What is the single most effective marketing tool you can employ today to make millions tomorrow? Sorry folks, you will not find the answer here. But I can share with you a marketing strategy employed by one of your colleagues that you will definitely not want to follow. (This is actually the amalgam of several similar cases. The names have been changed and the facts altered sufficiently to protect the innocent . . . and guilty.)
After the sale and settlement of a home, the listing agent prepared a mailer welcoming the buyers to the neighborhood. If the piece were truly designed as the magnanimous gesture of a large-hearted agent, well, let us just say it was a little thin. The listing agent met the buyers for the first time at settlement! Hardly the relationship that engenders this kind of effort.
Anyway, what the listing agent did in this mailer was to “ask” the hundreds of families in this larger community to welcome this buyer family. The agent went on to provide information about the buyers, including the address of the home, that there were three daughters who attended specifically named schools. Anyone reading the piece could figure the relative ages of the daughters by virtue of what school they attended.
Because this was a mass mailing, the buyers found the flier in their own mailbox. Instead of being “touched” by the “generosity” of this relative stranger, they were outraged! Hundreds of residents now knew that this family with three young daughters lived at a specific street address. The buyers felt threatened and that their privacy had been invaded.
As for the privacy invasion, most, if not all of the information on the flier, was out there in the public domain in some fashion. But clearly, even if there was no unlawful invasion of privacy, what was the listing salesperson thinking? Did she even consider how the buyers might react?
As far as I am aware, no civil suit was ever filed against the listing agent for invasion of privacy. The buyers did, however, take the few and easy steps to file a complaint with Pennsylvania’s Department of State which oversees the prosecution of real estate licensee. This set in motion an investigation that resulted in not only in a formal complaint being issued against the salesperson for this marketing blunder, but also for advertising violations found in her internet advertisements. While the homebuyers had not even complained about the internet ads, they were easily found in the investigation process. Understand that when a complaint is filed, the Commonwealth not only investigates the specific facts of the complaint, but also looks under rocks and other places for other potential violations. The investigator may ask to see one or multiple files that span a period of years. Do you have a signed Consumer Notice in every file? Do you have every paper and email that was exchanged during the course of the transaction? I would be hard pressed to review a transaction file and not find at least one violation.
Unfortunately, I am unable to report whether the flier produced a single lead. Maybe it was worth it! Perhaps neighbors thought the piece was so nice that they wrote the salesperson’s name on their rolodex (or the modern equivalent) for a future time when they may sell their own home. I have a feeling, however, that the mailer was not all that magic and that this event was simply an unhappy one!
Copyright © James L. Goldsmith, Esquire, CALDWELL & KEARNS, P.C., 2011
All Rights Reserved
Jim Goldsmith is an attorney with Caldwell & Kearns and serves as general counsel to PAR. A substantial portion of his practice is dedicated to providing advice and counsel to real estate licensees. He and his firm represent and defend real estate salespersons and brokers in civil lawsuits and licensing claims across the Commonwealth. Jim also defends REALTORS® in disciplinary hearings conducted by the Real Estate Commission. He routinely counsels employers on employee relations issues and is one of the voices of the PAR Legal Hotline. He may be reached at www.realcompliance.com.