The ‘For Sale’ board is one of the oldest property marketing tools, but with the increase in online estate agents and growing opportunities to market property online, does the humble estate agent board still have a place when it comes to selling or letting a property?
From investing in social networks and email marketing to improving their SEO and listing with the various property portals, many agents continue to increase their marketing spend on internet advertising and on enhancing their website’s organic search rankings with the leading search engines, and for good reason.
With nine out of 10 property searches now beginning online, it is indeed crucial that an agent has an effective online presence that goes beyond just having their own website. But given that estate agents boards remain part of the furniture on most UK roads it is clear that that many agents continue to recognise the need to adopt a diverse marketing strategy, spanning online and offline, that includes investing in signboards; long considered to be one of the most important selling tools, even in this modern day of online marketing.
Signboards have been supplying For Sale and to Let boards for over 30 years, so Andy March knows a thing or two about their effectiveness. He says, “95 per cent of agents (both sales and letting) believe that boards are an important part of the marketing package that they can offer vendors, and this includes web based agencies as well.
“The board doesn’t just identify the specific properties that are available, it is also a 24/7 corporate advert for their services. This applies across all sectors of the property spectrum, right up to £1M+ valuations.”
And agents agree, “For sale and to let boards still play an important role in the process of selling or letting a property, despite online searches becoming the most popular way to look for property,” said Jonathan Handford, Director of Fine & Country Leamington Spa.
Signboards can help to raise brand awareness locally, which is ultimately the areas that matter, and may explain why some neighbourhoods are awash with boards, as agents of all sizes try to establish or reinforce their local presence by forming and maintaining a high street presence that goes beyond simply having a shop front as they aim to increase market share.
Handford continued, “People in the local area, who aren’t necessarily looking to move, and are therefore not looking online, may spot a ‘For Sale’ or ‘To Let’ sign and recommend the property to friends, family or colleagues; these people would not have been aware of the property if it was only marketed on the internet.”
Richard Wells, Director of Hunters in Catford, also agrees that boards remain an effective way of generating potential new business. “Although the internet is great, people still drive around the area they like to see the properties first and then call the agents. We have cases where someone has viewed a property in a road and as they are leaving they see our board and call us instead.”
Signboards can also help an agent aiming to undergo a rebrand, with a change in board design providing a good way to deliver new branding and quickly increase awareness.
Belvoir, for instance, recently unveiled a new design of boards, which are currently being rolled out nationwide, as part of the firm’s wider rebrand, and which have received “excellent” feedback from their clients, according to Belvoir’s Dorian Gonsalves.
He commented, “The design is contemporary and eye-catching. It was chosen by vote at Belvoir’s National Network Group meeting, and is very much in line with our refreshed branding and will complement Belvoir’s new ‘Be’ branding marketing materials, introduced at the end of 2014.
Whether adopting the classically popular ‘T’ board or experimenting with an alternative design, such as shaped and mirror to the US-style ‘hangman’ or ‘reflective’ boards which offer maximum exposure at night when light hits, it can be difficult to measure precise lead generation and ROI on signboards, but there is no question that it remains a critical piece of an agent’s marketing mix.
Boards are crucial for increasing awareness of properties on the market. A large proportion of our calls start with “I’ve seen a board… Laura Cooper, Hunters in Harrogate
“A large proportion of our calls at Hunters start with “I’ve seen a board on… and I want more details on x property,” said Laura Cooper at Hunters in Harrogate. “These would have been missed opportunities without boards.”
Cooper added, “Boards are crucial for increasing awareness of properties on the market on both the buying and lettings side. I believe they are a necessity for attracting passing traffic.”
While agents may not necessarily get as many leads from boards as they did a decade or so ago, they do remain a “useful and cost-effective” way of gaining interest locally and from passing traffic particularly due to the “publicity spread through word of mouth”, according to Robert La Terriere of Smiths Gore in Edinburgh.
He commented, “They (boards) are most useful where the property can be seen from the same road or, if not, when the board states what is being sold. Not everyone who will buy a property is actively looking for one in a given area – there are numerous examples of clients who have bought something when they either weren’t really looking, or which was slightly different from what they were looking for due to passing a ‘For Sale’ board.”
High quality enquiries
There are not many better ways to announce to the local market and prospective buyers or renters that a property is available to buy or rent than through the use of estate agents boards; a highly visible marker that the property is for sale or to let.
Boards also make it easier for an applicant to find a property when they may not know exactly where it is located, helping to start the viewing on a positive note. Yet, despite their broad appeal and wide variety of uses, many sellers and landlords refuse to allow agents to erect a board up outside their property.
“We get occasional comment from potential buyers questioning whether the owner is serious if they haven’t got a board up,” said Adam Day, Managing Director, Hatched. “According to our records, five per cent of enquiries in to our office have come from a board outside the property. This might not sound a lot, but it is significant enough to definitely have one up.”
Patrick Coyne, Director at Holdens estate agents, also struggles to understand why some sellers and landlords reject boards, describing it as “like going into a fight with one arm tied behind their back”, especially as 30 per cent of his firm’s property enquiries come from their boards. “Boards work. Not only do they bring in more enquiries, but the quality of enquiries is usually higher as the caller normally knows the type of property the board is advertising.” But Coyne also says that often his clients opt against having a signboard because they do not want the neighbours to know they are selling.
Many sellers don’t want a board because their neighbours will know they are selling. Well, I say that is balderdash. Trevor Abrahmsohn, Glentree Estates.
Trevor Abrahmsohn, Director of Glentree Estates, agrees – there is a “quaint English custom” where people crave their privacy. “They feel that the neighbours will know that they are selling or renting and, to them, it’s akin to ‘washing your dirty linen in public’.
“Balderdash I say. Even without a board anyone standing outside your property with particulars in hand and with a sharp suited agent next to them has to announce to the curtain twitchers that you are selling your house. So the cat is out of the bag and yet you don’t have the benefit of a wider market that a board affords you.”
After 40 years in the business Abrahmsohn says that he has grown weary of trying to persuade some sellers or landlords to “wake up and smell the coffee” in respect of the power of boards.
“Anyone who says a For Sale board is a Neanderthal device, that has not endured the test of time, clearly doesn’t get it!”
With costs starting from mere £20 per board, Abrahmsohn describes the humble For Sale board as the “cheapest and most effective” marketing tool that an agent has in their arsenal, not to mention “breathtakingly good value for money.”
“A board’s incredible marketing potency is often little understood by the consumer and, sometimes even the estate agents themselves,” he added.
Show of strength
There is no doubt that a strong board presence is generally an indication of an estate agent’s strength and reputation as an established agent in the local area, which may demonstrate significant market share, which in turn should help to generate more buyers and renters, not to mention vendors and landlords.
By dominating the streets with boards, some of which now feature QR Codes driving prospective clients back to an agent’s website or direct to the property’s particulars online, there is no doubting the high level of exposure a ‘For Sale’ or ‘To Let’ sign offers, not just to locals but also to people passing through the area. However, don’t overdo it, says Andy March at Signboards, “Standing out from the crowd can be a challenge in such a competitive market, but avoid novelties (unless it is for a short term promotion). As I mentioned earlier, the estate agency industry has not always had the best public image, and if you don’t take yourselves – and your marketing image seriously, then neither will anyone else!”
Main signboard suppliers
Reputable board suppliers include:
Agency Express, which erects and maintains signboards for over 6,000 estate agents nationwide, provide a selection of solutions for hassle-free, cost-effective, daily estate agency board management.
Kremer Signs has developed a reputation for supplying high quality and durable estate agent signs to a wide variety of clients throughout the property marketplace. They offer a full design and production facility that can accommodate almost any request for colour and shape.
Specialising in the design and production high quality boards, the company supply boards for a range of agents, including some of the biggest in the country.