider that in the UK the real estate industry is seeking to start an industry owned portal - Agents Mutual as a consequence of what they see as excessive fees and profits made by the leading portals of RIghtmove and Zoopla.

Contributor to realestateconz.png

In New Zealand agents own a portal, Realestate.co.nz, yet they have never, despite the competitive pressure from Trade Me Property taken the decision individually or collectively to act to support this industry owned portal by advertising the brand on their “For Sale” signage or print advertising. The best they seem to be able to do is a discrete reference in the print media of 'contributor to realestate.co.nz’ - hardly a glowing endorsement. Such a missed opportunity!