How important is the marketing of homes for sale in Silicon Valley?  First it’s important to understand what we mean by the term marketing: generally, it is the way we attract potential buyers to the homes for sale.  This is more than just the flyer or newspaper ads.  It includes:

  • pricing the home
  • photographing the property
  • describing the home on the MLS (and including good pictures)
  • the quality of the flyers
  • the print advertising
  • the online advertising & exposure
  • the networking with other agents
  • the direct outreach and appeal to consumers
  • the accessibility of the home
  • staging the home to sell (appeal, cleanliness, no odors, etc.)

Marketing can be good, bad, or somewhere in between. Bad marketing will likely cost sellers money and good marketing will likely make them money.

Today we’ll go over the most important elements of marketing because sellers should evaluate them when hiring a Realtor to assist them in the marketing and sale of their home.  While there are many areas of marketing, the most crucial, by far, are these three: pricing, photos, and the description on the MLS.

Pricing:  The biggest marketing mistake which is commonly seen is overpricing.  Sellers sometimes believe that their home is worth more than the buying public do and a home will remain unsold no matter what else is done right.  In fact, you could fly airplanes aroud the home and put full page color ads in every paper around the world but if the home is overpriced, it still won’t sell!  Pricing is the most important part of marketing.   With a too-high price, traffic will be diminished and offers will be low at best (lower than actual market value).

Of course, most homes are worth not just one exact dollar amount but somewhere within a range of prices, depending on terms, the speed of the sale etc.  If the pricing is well done and the rest of the marketing is also quite good, the home ought to sell on the high end of what is possible at that time.

Pricing mistakes are very costly and very easy to make.  Here are some of the ways which sellers can be misled about the probable market value of their home:

  • using old comps
  • relying upon online home valuations
  • basing their home’s sale price on what they “need”
  • hiring an agent based on his/her suggesting the highest list price (we call that “buying the listing” when an agent overstates value to secure the listing)
  • expecting 100% back from all improvements done to the home
  • believing buyers can “always make an offer” (if it’s overpriced, they usually won’t)
  • thinking there’s no harm in just reducing the price later (if the market is going down, you will be “chasing the market down”)

The one thing that neither the sellers nor their Realtors control is the real estate market, which is fickle and can change.  In recent years it’s been up and down, depending upon location, price point, school districts and more.  Using six month old comparable sales to establish current market value just isn’t appropriate.  Sometimes even the most recently closed sale is not enough, especially if the market is sliding.  Instead of just relying on the solds, also look at the pendings and the current competition.  The less competition your home has, the better odds you have of selling it – and for more.  But a surge of inventory will cause home values (including yours) to drop.   To understand the probable buyer’s value, all of these must be factored in together.  (The online valuation sites do not do that.)

I should add that it is harder to sell a property that has issues such as high voltage power lines, deferred maintenance, messy tenants who make showings difficult, busy road, junky neighbors, or some other undesirable element.  Many agents will suggest a lower price to compensate for whatever issue is hurting the marketability of the home.

While it’s true that there is no problem that a better price cannot fix, most sellers are trying to maximize their sales price.  For that reason, I’d always suggest asking your real estate agent if there’s anything that can be done to improve the market value aside from that lower price.  Sometimes fresh paint and carpet and a professional house cleaning can do wonders for the home’s saleability.  Or giving tenants a lower rent in exchange for their cooperation during the sale will create an easier time for buyers wanting to see and purchase your home.   A little effort may have a great payoff.  (Some agents focus almost exclusively on price and may not be worried about any other element of marketing.  This is a mistake, so be aware that you may run into an agent with this belief.)

Photographs:  Beyond pricing, the next biggest area where we commonly see bad marketing is in poor photography of the home.  Buyers care a tremendous amount about the photos of the home, both outside and inside, and will not bother to see properties where the pics are absent or skip main rooms (such as kitchens and bathrooms, which are expensive to remodel). The presumption is that if it’s not photographed, it’s because it’s horrible.

Good photography will show the home in its best realistic light.  It will not have over-saturation (somewhat surreal looking, which seems to be in style now).

A good main photo will show front of the home and include the front door and windows (without focusing on the garage).  Bad photography will not only zero in on the garage and driveway, but will likely include a car parked there (too much trouble to ask them to move it!) or maybe garbage bins, toys, hoses or other distractions laying about. This main photograph will show up everywhere from the MLS to the house flyer to a myriad of online websites; I cannot stress enough how important it is that it be nicely done!

The photo below is of a home in Saratoga that my parents owned for about 20 years, and which I sold for my dad after my mother’s passing.  This house is on a flag lot –  it’s behind another home and to get to it, you have to go down a long driveway.  At the end of the driveway, naturally, is a garage.  When photos are taken from there, what is prominent is a 3 car garage and a whole lot of concrete.  That’s the easiest place from which to take photographs, but not the best!


Photograph of home with front door as main focus


The interior and backyard shots also need to be good, of course.  Pictures should not be taken until the home is clean, staged and “show ready”.  For some home owners, it’s not difficult to get their home in shape for the public to view it online and in person. For others, it’s an immense effort.  If you fall into the latter category, get help!  It is cheaper to hire a stager to assist with decluttering and staging then it is to lose the buyer.

Remember, any main area of the condo, townhouse or house which is not photographed will be presumed to be bad by the buying public.  Make sure that the bathrooms and kitchen, especially, gleam and are well photographed!

The MLS:  The multiple listing service (MLS) is the # 1 way we reach buyers in the San Jose – Los Gatos – Saratoga – Silicon Valley area.  The description and photos there are key to getting qualified traffic into the home.  In addition to good still pics, it’s helpful to have a high-quality virtual tour.  Today many of the virtual tours are really just slideshows of still photos.  The better ones, though, include pan shots or actual videos.  (When I do virtual tours they include many photos which I stitch together to create pans of rooms and yards. In the last year or two I’ve been doing 40 – 60 photos per tour.)

The description on the MLS is also key. There are a limited number of characters for comments.  Using precise, descriptive words can be very powerful, while using vague descriptives can be very unconvincing.  Here are some examples:

Nice floors
Gorgeous kitchen
Newer appliances
Well maintained
Updated kitchen
Newer roof
Newer windows
air conditioning
(also weak: no permits or finals or “permits unknown”)

Hardwood floors, just refinished
Slab Granite countertops, stainless steel appliances
Wolf range, Bosch dishwasher, (brand names)
Kitchen remodeled 3 years ago
Presidential roof, 1 year old
Trane heater & A/C, 3 years old
(Brand name – Andersen, Pella etc) windows installed 2 years ago
If work done with permits and finals, say so!
If work done by well known builder or kitchen remodeler, say so!

Obviously, only offer the age of the components of the home if they’re newer!

Flyers and Print ads
: Usually if there’s a problem with the flyers or ads, there’s a bigger, underlying problem with the photos or MLS and the bad flyers and ads are something of a trickle-down problem.  But let’s touch on the print media too since it’s a hot button for many, including me (I cringe when I see awful flyers).

Recently I saw a one-sided house flyer of a million dollar home that has one terrible “main” photo which showcases the garage door & driveway and the street in front of it (with the manhole cover being prominent) and a bunch of very tiny thumbnail pics on the side which are too small to even figure out.  Takeaway: the garage is the big deal here. Forget the house. Oh and to top it off, there’s a car in the driveway! (Sorry folks, it’s not included in the sale.)

The description on this marketing piece was awful too.  The main title was a non-descriptive line: “Gorgeous Home”. That could mean almost anything, it’s so vague!  And the address line included the state – very silly since we are hundreds of miles from anything out of California.

To top it off, the price was missing on this info sheet, and so was the MLS number.  Why?  Usually agents do that so they can get the “up calls” and try to convert leads to buyers.  (So too was the agent’s license number missing, which is now required by the California Department of Real Estate.)

It’s frustrating to see really terrible marketing, because I know that the seller is going to be hurt by it, but once a home is listed, other agents cannot interfere.  I wish that managing brokers paid more attention to the marketing that their agents did – it would help both the consumers and the real estate businesses to do a better job.

So what should you expect in a home flyer if your home is listed for sale by a Realtor?  Ask before you hire so you are not surprised!  Some agents (small minority) will do no flyer or just print out info directly from the MLS.  Some will do a lousy one sided piece.   Most agents will do a nice 2 sided, color flyer with photos on both sides for most homes, including condos.  For very high end or luxury homes, there may be a large handout with four sides and many photos and text.   (Some agents will produce a 4 sided flyer but reserve the last page to advertise themselves rather than their listing.)

But do flyers really matter at all?

I believe that they do matter.  Buyers, their family and friends use flyers on the for sale sign’s post box to screen homes to see.  Great flyer? Go see the home!   Lousy flyer? Forget it.  (Buyers also use the flyer as a memory jog after seeing homes so they can keep them all straight.)  It’s not a huge percentage of impact, perhaps somewhere between 3% and 10%, but would you want to eliminate any significant chances of your home selling for top dollar?

Print advertisements, on the other hand, are not effective for selling homes anymore.  They are effective for marketing the listing agent, though!  Buyers and their agents are not looking at the local newspaper or homes magazine but instead are browsing homes online.

The magazines are beautiful but have a deadline several weeks prior to production, so by the time they are on the shelves at the local grocery store, the homes advertised may be long gone.  Newspapers are more current but still not 100% up to date for the same reason.

But visit (the public and the data you pull is current to within 15 minutes.  Can’t beat that.

So forget the print ads.  They make the sellers feel good to see their home in print but they are not effective at marketing the property, just the listing agent.

To get the most bang for your buck with real estate marketing, focus first on correct pricing, fabulous photographs and ideal MLS description & comments.  These are the foundation for excellent realty marketing of homes for sale in Santa Clara County and throughout the state.  Also pay attention to staging (in conjunction with photos) and the home flyers.  Keeping the home accessible and pleasant not just on the day the photographs are shot but throughout the listing period is important too, of course.

It’s a great bonus if your agent is a good networker, since often homes “sell twice”, first to the real estate community and second to the buyers themselves.  In some cases, this is extremely important, but most of the time the networking element is icing on the cake.  As long as the fundamentals are right, this last bit of marketing may not matter too tremendously in the majority of cases, but if your agent does it, consider that a plus.





  • Mary Pope-Handy

    Silicon Valley Realtor, selling homes in Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose, Silicon Valley, and nearby since 1993. Prolific blogger with a network of sites.

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