Real Estate agents have a neat little secret for making their products more appealing: Bake up a fresh batch of cookies during the open house and serve them to visiting guests. It’s not so much the free cookies that makes the house attractive, but rather the sweet aroma of butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon melting together and wafting through the house that evokes all sorts of warm childhood associations in the minds of just about any would-be home buyer.
My partner and I were house shopping a while back and found ourselves visiting what looked like a very cool fifties modern on a hillside in one of L.A.’s more ethnically diverse suburbs. But as we opened the door we were accosted by an acrid stench that overwhelmed the house and made it nearly impossible to enter.
Our curiosity got the better of us, though, and when we stepped inside we found a family sitting in the living room as if it were a regular Sunday afternoon and Grandpa standing at the stove boiling up an enormous pot of Brussels sprouts.
Now, Brussels spouts can be a tough sell to begin with, and even enthusiasts will tell you they taste a lot better than they smell when they’re cooking.
After a quick tour I found the real estate agent hiding in the back yard, gave her a sympathetic look and whispered, “What’s up with the family?”
She said, “I encouraged them to leave but it’s just not in their culture to leave their home open to strangers.”
“And the Brussels sprouts?” I asked.
“I said if you’re going to stay, at least cook something that’ll make the house smell like a delicious Sunday dinner.”
* * *
This family may have been unusual, but real estate agents will tell you that one of their hardest jobs is getting sellers to divorce themselves emotionally from their house and start seeing it through the eyes of potential buyers. That means taking down all the family photos, removing all the quirky personal design touches, clearing out the accumulated family clutter and featuring the house in such a way that buyers can easily envision themselves living there.
I think that’s perfect advice for arts marketers who’ve been living comfortably in the same place for a long time: Get rid of all the old insider photos that don’t mean anything to outsiders – the tuxedoed musicians, tutued ballerinas, swooning lovers and mugging Shakespearean clowns. Dispense with all the creative design ideas that say more about you than about what you’re trying to sell, cut the executive head shots, the society pics from the gala and the kids in the Ed. Program and feature the product in a way that puts the spotlight on new buyers and helps them imagine how much they’ll enjoy being there for your next event.
* * *
What’s ironic and perhaps instructive about the Brussels sprouts story is that the house was wonderful, but the marketing choices the sellers made, because they failed to consider an outsider’s perspective, really stank.
Next up: “Celebrate!”