AgriWhat? How the Emerging Trend of Agritourism Can Help Your Business

What do the following have in common?

  • Pumpkin patch
  • Crop maze
  • Farm store
  • Petting zoo
  • Wedding barn
  • Dairy with ice cream and cheese
  • Pastured pork farm
  • U-pick apple orchard

They are all types of agritourism activities and locations.

No matter what you call it – agritourism, agri-tourism, agrotourism, agritainment – it is cool! More than half of all U.S. states have some type of agritourism language written into their respective state laws. So what does this mean for you and your client? Knowing about the agritourism trends and practices around the country can not only assist you in finding the appropriate land for your clients, but can help your clients find future business opportunities. This follows the “growth begets growth” theory.

What is the difference between agritourism and ecotourism? It depends on the location and governing entity. Confused yet? No need to be. The bottom line is that knowing what is applicable within your sales region will help you help your clients, which in turn helps your bottom line.

Agritourism Operations

To be successful, agritourism operators must follow best management practices on their farms, but also must be welcoming to consumers and offer activities that pique their interest. Seasonality comes into play for all operations, with some farms offering multiple attractions year-round, and some farms offering only one or two options in a short amount of time.

An example of the former could be a dairy farm that produces value-added products for sale on the property year-round. Farm visitors can view cows and calves, see a milking parlor, walk through the processing plant, and end up in a store where they can sample and purchase farm-fresh ice cream, cheese, and other products.

An example of the latter could be a Christmas tree farm. The size of the land to grow trees is of foremost importance since the farm may only be open to the public six to eight weeks a year. However, the farmer may decide to be open for events during other seasons (e.g. pumpkin patches and corn maze “haunts” in the fall, u-pick hydroponic fruit and vegetables in the spring, or pick your own flowers in the summer).

In both of these examples, the land size matters. Having a workable space for the farmer is critical to the operation. However, having a safe place for agritourists is also critical. REALTORS can help farmers determine how much land is needed to conduct both public and private business, and can assist in finding the most usable, arable, visitor-friendly space possible.

In the Christmas tree farm example, space is needed to grow the trees, to prepare the trees for purchase (cut, shake, wrap, load), for customer parking, for tree and other product sales. For this type of operation, when parking is needed, usually LOTS of land is needed to accommodate the customers. If the farmer decides to provide other agritourism activities throughout the year, the acreage needed for those activities must also be considered. These are all things to consider when looking at property before purchase.

Ecotourism Operations

Again, depending on the governing entity, what one state considers agritourism may be considered ecotourism by another. This may or may not matter to your client depending on what they want to offer, but the distinction is important in terms of liability protections for one category over another.

Ecotourism can be any outdoor activity that doesn’t need to be consistent with a farm. It CAN be, but doesn’t need to be. These include kayaking, ATV tours, skeet shooting, zip lining, hiking, and many others. Your clients may want to provide these opportunities for their existing or potential customers, and the land specifications are as important for them as if they were considering offering agritourism. Where you can add value for your clients is by knowing the difference, especially in terms of statutory and legal definitions.

The Future

The possibilities for agritourism opportunities are numerous and exciting for REALTORS®, clients, and consumers. Getting people to experience the outdoors and hearken back on America’s agrarian history is a way to tie us back to the land. By navigating the nuances of agritourism policy and how that can shape a client’s business future, a REALTOR has the ability to help clients achieve their dreams. How many people can state that?

I encourage you to take a look at what agritourism operations exist in your nearby communities. If you get a chance, stop by to see the possibilities for how your clients can take advantage of this emerging trend. And don’t even get me started on the exciting trend of agrihoods …

About the Author: Melissa Hunt is the Chairman of the National Agritourism Professionals Association. Learn more from Hunt on this topic at the 2017 National Land Conference in her presentation on Is Agritourism a Viable Option (For You or Your Client)?

Recruiting and Developing Our Most Valuable Asset

This piece originally appeared in the REALTORS® Land Institute’s Summer 2016 Terra Firma magazine.

You know it isn’t very difficult for an agent to shine in the real estate profession.  In some cases all they have to do is return a phone call or follow through on something they promised.  I think it is pretty sad that the bar is set that low….

whitetail2You can have a beautiful building and offices, state of the art website and office equipment and you can spend a fortune on PR, social media and marketing.  However, at the end of the day, if your company is not represented by professional real estate agents you are hurting your business, your brand and the real estate profession as a whole.

Make no mistake, when a real estate agent, regardless of who he or she is licensed with, represents himself in less than a professional manner due to his or her poor work ethic, lack of skill or dishonesty, every single one of us in the real estate profession pays the price.

One very common real estate business model is to hire as many agents as possible, offer them a large split and let them beat it out.  Meanwhile, whether those agents know what they are doing or not, they may acquire a listing or two simply because a friend or family member feels obligated to list with them.  This approach is strongly why over seventy percent of the real estate agents will quit this profession within two years.  I feel this business model is extremely unfair to the agents; unfair to the public; and catastrophically harmful to the image of our industry.

Forget the representation of your company for the moment and consider the amount of money that exchanges hands along with legalities, complexities and the consequences associated with the sale and purchase of land.  I believe our objective as brokers and leaders should be to hire the best people and support them through training, marketing and structure.  In essence, we pour everything we can into them to ensure they are successful and in turn we will be successful because our relationship will be bilaterally equitable.

Recruiting

Our primary recruiting resources are online companies like, Monster, Indeed and Zip Recruiter to name a few. We target the nearest major metropolitans to the areas we wish to populate. These companies cast pretty large nets in that they often have sub-chapters/boards and communities that extend their radius. Our collateral resources include: our own career page on our website; social media; LinkedIn careers; The Outdoorwire; outdoorindustryjobs.com; AGcareers.com and AgHires.com to name a few.

What we do not do at Whitetail Properties is try to recruit/steal-away other broker’s agents. When you consider that we work in an industry where we work together through co-brokers and referrals, trying to recruit agents away from other brokers does not feel anymore ethical to me than calling another broker’s client. If agents from other companies call us, we are more than happy to talk to them; however, we will never call them first.

The prospective agent’s initial phone interview is with our HR executive (we provide her with the qualifying criteria).  If the prospective agent makes the cut, HR then sets up a second phone interview with our three-person interview panel. We then rate the candidate on a scale of one through ten on a ten-line score sheet.  If the candidate makes the second cut, we then setup an in person interview.  If the candidate gives a good personal interview we sign them up for the next orientation after they’ve obtained their real estate license.  It’s important that they attend orientation before we allow them to represent our company and our brand.

Basic Foundation

There are a lot of real estate companies that will hire anyone who has a pulse and the ability to acquire a real estate license.  I believe that this, along with a lack of training, is why many people stereotype real estate agents as a bunch of incompetent crooks.

We have four basic cornerstones when considering a new agent:  First and foremost, the prospective agent has to be an honorable person; the prospective agent has to be passionate about land and every aspect of land; the prospective agent has to have a strong work ethic; and the prospective agent has to be professional.

We can teach real estate, but in my opinion by the time human beings reach adulthood we can’t make them love land or teach them to be honorable!

Additional Prerequisites:

  • Financially Stable
  • Ability to work full time
  • Self-motivated
  • Accountable
  • Trainable

Developing Superstars

whitetailOrientation

We are accountable for and to our agents.  For this reason, we do not allow our agents to represent our company until they have attended orientation.  At Whitetail Properties’ three-day orientation, our goal is to give our agents everything they need to start their career on a successful path.

Weekly Webinars

Our weekly webinars provide our agents with solid career building knowledge. The topics cover everything from utilizing your sphere of influence to recognizing a property’s highest and best use.  Training is not something that you do once in a while.  Training has to be scheduled and repeated on a regular basis.  The key is to keep it fresh, informative, relative, productive and entertaining.

Maintaining Pro-active Contact

It’s important to maintain regularly scheduled calls with agents in order to review, mentor and coach them.  You see, the agents who contact their brokers for assistance are generally the ones working deals.  However, the agents who typically need help the most are the ones we don’t hear from because they are not working anything so it’s very important that we reach out to them and explore what they are doing and how we can help them

Support

Every member of our staff is employed for the sole purpose of helping our agents become successful and continue to grow their businesses.  In addition to the office and administrative staff, the following employees are at our agents disposal: we employ our own graphic designer, marketing director, advertising team, creative director, production department, IT department, compliance officer, accounting department, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer as well as team leaders and brokers.  Of course we did not start off with such an extensive staff.  We realized early on that in order to grow our business and our agents’ businesses, we had to develop a formula where we employed key staff members for every X number of agents.

Experience

The most important thing we teach our agents is that our client’s experience is the single most important part of their jobs. None of us will sell every tract of land we list, but when our ultimate goal is not necessarily to sell the listing but rather to provide our clients with the ultimate land buying or selling experience, we will sell more land.  In addition, we will receive more referrals and elevate the image of our company and of the industry.

There are too many real estate companies who feel making the sale is more important than working in their client’s best interest; more important than building a relationship; more important than being a professional and even more important than being honest.  This has to change.

Our Most Valuable Asset

Our agents are unquestionably our most valuable assets.  However, we can’t just wind them up and turn them loose. Through explanation and repetition we have to instill our company’s core values in our agents.  Our company’s ideology is the foundation from which we’ve grown our business.  Without a solid foundation based on integrity you are not developing or nourishing your most valuable assets.

As I mentioned before, we have to provide a consistent training program.  We have to take every opportunity to mentor and guide our agents and we have to teach our staff how to best assist our agents to ensure their success.  Along with this, we don’t allow agents to simply “hang their licenses” with us.  If we teach, train and mentor our licensees they become our most valuable assets.  However, if we do not teach, train and mentor an agent, that agent becomes our biggest liability!

We take our obligation to our agents; to our clients; to the public; to the States where we are licensed; and to all of our fellow brokers and agents in the industry very seriously.   Although as brokers we are held responsible and accountable for every one of our agents, there is no possible way that we can be present every single time our agents interact with buyers, sellers, customers or clients.  However, we can pour into our agents on a regular basis to ensure they conduct themselves, knowledgably, honestly, professionally and responsibly.  After all, they are our most valuable assets.

perez-danAbout the author: Dan Perez, RLI Member, is the CEO, Chief Broker, and one of the Founding Owners of Whitetail Properties Real Estate as well as the host of the ever-popular Whitetail Properties television show. Dan is passionate about the land business and driven by hiring and developing real estate agents to become multi-million-dollar land specialists.

5 Ways to Maximize Your Listings

This article was originally featured in the 2016 Summer Edition of the Institute’s Terra Firma Magazine.

I have seen a lot of amazing property listings under-perform or flat out fail from a lack of understanding how to best represent them online. Most of these tips apply to advertising property in any medium- digital or print, but will serve you particularly well online. In our increasingly digital world, there is a lot of noise that can drown out your listing, but with these easy steps, you can stand out and drive buyer interest and leads like never before. Here are my top five tips for how to maximize your online property listing.

  1. Completing Everything
    It should go without saying, but a complete listing and profile is essential. The property should be mapped accurately; titles and descriptions filled out completely; a generous number of photos uploaded; but also, pay attention to the smaller stuff. Things like categories and property types can have a big influence on who sees your property and where it shows up in searches. Often these modifiers work as filters, so if your farm isn’t tagged as a ‘farm’, it won’t show up in a ‘farm’ search. You could be missing out on a massive amount of property searches by leaving these blank.Same with property features like house size and bedrooms. Even if it isn’t the property focus, some buyers will be happy to know there is a habitable structure on the property. Water availability, utilities, property access, proximity to a town, etc. should be addressed if not obvious, and often even if it is. At a minimum, when there is a text box to fill out or drop down to select while creating your listing, you should be entering information into it.
  1. Picture it
    You want your listing to impress the pants off of people, no matter the property. The best way to get an initial response is through great photos. You generally see a two to three times greater response rate from listings with professional photos because they capture people. I’ve seen a weedy lot with a decrepit structure transformed into a landscape you would want to hang on your wall. You don’t want to deceive buyers, but you do want to represent it in the best possible way. If a professional photographer isn’t in your budget, read up on how to take better pictures. All photos should include a focal point such as a structure, fence, tree, lake, livestock, or even a flower. Look at your photos. If you don’t like your photo, neither will a buyer.The technology landscape is changing. Aerial photography and video is becoming more common thanks to drones. 3D tours and street-view technology has made its way into real estate. Mapping technology can orient you to the property terrain and features. All of these technologies are improving the way we tour a property remotely and adding some flash and excitement, but really it is about experiencing the property through a computer or mobile device as if we were physically there.
  1. Reading vs. Experiencing
    The title and description of a listing are nearly as important as photos because they frame the image of the property and fill in the gaps. Think of the photos and title as a hook, and the description as a line- you aren’t going to catch a fish without both.The title should be descriptive and evocative at the same time. The interested buyer isn’t physically at the property, so they need to experience it through your words and photos. What are the properties main features or resources? ‘Elk hunter’s paradise’, ‘mountainous’, ‘vistas’, ‘wilderness’, ‘fertile’. What does the property ‘feel’ like? Use descriptors like: ‘tranquil’, ‘remote’, ‘vast’, and ‘sweeping’. Be creative and come up with your own that fit the property. These words will help form an emotional connection with buyers beyond just seeing a piece of land. Use language and phrases that will resonate with your intended buyer to help them experience it from their computer.Similarly, the description should tell a story. Include all of the essential details–structures, acreage, crops or resources, and make these clear, but go beyond that. What is the history of the land? Who owns it now, and what is their story? What improvements have been done, and why? You want the buyer to care about this piece of land, and a story makes it special (even if it isn’t a very good one).
  1. Forming a Connection
    Not only do you want the buyer to care about the land, but you want them to care about you as well. Establishing trust and conveying confidence up front goes a long way to obtaining a lead, and ultimately securing a deal. You are your brand and vice-versa, so it should be treated and promoted like you would promote yourself. Your logo or photo should be everywhere you are; it shows people you are present in the region and an icon in the industry. The more they see it, the more they will feel you are an established and trustworthy business. Not unlike building a reputation within your community, your reputation and brand online are important to your business.A profile photo and bio can form a further connection. People will recognize you, and may even feel as if they already know you. You are no longer a faceless entity; you are a person, just like they are. If there isn’t a place for this on your listing, add it to the description.
  1. Get it Seen
    You have created a place for the information, now you need to drive people to see it. Post it on social media, add it to your website, print off some flyers and pass them out, pay for a featured ad, send some emails. Promoting the listing is the single biggest contributor to any listing’s success.It is also helpful to review your listing performance to get an idea how many people are seeing your property, and what actions are being taken. Give it thirty days, then take a look at listing views and lead count. These numbers can be helpful in telling you what the interest is like for your property. High listing views means that you are promoting it well, or it is popular in searches. If you are getting lots of leads, then you are doing well, but pay attention to the quality of those leads. Are they just kicking the tires, do they lose interest, are they responding to your attempts to contact them? These could be indicators that you are getting the wrong kind of traffic, appealing to the wrong audience, or potentially misrepresenting the property.

Take Away
To follow up, your property listing should have all of these qualities to reach maximum potential and performance:

  • Fully Completed Listing – Check all the boxes and enter all the information
  • Transport the potential buyer to the property with your words and photos
  • Convey an emotional connection, tell a story about the land
  • Establish trust and form a connection
  • Promote like crazy, and monitor listing performance

Online property advertising reaches a huge audience, and expands the buyer pool to include the entire country, or even world. When used correctly, it can be the most effective property selling tool in your arsenal. Implementing these tips will allow you to maximize your property listings, and lead to more deals closed in less time.

Jean Paul LaCountJean-Paul LaCount was the Head of Marketing for Lands of America and Land And Farm, and has been a digital marketer for the last 12 years.

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Optimizing Your Website As A Land Real Estate Broker

Optimizing Your Website As A Land Real Estate Broker

This piece was originally featured in the 2016 Winter Terra Firma Magazine

When people hear the term “optimization” they often think of search engine optimization (SEO), but it is so much more than that. Optimizing your website is all about making your website as effective as possible to help reach your business objectives.

When land and ranch brokers ask me to help them optimize their website, there are two fundamentals I hit hard before even talking about search engine strategies. First, ensure you build value into the experience your audience has while they are browsing your site. Second, ensure you build value into the properties your audience is coming to your site to explore. Brokers work very hard to build value into their business through the expertise they deliver, the trustworthy relationships they build, and the solutions they provide, but they don’t always understand how to extend that value through their website. Your website is the single most important tool to represent you online. Ensuring you have the basics in place will go a long way towards extending the same value online as you do, so naturally, in person. So, to build value into the actual audience experience, start by asking yourself these key questions.

  1. When you click on your home page, does it look like you? Your website should be consistent with all of your branding. Your logo, your color scheme and your content should all represent your company. You want people to recognize your name, your signs, your email signature, and your business card. It doesn’t cost any more to make them all match, and it helps people get to know and trust your brand.
  2. Is all of your property information up to date? There is nothing worse than having a potential client request information and having to tell them the website details are outdated. Your website technology and approaches should make the update process quick and easy so you never have a problem in this area. You can even eliminate the need to update your land and ranch properties on your own site by choosing a website provider like us who partners with Lands of America to completely automate that process. The key here is that providing consistent and accurate information builds trust with your prospects and clients, while providing outdated information breaks trust.
  3. Is your website easy to use? You want your audience to find what they are looking for quickly and easily. They do not want to be forced to view advertisements, fill out a form, click through multiple pages, or create complicated searches to find what they need. Take them where they want to go immediately, and ensure your phone number is visible from every single page of your website. You want to make it easy for them to call you when they are ready.
  4. Is your website mobile-friendly? As of 2014, there are more mobile users than desktop users, but many companies still have not updated their technology to make the experience a good one for smart phone users. The “pinch and zoom” method results in text that is too small to read, links that are too close together, and pictures that don’t fit the screen. This frustrates prospects and clients coming to your website to view property details and request information. Make sure your site is truly mobile-friendly.

Once you’ve built value into the audience’s website experience, the next fundamental area of focus should be building value into the properties your audience is coming to your site to explore.  There are a number of things you can do to set yourself apart from the competition and draw more clients, especially sellers.

  1. Use only high quality photography. Do not settle for small, grainy, or even blurry photography on your website. It is a disservice to your company, your clients and often detracts from the property value. If you choose not to hire a professional photographer (which is preferred), at the very least make sure you use the highest possible quality setting on your camera. Many people take short cuts with high quality photography because it costs more and many website providers can’t accommodate it. Choose a website provider who can.
  2. Create property and agency profile films. When I say film, I don’t mean just posting a virtual tour or raw aerial footage taken from your new drone. I mean using video to tell an engaging story about your agency and properties that capture and maintains your audience’s attention.
  3. Use a high quality mapping service. I recommend moving beyond Google mapping of pins and boundary markers to a monthly service. One that drives value into your properties by letting you mark and label property assets such as wells, structures, roads, and other unique features that set your property apart. One that has no limits to the number of boundary markers you can map and, then, easily share all of the mapping details via email. Some even have apps you can use while standing on the property, whether to create the asset details or show a prospect through a mobile device on the spot.

Once you have invested in the online fundamentals above, it is appropriate to start investing in driving more people to your website. You are well positioned to convert those leads to sales, positioning for a better return on your investment.

  1. Include your website address on all advertising and social media. You may chuckle at this one, but you’d be surprised how many people over look this critical opportunity. Whether it’s on your listings, in a trade journal, on social media, or in the home town paper, prominently (and proudly!) display your website address. One caution, if you do not intend to manage and maintain your social media sites, do not create them. Neglecting updates to your social media can create negative results. Social media sites are an extension of your business and you must have someone manning the desk to build trust.
  2. Provide regular email communication with your clients. Everyone knows the best leads come from client referrals. Staying in front of your clients with valuable information is very important. Ensure you have a database of clients willing to receive emails from you and reach out to them regularly with new properties, updated property information, highlights of sold properties, or something engaging, like a link to your agency profile film on your website. (Use your website as a convenient place to opt in or out of such mailings.) Ask for referrals and always include your website address in your email signature.
  3. Invest appropriately in SEO and internet marketing. I say “appropriately” because it can cost quite a bit to get your company to rank within the top three spots of an internet search page. Your company, broker, and agent names should be built into your website pages to generate free, top search engine placement, but beyond that, you should anticipate spending a minimum of $3,000 – $6,000 per year for a good internet marketing campaign. When choosing an internet marketing company, avoid those who guarantees success without demonstrating a significant plan involving trial, error, adjustment, and continued investment to see what works. Ask for research that demonstrates the best key words for high ranking in your business and in your region, and analyzes how your competition is placing. Choose a provider who commits to regular traffic reports to analyze what is and is not working and understand that success is based on many factors out of your control, which change all the time. For instance, if you spend $500 in a month to ensure a key word important to your region places you on the top three results of a search page, but your competitor spends $1,000 in a month for the same word, your competitor will out rank you. This is how it works, so you need to approach internet marketing as an evolving strategy requiring long term investment, both in time and money. Your goal is to build a foundation that tells the search engines you are a reputable player so they send the traffic your way. You are competing with others trying to do the same.           

As you can see, optimizing your website is all about making it as effective as possible to help reach your business objectives. I always remind people there is a lot you can do to reach your business objectives before investing in search engines, and even social media, despite the current hype.

Ciesiensky, MikeMike Ciesiensky is the President & Founder of LandBrokerWebsites.com, a Crystalcore.net division. Ciesiensky is experienced in helping land and ranch brokers create websites to meet their business objectives. Ciesiensky presented at the 2016 National Land Conference in Dallas and is a partner of the Institute.