Buying and selling a home is an emotional experience.
It’s not about information. It’s not about data. If you’ve ever bought or sold a home, this shouldn’t be a surprise to you. Searching on the Internet for a house may be about information, at first, but the act of actually BUYING the home is not. It never has been. It never will be.
The book, Sex And Real Estate, by Marjorie Garber, beautifully illustrates the psychology behind why this is true.
If you made the time to read my first two posts about this book, The House As Beloved and House As The Perfect Mother, you already have a basis for understanding the major cultural reasons why buying a house is such an emotion filled process. “Buying or selling a home is very much a business transaction, but it’s still a very personal decision and experience,” Heather Elias wrote in The House That Built *ME*.
The fact that we “fall in love” with houses can’t be ignored at any level. And while the first two chapters of Sex And Real Estate clearly speak directly to the real estate industry, the remaining chapters are dedicated to illustrating the depth of our cultural and literary fascination with homes. Garber shifted her focus to the concepts and archetypes of home in literature and culture throughout history. And while these final chapters do contain nuggets that any real estate agent or home stager could benefit from greatly, they are buried deeper. The final chapters are the material of college literature courses, well written, but not what I’d call business reading. The House As Body, The Dream House, The Trophy House, The House As History and The Summer House, were all literary and historical treasure troves, but they served simply to amplify what The House As Beloved and The House As Mother so clearly and easily illustrated. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, I’m just not certain everyone will enjoy them as much as I am quite certain everyone will love the intro and first two chapters.
Buying a home is NOT about information.
So those selling the home need to understand this at the action level. I don’t see enough of this understanding being committed to action. The vast majority of real estate marketing I see completely ignores this. I cringe every time I see the words “front of house” as the description on the photo of the front of a house. It boggles the mind. “Living Room” under or over a photo of the living room does nothing to highlight the emotional appeal of the room, or the home. And it’s simply wrong.
But it goes further than that. The vast majority of the listing copy I have read adds little more than a regurgitation of MLS data that someone could find on Realtor.com, or Trulia, or Zillow. It does NOTHING to distinguish the unique and compelling aspects of the house that will make someone want to come see it more than they want to see a house with the exact same specs listed by someone else, or even the exact same house distributed to someone else’s website via IDX. It doesn’t serve the seller and it certainly does nothing to distinguish the agent from other agents.
Information language is powerless. It whispers, “me too,” when, with just a bit more effort, it could be screaming, “ME ONLY! I’M THE ONE. I’M THE HOME YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR.” And by default, “I’M THE REAL ESTATE AGENT YOU NEED. I’M THE REAL ESTATE AGENT YOU WANT.”
Sex And Real Estate And The Future Of The Industry
It’s amazing how these emotional triggers dovetail into current discussions around the future of real estate brokerage, listing syndication and the importance of corporate brand, especially as it relates to the role consumer experience plays in these discussions. These are not waters I usually wade in, so I’m not sure I would have made this connection myself. Rob Hahn did however. He recognized this in one of his recent posts on the topic, Re-thinking Brokerages.
“The various attempts to control the “consumer experience” ultimately fall short, not because the brokerage did a poor job, or because it didn’t have an effective brand, or what-have-you,” Rob writes, “but because the consumer experience is as unique as the individual falling in love, individuals hit it off with different individuals for different reasons, and individual agents work at different paces, using different techniques, and they are the ones that hold the customer relationship.” I’m not sure I agree with all of the arguments Rob is making in his post, but that argument is hard to disagree with. The psychology supports it.
For me, this Garber quote from the epilogue ties it all neatly together:
“Perhaps increasingly, for busy people, space has come to substitute for time, and the house becomes the unlived life. In an era when the “welcome mat” and the “answering machine” all-too-often stand in for personal greeting and human voice, the house – with its “living” room, “dining” room, “family” room and “media” room – is the place where we all too often stage the life we wish we had time to live.”
It’s powerful stuff, these emotions we have around our home. Ignoring that is certainly not a good idea. So I highly recommend you get a copy of Sex And Real Estate for yourself. It will help you fully and completely understand that the home buying and selling process for the average consumer is about an ideal, about a hope, about a dream. Understanding this at your core may help you better evaluate where to put your time, energy and resources as you look toward the future and consider what strategies and technologies will truly make a difference for you. At least I hope it will.
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Photo credit: Some rights reserved by TheMuuj
It’s so true, J! Even for a renter, the right ‘home’ (albeit temporary) has to feel good. Wherever you live, it’s like wearing the same item of clothing every day for the long-term. You’d better feel really good about it. Home is where the heart is but your heart has to be in your home.
Jeff Turner says
So nice to see you here 🙂 I love your comment, “but your heart has to be in your home.” It’s always about the feeling. Always.
Rob Hahn says
Great essay, once again, Jeff. And you’re making me go down different avenues now…
Primarily with culture shift in 21st century America… I’ll see if I can pull those thought together sometime… but the main thing I wonder about is whether the concept of “home” and the concept of “family” are linked somehow, and whether the Millennials (who have very low family formation numbers) have the same concept of “home” as we and the prior generations do.
Jeff Turner says
I think those are excellent questions to be asking, Rob. My children’s home and family experiences are not going to be typical of their generation, I’m assuming. So I have a difficult time breaking free from the home/family connection. I think there is a connection. But, just as the concept of “house as mother” is based on an ideal, not on real experience, my bet is that the cultural ideal may still have a significant impact on Millennials.
Laura S. Baker says
Well, you have convinced me! Powerful insight here!
Michelle Poccia says
Jeff, thanks for sharing this book and your thoughts. I am going to get a copy as soon as I put the last period on this post.
I have been rethinking the entire sales process this past year.
One of the elements that you touched on is the way people “feel” about their spaces.
My “take away” this minute is that I will now always remember to be more “descriptive” in labeling photos. You are right about calling pics “front of home” , “living room” , etc. My mind is tumbling all kinds of things that would be much more accurate in describing some rooms…will remember to make the “labeling” more accurate and meaningful.
Hope all is well with you and your delightful family!
all the best to you and yours! Michelle
Jeff Turner says
Michelle, thank you. I think you’ll enjoy the book and it will have an impact on how you sell.
From a descriptive standpoint, it might help to imagine how the room will be used. If the key feature of the family room is an amazing fireplace, saying “with an amazing fireplace” is redundant. If the photo is quality, they can see that. Force the viewer to “be” in the space while looking at the photo. “Imagine cold nights snuggled up to a warm fire,” might be a more compelling description of the room. It invites the viewer in. Just as an example.
Ira Serkes says
We always hire a professional photographer who takes superb photos for our sellers.
I often take photos to complement his portfolio. I want photos to which “tell the story” far more than bedrooms, baths and square footage.
I’ll bet you can instantly tell which photos on the following web sites are mine (though, the twilight photo of 715 Hillside is definitely not, but I wish it were)
Bedrooms and Baths is soooo printed MLS book
Ira Serkes says
Benefits, not features?
Estate Agents Dublin says
The home is the best place for everything. We personally attached with it. There are so many memories in it.