THE REAL (E)STATE OF PRINT ADVERTISING IN THE DIGITAL AGE

This article originally appeared in the REALTORS® Land Institute’s Summer 2017 Terra Firma magazine.

More than one real-estate agent, borrowing from humorist Will Rogers, has advised, “Put your money in land, because they aren’t making any more of it”.

When it comes to where to advertise that land, the adage does not hold so true. Plenty of media vehicles are launching all the time—a vast, renewable resource of print, broadcast, outdoor, online, mobile and social-media outlets to explore. A marketer could be forgiven for wondering exactly where to invest the finite resources of an advertising budget.

The trick lies in putting the money where it matters most, where it will connect with people who’d be most interested in that new-model car, custom shirt maker or ranchland for sale. While data-rich digital platforms offer new ways to target individuals, traditional media, such as newspapers and magazines, remain a vital part of a successful marketing budget and continue to offer distinct advantages.

In the midst of the digital revolution, newspapers and magazines continue to deliver, and so does print advertising. A wealth of research shows that the printed-and-published-on-paper word still resonates today, extending to favorable demographics, longer interaction times, greater trust and other indicators that make a positive environment for advertisers. The combination of print and digital often make an ideal partnership, particularly in real estate marketing, where print advertising introduces a property and peaks interest, even among people who may not be actively looking, and digital draws prospects in further with virtual tours, slide shows and all the important specs.

newspaperIn 2015, consumer neuroscience researchers at Temple University released a study that explored how people responded to print and digital advertising. They concluded that each medium had its strengths, with digital grabbing sustained, focused attention and print ads engaging better emotionally.

The study, produced for the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, included test subjects looking at advertising in print and on digital screens, while receiving functional MRIs of their brains. While looking at paper ads, the MRIs revealed more activity in the areas of the brain associated with desire and motivation, indicating subjects had a more positive, subconscious response for the item being advertised—a great way to kick off the sales process.

Print and digital go hand in hand in other ways, too. A Wall Street Journal reader study found that subscribers read the print edition in the early morning (six in ten read the newspaper in print, according to the 2015 Ipsos Affluent Survey), later logging on to the paper’s website from a desktop or laptop during the workday and checking in throughout the day via their mobile devices.

Broader audiences display similar behavior. According to the Pew Research Center, citing a Nielsen Scarborough 2014 Newspaper Penetration Report, more than eight in ten people read the newspaper in print—fifty-six percent of people in print alone—with the remainder including online and mobile platforms through the day.

With morning tending to be the most popular time to pick up the newspaper, even in a world of twenty-four-hour news cycles, a print paper still provides an environment for advertisers to present their own big news. Reading the print edition is an engrossing interaction, a lean-in experience, with people engaging forty-five to fifty minutes a day with the print edition of The Wall Street Journal. In today’s content landscape, that is an incredible length of time to hold an individual’s attention.

Magazines have also retained vibrancy in the digital age. Samir Husni, the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University Of Mississippi School Of Journalism has tracked trends in the industry for thirty years. Husni was happy to discover that during the first quarter of 2016, one-hundred and ninety-nine new titles launched, seventy-seven in January alone, compared to one-hundred and ninety-one which had debuted during the same period in 2015. In a blog on his website, Husni said, “One thing that I’ve noticed this year in following magazine media and the marketplace, no one is saying that print is dead anymore. That mantra has vanished.”

So who is the print reader? Demographics trend favorably to being able to make bigger purchases, with affluent, well-educated people indicating they read newspapers.  A 2016 Ipsos study revealed newspaper readers have an average net worth that is thirty percent higher than total affluents–$1.64 million compared to $1.27 million. The same distinction holds true at The Wall Street Journal, where print-only readers report net worth of $1.8 million, twelve percent higher than total brand readership. Wall Street Journal print readers have net worths that are sixty percent higher than television viewers.

Environment counts in real estate and it counts in advertising, too. A Pew Research Center study found numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The Economist, ranked high in consumer trust across differing political philosophies, outpacing newer digital news outlets like BuzzFeed and Yahoo News.

With readers, right demographics and environment in place, today’s advertisers use print to capture attention and craft the right image and digital to drill down the details.

In addition to capturing the attention of people who are looking for real estate and those who originally were not, print ads also elevate the brand identity of the brokerage and sales agent.

These objectives would be difficult to achieve in a digital-only campaign, as online, people tend to search for specific things or enter actual web domains—behavior is more directed. Print showcases the property, hooks the prospect and directs him or her further down the sales funnel with digital listings, virtual tours, property slideshows and agents’ websites.

In this era of information overload, another way print is evolving is through creative executions. A clean, simple style—not too wordy or crowded with different elements cluttering the layout—works best to draw the reader’s attention and spur action. According to researcher GfK MRI Starch, the qualities that work best in successful print ads are:

  • Simplicity: A minimalistic design with not a lot of clutter. Copy that is equally simple to read.
  • Boldness: Judicious use of vivid color to grab attention.
  • Clarity: Memorable, direct headlines and similar body copy.
  • Contrast: Visual play of light and dark tones to create sharp contrast.

According to a recent study of Wall Street Journal readers, more than eight in ten read the weekly Mansion section, appearing in the Friday edition. Further, a 2014 Wall Street Journal proprietary study conducted with Ipsos Media CT, revealed twenty-two percent of The Wall Street Journal’s print readers had contacted a real estate broker as a result of a Wall Street Journal real estate ad.

As for what real estate advertising stood out best in the section, according to Starch, top-scoring ads featured ample use of white space, putting the headline, copy and key images in crisp isolation. Of special note, contact information was easy to see and not buried at the end of a copy block, as real estate advertising, more than anything, is a call to action to visit the website and contact the broker.

Starch’s best real estate ads also featured compelling, professional photography. Layouts that featured one, dominant photograph, or a main shot with one or two minor images, scored well.

In a 2015 REAL Trends survey, done in partnership with industry image and virtual-tour maker Virtuance, found ninety-four percent of agents “felt passionate” about using professional photography, believing it attracted buyers to their websites and burnished their brand images.

Headlines, sometimes as simple as the property’s name or address, or maybe a few descriptive details, succeeded in their simplicity, directness and ability to grab readers’ eyes. Copy urged readers to take action, often directing them straight to the property’s website for details and video.

Successful print ads look a lot like strongly performing digital ads, which were even sparser and cleaner—one key image, a headline and a caption often sufficing. As for mobile ads, with minimal screen space comes more simple layouts and little copy.

Real estate marketers have more tools than ever to sell a piece of land, and print complements a broader campaign that might begin with a sign on a fence post and end with an online 3D showcase.

One does not replace the other, as history has shown. The popular media of Will Rogers’ era—newspapers, magazines, billboards and radio—are still with us, but today they work in harmony with digital, satellite, virtual reality and whatever is to come.

Gallardo, MartiAbout the author: Marti Gallardo is Global Head of Advertising for Real Estate and Vertical Markets for The Wall Street Journal.  She and her team work with real estate professionals on smart marketing solutions, helping them connect their luxury and investment properties with qualified prospects. RLI members can save big on print advertising opportunities with the Wall Street Journal as part of the Member Advantage Program (MAP).

Social Media and the Land REALTOR®

This article originally appeared in the REALTORS® Land Institute’s Summer 2017 Terra Firma magazine.

I’ll be straight with you all: If you haven’t figured out how to use Facebook or Twitter – and built a sizable audience by now – don’t worry about it.  The saturation of sameness of real estate social media is palpable and, frankly, your audience might not be there.  However, from beginners to advanced users, there are ways to leverage social media in your business.  Here are some tips:

First, audit your audience

Before you use social media you must know whether or not you even have an audience there.  Go online to your social media accounts, subtract all your friends and family. Now, is your target audience for your marketing there?  If you’re an agent dependent on referrals from residential agents, are your partners there?  How much time do they spend there?  Researching what you have will determine what you will do on social media, so do a deep dive into your audience.

Audit yourself

If you’ve started accounts on Facebook or Twitter, is your website, contact information and status as a REALTOR® or ALC obvious?  Too many agents don’t take the time to complete their profile and add a current picture of themselves to the public elements of their social media, which is akin to not having a profile at all.  Whether you choose to use social media actively or passively, make sure a potential client can get ahold of you should they stumble upon your social media accounts.  Chances are, your social media will outrank almost any of your other web presence, so it’s just plain good business.  Use a Google Voice number generic email address (info@yoursite.com) to track the effectiveness of your accounts and to keep the spam emails and phone calls to a minimum.  Don’t forget about your website.  Does it have the “Like” and “Tweet” buttons anywhere on it?  Make sure your website is shareable on social media, especially if you’re creating content on your site that’s WORTH sharing.  More on that later.

Review and recommendation websites are social too!

Cementing your reputation by starting profiles on Google (google.com/business), Yelp (biz.yelp.com) and LinkedIn is something everyone should do.  LinkedIn, especially, is made for business-to-business relations and is the most business-centric social platform online right now.  Complete your profile with a current pic, and don’t forget your contact information and website!

Consider “groups”

In an effort to keep business away from personal lives, Facebook groups have become a major source of networking among professionals.  Most local and state associations, real estate designations and certifications and offline networking groups have a presence on Facebook.  “Search” on Facebook’s search bar for your local association or group.  NAR has a national group that can be joined here.  Make it a habit to go through groups – especially real estate groups – to see if an agent has a need.  The more active the group is, maybe post in it once a day.

Use Twitter like a media resource

Twitter isn’t for the meek and takes an active commitment to make its use worthwhile.  One of the best ways to quickly build an audience to engage with it is to follow local journalists, television news-people and pay attention to what they have to say.  Are they talking about real estate value?  Are they looking for stories on community development?  You can have meaningful conversations with people who move the needle in your local markets and grow your sphere while doing it.  Follow the more active residential agents in your area who are almost always looking for land and commercial real estate partners, as well!

Use video as a marketing platform

In my mind, the most relevant social platform available to a land agent is video, preferably on YouTube.  Whether you’re speaking on camera about tips to buy and develop land, using it to convey the size and scope of a land offering or re-envisioning what that land can be via digital mock-up recorded on video, the options are many.  The one thing about video that makes it stand out against its brethren is that it’s not viewed as a “toy” and a time-suck like Facebook and Twitter can be, plus YouTube’s little red “play” button has universal – and multi-lingual – appeal.  To wit, look no further than this video, created to be a vision of a potential mixed use development.  Parking videos like this on YouTube and then your website ramps up your organic search engine optimization. They are “social” in that anyone can share it to their social media if wanted, plus they can be viewed on a laptop or a smart phone alike.

Pay-to-play with social media and Google ads

Residential real estate is experiencing a bit of a paid marketing renaissance when it comes to effectiveness online and on social media due to the business models of online media and their need to make money.  The key to optimizing paid media, however, is to have content worth the click – from the internet browser’s point of view. As mentioned above, a social site with social content turns your website into an online destination, regardless of where the ad is placed – social media, Google, or otherwise.

Did you audit your audience?  Also mentioned above, that audit will determine where you should spend your ad money.  If it’s social media, direct your ads to those who have “liked” elements of your local market or even your city’s social media presence, or other businesses in the area complimentary to yours.  If it’s Google, explore the search trends of your market here: google.com/trends/ and direct per-click ads to the relevant audience.  Ads are not for the meek.  It takes investment in a high quality website and content to really leverage it properly.  Talk to a local small business online expert in your town for details.

So whether you are actively or passively leveraging social media in your business – or doing something in between – be social.  Think about whether or not what you’re doing – marketing-wise – is worth someone sharing it on social media.  Have a visible, social profile and reputation and be “out there” if someone needs your expertise.

hata, nobu, NARAbout the author: Nobu Hata is the Director of Digital Engagement for the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). As a real estate technology and new media expert, he brings value-added information to NAR members, brokers and associations. Nobu regularly present at the RLI National Land Conference on the latest technology for real estate agents.

Drones: Navigating the Rules and Regulations of Legal Commercial Use

This article originally appeared in the REALTORS® Land Institute’s Summer 2017 Terra Firma magazine.

Drone. It’s a word that elicits different feelings for different people. Some people love them, others hate them. Some people see their incredible potential while others wish they didn’t exist.  Headlines range from “Drones are saving puppies” to “Drones are ruining my life”. The issue can be polarizing.

As a land professional, a drone can be a powerful and effective tool for your business. The current and potential uses are varied and creative. The opportunity is huge and it’s important to be well-informed regarding the proper use of drones.

As with any “hot-topic” issue, there is a lot of bad information that gets into public view; and having bad information can result in poor decisions, lost business, and even legal penalties. I am writing this article because I want you to be an informed, intelligent, and passionate ambassador for drones and their incredible potential in real estate. As such, I want to provide specific, reliable, and accurate information on how to legally operate a drone in your business. I also want to provide you with resources for further research and up-to-date information.

To achieve that goal, I am going to focus on the nuts and bolts of completely legal commercial drone flying. I’m not going to tell you which drone to buy, how to get the best shots, or what time of day offers that epic cinematic effect. I am going to tell you exactly how to operate within the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules and guidelines for commercial drone use.

Below are three basic overarching maxims that are central to all legal, commercial drone operations. These are presented as fact, insofar as they are published in FAA guidance, law, or other official means. So, regardless of what you’ve heard on the news, read on the Internet, or been told by your brother-in-law, here is the scoop:

THE ONLY LEGAL WAY TO OPERATE A DRONE COMMERCIALLY IS THROUGH A SECTION 333 EXEMPTION ISSUED BY THE FAA

The FAA is currently using an EXEMPTION process to allow legal commercial drone use. This process is filling the gap until full-fledged regulations can be finalized and published. Until recent years, “model aircraft” have been used almost exclusively for recreational purposes. In the past decade, inexpensive drones with the ability to capture high-quality video and photographs have flooded the market. This has given the FAA a lot of heartache, because they did not yet have rules in place to regulate “commercial model aircraft”. The exemption process is the only avenue currently available to operate legally for hire.

In order to receive an exemption, you must apply at www.regulations.gov. Follow these instructions for the application process.

This is how it’s done: read through a few petitions, copy someone else’s petition, personalize it to yourself or your company, include the necessary documentation, and submit. It’s not college English class so plagiarism is not only allowed, it is actually encouraged. You want to make it as easy as possible for the FAA to say yes by submitting an application very similar to one that is already approved. When I applied for my exemption, the FAA’s stated processing time was ninety to one-hundred and twenty days. I received my approval in eighty-seven days. It was the first time in my life a government entity had done something faster than advertised. Some people have hired lawyers, others have hired so-called “Section 333 Exemption Companies” to write and submit the application for them. That is unnecessary. The process is simple and the instructions are clear.

THE OPERATOR OF THE DRONE MUST BE AN FAA LICENSED PILOT

After reading number two, you may be thinking, “I’m not a pilot. I’m never going to become a pilot. Why should I apply for this exemption?” The person applying for the exemption DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A PILOT. The person OPERATING the drone DOES have to be a pilot. Of the over five-thousand exemptions granted to date, many of them have been companies or individuals who are not licensed pilots. You can have a pilot working for your company, or contract with one who can legally fly the drone. This will allow more flexible and on-demand scheduling to keep your costs lower. The exemption will require a certain level of drone training and logged flying hours. But any level of FAA license will do – from Airline Transport Pilot all the way down to Sport Pilot.

UPDATE

THE DRONE MUST BE REGISTERED, COMMERCIALLY, AS AN AIRCRAFT

Because the FAA, with the input of the courts, has determined that a drone is an aircraft (Google: Raphael Pirker Drone), it must be registered. For commercial drones, this once meant filling out a paper form (carbon paper included) and sending it, along with other documents, to the FAA. Luckily for all of us living in 2016, in April of this year that process was moved online. In order to register your drone, you must visit https://registermyuas.faa.gov, pay a five-dollar registration fee, label your drone with the registration number provided, and you’re good to go. This is the FAA’s way of finding you when you crash your drone on the White House lawn. Flyers beware!

(As a side note, recreational drones also require registration if they weigh over 0.55 pounds).

When you receive your exemption, it will be accompanied by a long list of dos and don’ts that you must abide by. These requirements range from pre-flighting your drone to maximum altitudes you can fly. Here are some of the basics:

  • No flights above four-hundred feet Above Ground Level (AGL)
  • Drone must remain within Line-Of-Sight (LOS)
  • If operator is using First Person View (FPV), looking at the video feed instead of the drone, he must have a Visual Observer (VO) to maintain LOS
  • No flights within five miles of an airport with a control tower or within three miles of an airport without a control tower, UNLESS a Certificate Of Authorization (COA) has been issued and the Operator has coordinated with the airport control tower
  • Must stay five-hundred feet away from non-participating persons at all times

Below is a list of resources where you can stay updated on everything contained here. This an ever-evolving issue. Be sure to check back often for updates and changes.

  • A one-stop-shop for general info on rules, safety, registration, etc.

Now, I’m certainly not naive enough to believe that none of you have ever flown a drone commercially without the required exemption, licensing, and registration. It’s true that thousands of people have taken aerial video and photography this way; and the vast majority of them never face any issues from the FAA. However, I would submit that as land professionals and REALTORS®, we should all strive to operate within the rules. We need to be doing things the right way, every time, all the time.

To their credit, the FAA is taking steps to make things easier for everyone who wants to operate a drone. I have seen at least two examples of LESSENING of restrictions for Section 333 exemption holders in the past few months. These include an increase in the allowable altitude from two- to four-hundred feet and the publishing of a blanket list of drones you can fly once you receive your exemption (previously each petitioner had to list all drones intended for use and provide all documentation for each drone).

So, what does the future hold? Good news! The proposed rules going forward provide for approving drone operators WITHOUT a pilot’s license and WITHOUT a Section 333 Exemption. Applicants for a Drone Operators License (for commercial operations) will be required to complete online education, pass a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) background screening, and pass an FAA knowledge test. These proposed rules are still being vetted, discussed, and debated to determine the final rules. However, the rules are a great framework to lessen the burden of legal operation while still maintaining appropriate training and safety measures. Plans are also moving forward to allow flight over non-participants – as long as the specific drone being flown meets certain industry standards. The timeline on the final rules is uncertain. Yet, industry stakeholders and individuals alike are putting a lot of pressure on the FAA and Congress to get it done.

For now, we have to operate within some tight restrictions, but drone technology, uses, and regulation are all evolving very quickly. If you haven’t already, get ready to join the world of drones – an exciting industry with virtually unlimited potential!

mcdow, calebAbout the author: Caleb McDow is a land specialist for Crosby and Associates in Winter Haven, FL, with a Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) and is a FAA Certified Drone Pilot. McDow joined the institute in 2014 as a Military Transition Program (MTP) member.  He serves on the Institute’s Future Leaders Committee and regularly blogs on real estate issues.

Does Your Forestland Have Curb Appeal?

As with residential property, there are steps a landowner can take to add value and make forest acreage attractive from every angle. As a land broker and professional consulting forester, I’m often asked what improvements can be made to add the most value to forest property.

My response focuses on two different sets of property attributes that affect value. The first set is acquired at purchase and includes characteristics inherent to the property. These are fixed attributes such as location, public road frontage, streams, and topography.

The second set of attributes can be implemented or improved upon, creating an opportunity for “acreage appeal,” which is the forestland equivalent to the curb appeal concept in residential real estate. These are improvements that have the potential to increase the marketability and value of your property above the investment expense. Our firm operates across North America, and these six areas are improvements that seem to be universal regardless of market.

“The importance of working with a professional land manager and broker cannot be overstated.”

ACCESS 

Access is a critical component of value and often the first question posed by potential forestland buyers. Having legal access, of course, is key to marketability and upholding property value. A tract without legal access poses many impediments to potential buyers.

If it is a recreational tract, buyers might be uncertain about their ability to easily enjoy the property. For investment tracts, a lack of legal access can impede the ability to extract value in the form of timber sales or hunting revenue, to say nothing of the potential development value down the road.

The investment buyer is likely to discount the standing timber value to account for these challenges. If your property does not have a recorded legal access you should work with some combination of your adjoining neighbors, a land professional, and an attorney to evaluate your options and make a plan to obtain access.

Once you have legal access, creating or improving internal tract access is another strategy to increase acreage appeal. If internal roads exist, funds are well spent to upgrade and improve these roads to ensure they are easy to drive and stable in various weather conditions. This can include smoothing of the road surface (grading), installation of erosion control measures (water bars), seeding, and replacing damaged culverts.

If you do not have interior roads it could greatly enhance the value of your property to have roads built. New roads should be constructed in a way to provide useful access and in locations that will require the least amount of future maintenance. This involves using the existing topography of the land to minimize the slope of the roads (and erosion potential), and limit the number of stream crossings. Choose crossing locations most likely to withstand storms and require minimal maintenance.

In a similar vein, laying out ATV trails or walking trails also can add value. Being able to showcase a property’s Highlights on an initial tour helps create favorable first impressions. Trails should highlight a property’s unique assets such as water features, views or vistas, cultural features like old home sites, large trees, or favorite hunting spots.

BOUNDARIES 

Well-marked property boundaries are a bellwether for good land management. They signal to the public that this property is frequently attended to and minimize the risk of trespassing, dumping, or squatting. The first step to improving boundary markings is to make sure you have a modern survey description that is accurate. The second step is to mark your boundary clearly with paint. Surveyors have customary ways of marking lines so the exact location of the line and corners can be quickly identified. This is done based on the orientation of the paint and shape or number of painted markings on trees or posts along the line. For example, three painted bars on a witness tree typically denotes a corner in the area in front of the marked tree.

MANAGEMENT

Well-managed properties always realize a premium over un-managed or neglected ones, and buyers can spot the difference from a mile away. Attention to access and boundaries signal active land management, but as a landowner you also should have a written forest management plan for your tract that guides your goals and documents past activities. A little organization With this information imparts a huge degree of confidence to the buyer. Consult with a professional on what silvicultural practices will deliver the most return on investment. There might even be cost share assistance from government agencies.

A good consulting forester will be well versed in these programs and can provide guidance on how to qualify. For the private landowner, there are typically programs for activities such as reforestation, site preparation, prescribed burning, road improvements, wildlife food plantings and pre-commercial thinning operations. Implementing management practices that make good financial sense will enhance the income potential as well as the aesthetics of your property.

WATER 

Though it is typically thought of as an inherent and unchangeable attribute, you often can create water features on a property if there is already a water source available. One of the most common requests we receive from potential buyers of recreational land is for a tract with a pond. If your property has a site that is compatible with building a pond, this can make a huge difference in the value and marketability of the property.

Understanding if you have potential sites to construct a pond on your property and how to go about properly constructing a pond can be an enjoyable experience and a significant value add. Typically you need a reliable water source such as a spring or small stream, soils that will hold water, natural bowl-shaped topography to minimize construction, and earth moving expense.

In some areas, pond construction and permitting is regulated by the state government. That means that the first point of contact should be with your local cooperative extension service to begin to understand what is possible on your property. Once you have determined that a pond is permissible and feasible on your site, carefully select a reputable experienced contractor, and have a plan for managing your pond after it is built. Ponds, like forests, benefit from active management.

OPEN AREAS 

The majority of my work is with timberland properties. As a forest landowner, that’s no doubt your focus as well. However, open areas can greatly enhance a property’s appeal, even to buyers looking for timberland. My advice is always to manage natural openings with good forest management, but not to clear land just for the sake of openings. I say this because tracts that have a lot of open acreage might require added continual maintenance time and expense, which could narrow your pool of buyers.

Natural openings are created during harvest operations when loggers use a specific area for a log landing or loading spot. The resulting opening could be maintained as a food plot with annual or perennial plantings.

Open space can maintain sunlit areas along roads if the vegetation is favorable, and this also has habitat benefits. These open areas allow your road to dry after precipitation, and also provide some habitat diversity to your tract on a landscape level. Opportunities can exist to maintain sight or shooting lanes in thinning access corridors post-harvest as well.

These practices do not remove acreage from timber production but make the best use of every available acre and demonstrate variety in a property. Some of these open areas could be maintained by a hunt club since the openings improve habitat and, thus, hunting. The annual maintenance expense is minimal, and there might also be cost share programs through state or federal sources to assist you.

GATES 

It might seem obvious, but the first impression of a property often is the entrance. It’s why subdivision developers go overboard with gates and entryways before ground is broken on the first model home.

You need not break the budget in this area, but investing in and maintaining gates at all points of access it will provide security while you own the property, and is viewed favorably by potential buyers. After all, why would a landowner go to the expense of putting up a nice gate if there wasn’t a quality piece of land behind it?

New gates should be properly sized to accommodate any future needs. Consider whether there will be future timber harvests, and the width needed to get equipment through the access point. It is preferable to have the gate installed slightly off the main road so you can easily pull in to open it without having to stop on the road shoulder. The gate also should be installed so that it will not sag and drag on the ground, or not align with their latches properly.

Gates often sag or become unaligned due to not burying the pivot post to which the gate is attached deep enough and in cement.  Gates should last a long time, so if you have an old gate, it can be enhanced greatly with a fresh coat of paint.

These are six key areas often discussed with owners and potential buyers of forestland. There are many other opportunities to add acreage appeal. My advice to owners is to consider these broadly appealing improvements first, and then invest in other, possibly more capital-intensive improvements that enable them to reach their goals for the property. The importance of working with a professional land manager and broker cannot be overstated. These professionals can help you evaluate investments in improvements and explain their long-term impact on your property and investment return should you choose to sell in the future.

Chris Miller, ALCChris Miller, ALC, is a land broker and consulting forester for American Forest Management, Inc. and AFM Land Sales, LLC. in Charlotte, North Carolina. This piece was originally published in the July/August 2016 Forest LandOwner Magazine.

 

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.

Timberland Investing

The Basics Of Timberland Investing

Working with Efficiency on the Road

How much time do you spend in your vehicle during the work week? What about the average amount of time you spend in your vehicle during a growing season? Don’t forget the commute to and from work. If you tally it up, you might be shocked or perhaps a little horrified at the answer. Then comes the next level of questioning: What do you do with yourself during that time? Are you prepared for what might be waiting for you on a dusty dirt road?

These latter questions were posed during a recent ALC-to-ALC teleconference that I co-hosted with Jeramy Stephens, ALC, from National Land Reality out of Stuttgart, Arkansas. These questions lead us many different places but for me personally, it comes down to efficiency. I have a thirty-five minute drive to and from work on top of wherever my job takes me during the business day. I have been intentional about developing habits that allow me to be productive during this time. This seventy minute minimum of car time has become a valuable part of my work day. Here are some tips that might help you achieve greater efficiency:

  1. Get started on the go. If you have support staff, then I recommend a Dictaphone or other recording technology. I try to dictate at least 2-3 emails/letters every morning on my way to work. These communications can range from crop reports to land inquiries – you name it. Just this very morning I dictated a letter highlighting crop inputs that need reimbursed at an upcoming closing, contacted a neighbor about a property for sale and sent a “feeler” to an owner in Missouri who has underutilized land near a management account of ours in Greene County, Illinois. Each of these things needed to be done. Why not do them while I am sitting in the car?
  2. Plan calls accordingly. We all obviously spend a lot of time on the phone in order to do our jobs well. Some calls need to be made while sitting at the desk so we can access folders, spreadsheets and computers, but there are also calls that can be made anytime, anywhere. I categorize my calls. If I don’t need to reference something at my desk, I save it for when I am in transit going home, to a closing or checking on crops across West Central Illinois.
  3. Be prepared and communicate with your co-workers. If I am going to be scouting farms in Morgan, Scott and Greene counties, then I make sure I have all three of those plat books with me, either in paper or electronically. You never know when you might get a call to check something out while already on the road. If I am going to a county seat, I always ask my co-workers if they need anything while I am there. If I spent all morning near Carlinville, Illinois (1 hour away) it would be discouraging to get back to the office and hear Dad say, “Not sure when you’re going to Carlinville, but the next time you’re there I need something from the courthouse.” Kill multiple birds with one stone and help each other limit needless travel.
  4. De-Compress. This might sound contradictory to previous points, but we all reach a point on certain days where we are fried. We are tired and desperate to chill out a bit. I use the “Pocket Cast” app to download my preferred podcasts. It allows me to quickly filter and download podcasts that interest me. I can go from economics to sports to my own personal nerdy interests with the click of a button (nerdy interests shall go unnamed). As much as I love podcasts and music, I also find it reinvigorating from time to time to simply turn everything off and sit in the silence. Silence is hard to come by at work and I certainly don’t get it at home with sons ages one and six!

Jeramy did a great job on the ALC teleconference call highlighting certain technology he uses to stay plugged in and there is a wealth of articles out there on smartphone apps that help in all sorts of ways. He also mentioned his truck being a traveling convenience store full of emergency and convenient items. He spoke on it better than I can write so I highly recommend you take some time and listen to the recording which can be heard here.

The long story short is that we as professionals in the land industry are on the road a lot. We can’t afford to mindlessly hit seek on the radio over and over. Tweak your tasks that need done to fit your travel schedule. You can get more done and become more efficient in the process. Be prepared. Take the time to think through your day before jumping in the car or truck. Do the preparation that has you ready to tackle the day and adapt on the fly. Do it safely and do it efficiently.

Luke Worrell, ALCContributor Luke Worrell, ALC, Worrell Land Services
Luke Worrell, ALC, is a Broker and Accredited Farm Manager in Jacksonville, IL.  He specializes in agricultural real estate and land management in west central Illinois.  Luke enjoys all things sports and traveling.  He resides in Springfield, IL with his wife Allison and two sons Kale and Benson.
ranch real estate

Tips & Thoughts On How To Sell A Ranch

If this title had you thinking, “Oh good, I’ll just read this, gather a few pointers and be on my way to selling that ranch!” — think again! This topic would be a great Napoleon Hill “brainstorming” session, wouldn’t it!

My fellow Accredited Land Consultants (ALCs) could all write this article, and certainly could elaborate on it based on their own knowledge and procedures. I hope this piece will help those new to selling larger land parcels, including ranches.

Ranches–first of all–what are they?

They come in all sizes and uses including hunting, hay, cattle, fishing and recreation, high fenced exotics, vineyards, and true working ranches.  This will not include a discussion on agricultural production, other than hay as that is an entire subject regarding farmland and not part of this article.

You have secured a wonderful ranch listing, discussed the aspects of the ranch with your sellers, and counseled with them regarding the listing and selling process, expectations and potential results.

Have your sellers tell you what they have loved about the ranch, and different parts of the property. How is the lighting different in the summer versus the winter? What have they changed, built, or modified since they purchased? What would they still change if they were to continue as owners? You need to really get the ‘feel’ of this property, and your sellers are your best resource–now you can share that through your marketing to potential buyers and agents.

Gather your data–no shortcuts!

Surveys; legal descriptions; tax information; how property is assessed (agricultural, timber, wildlife, etc.); mineral ownership; production; water rights; wind rights; BLM leases or other agricultural leases; conservation easement documents if applicable; well logs; zoning information; local utilities; inventory list of exclusions and inclusions (talk to your sellers about this, get this early in process–it will still probably change!); income/expense/proforma statements (as many years as possible); off record items.; distance to airports and FBOs; know the length of runways for private jets, all jets are not equal and require different distances.

Have there been any environmental assessments done on the ranch? Many buyers will want, at minimum, a Phase One–we all know most ranches have their own “landfill” somewhere! Also, inquire about government programs, CRP, Grassland Reserve, etc.

As you move forward, gather information on competitive properties and projects as well as sold and closed properties within a determined area where buyers would look for similar properties.  This could include several states! Collect regional and local information and articles–if in a resort area, sell that! If your ranch has development or conservation potential, put together development costs and estimates.

You will want to gather all building descriptions and specs, floor plans, building diagrams, blueprints, etc.

Study your subject–maps, maps, maps!

Know your boundaries. How much is wooded, how much in crop production, hay production, native grasses?  How many water features? What’s the size and depth of ponds and lakes? Check with your local NRCS office as they have great maps. With your mapping programs, create boundary, aerial, topo, FEMA and flood maps. Locate improvements and points of interest on your maps. Now, create your soils maps–NRCS has a great site for this as do most mapping software. This is important to buyers! Figure the carrying capacity of your pastures; knowing how many AUMs in certain climate conditions will be beneficial information for some buyers. Know the current pasture plans in place; when and how often it is fertilized; how about weed control, planting, sprigging, and so on. Can this be improved? How?

Regarding fences, know which are boundary and which are cross fences. If a ranch is high fenced, find out who built it and when it was built.

When it comes to hunting and fishing amenities, get photos–elk, deer, turkey, cat, ducks, geese, fish sell! If a ranch is primarily used for hunting and recreation, there is a host of other categories on which to gather information.  It is also important to know the areas in certain parts of the country, how many tags a land owner gets, licensing, season dates, etc.  If outside hunting is allowed and if a business is part of ranch, then, all financials are important. Same goes for dude ranches, vineyards and all income production which contributes to value of the ranch and is part of what you are selling.

Yes, assembling all of the critical information that makes you as knowledgeable as the seller about your ranch listing is paramount.  Now you can decide your marketing strategies.  Foremost is determining if your ranch listing is a local, regional or global property in its appeal. Most ranch brokers utilize the excellent esoteric publications of our business.  These magazines were our “bibles” and served as our main Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for years! Now, they can be strategically placed on coffee tables for high-end buyer prospects.

Publications and websites catering to hunting, fishing, and equestrian properties should be considered depending on scope of property. Print publications such as the WSJ, for high end properties, have regional market advertising options. Of course, if a property is more local in scope, then, use your best local marketing publications.

If you have a potential conservation property, consider highlighting that aspect and explain state tax credits and federal tax deductions associated with easements in your marketing materials.

Offer a resource of qualified agricultural lenders. Invite them to be part of your “Open Ranch” tour. It puts you miles ahead if you can offer a knowledgeable ag lender to a prospective buyer and agent. Inexperienced large land buyers may think their local lender or private wealth management lender will secure their financing. We have all been down that path!

Nailing the “Open Ranch”

Yes, have an Open Ranch and invite your network of farm and ranch brokers. These brokers have buyers! This was certainly a successful part of marketing and had great support among the members of the Colorado RLI Chapter while I was there. Texas is vast and properties can be combined with other local ranch listings to showcase your unique properties to your broker network.

Certainly we all know that the “basics” are important in selling a ranch and they are far more reaching when selling a home. A well-staged home and barn is important. The property must have all deferred maintenance completed, be the cleanest it’s ever been. Barns and out buildings must be clean and organized. Fences should be fixed with no sagging wire or broken boards; fence lines sprayed for weeds; etc. This list could go on and on!

Good photography, both still and aerial from a drone, is essential on large properties. Also, having the proper vehicle available to show your property is a must!  A low profile car just isn’t going to work!

These are just a few of the aspects to consider when preparing to market and sell a ranch.  Last, but as important as first, when you are counseling your sellers, ask them about their plans for “after”.  Many sellers are not aware of tax deferred 1031 exchanges and how this IRS code can possibly benefit them.  Have your trusted Qualified Intermediary in your resource list to provide to your sellers-this can possibly save them a lot of tax dollars.

Pull on your boots now and good luck!

Deitra Robertson, Accredited Land ConsultantAbout the author: Deitra Robertson, ALC, is President and Owner of Deitra Robertson Real Estate, Inc. She is a founding member broker of American Farm & Ranch and founding President of the Texas Land Broker’s Network. A member of the REALTORS® Land Institute since 1996, Deitra has served as President of both the Colorado and Texas RLI Chapters and on the ALC Designation Committee.

Optimize Your Find A Land Consultant Profile

If you are a member of the REALTORS® Land Institute, you have a member profile that is seen by possible clients every day. The RLI Find a Land Consultant Tool was recently updated to make finding land consultants easier and faster than ever before. This is great news for you as an RLI member because this is an additional opportunity to put your best foot forward for potential clients–but only if your profile is updated! So, here’s how to optimize your profile to bring in new clients.

The Complete Package

You already know that you are a potential client’s best option for buying/selling their land. Now, you need to make sure they do too! The first step to an effective profile page is making sure all profile information–including a professional head shot image–is filled out in its entirety. Not only does this give the readers more information to make their decision upon, but it also adds credibility. It shows you care about your image and that you are making an effort to put your best foot forward for them!

Think about when you are looking to make an important decision. What do you consider that influences your choice? For most people its goes something like: How easy is it to find the information? Is the information useful? Is the information credible? Is the information appealing? and so on…

Completing your profile also has the added benefit of making you easier to find. The more information available for clients to find you by, the more likely you’ll be found. It seems common sense but most agents don’t realize how important adding information like specialties, countries served, designations, etc. is to having an optimized profile. Also, never bypass the opportunity to add a profile image. Putting a face to a name makes you more credible, trustworthy, memorable and personable–all key aspects to gaining clients!

Regular Updates

Now that you have added all the information your potential clients need to find you and make an informed decision, make sure to keep it updated. There is nothing worse than searching for something and thinking you’ve found it only to realize it wasn’t accurate. In this industry, no one has time to waste so don’t frustrate potential clients from the start. Get a new cell number? Change companies? Have a more recent head shot image? Update your profile right away! One way to keep your profile updated is to set a calendar reminder for every six months to check and update information.

That’s it. Having a complete and current profile really is that easy and won’t take more than fifteen minutes to set up. The digital age is here, if information about you and your company can’t be found online, you’re missing out! RLI members can start optimizing their profiles at any time by logging in to the website and navigating to My Member Profile. Need assistance? Contact the Institute at 800-441-5263 or rli@realtors.org

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.