Speaking engagement uncovers the history of Tarpoff & Talbert

#431 in a series of true experiences in real estate
June 2003, Hills Newspapers

The big Prudential California real estate office in Berkeley has asked Anet and me to speak at a luncheon this week. They want us to talk about agent partnerships and about unique real estate marketing. We are flattered. I am nervous.

Since childhood, Anet has been speaking to groups of people. She’s comfortable doing it. But while I can talk to one or 2 people quite easily, a larger audience is scary for me. Also, I worry. Do we have anything good to say? Anything the agents want to hear? Better, something they can use?

No doubt we were asked to talk about partnerships because we have one that works. But finding the right partner is rare, and is perhaps more a matter of good luck than anything else. I don’t see how we can tell anyone how to do it.

I think we have more to offer on marketing. When Anet and I joined forces 12 years ago, she was new to the business while I’d been in real estate for 25 years. We knew we were a good combo — Anet likes to say that the two of us make one great agent.

But we were the whole company, and a new one. No one had ever heard of Tarpoff and Talbert. We needed clients, needed to figure out how to get them. Our competitors are mostly large companies. In fact, at about the same time that we opened our doors, large brokerage mergers had the majority of agents working for just 3 parent companies.

How could we compete? We couldn’t afford full page newspaper ads or bus bench signs like the big companies use. Not knowing where else to begin, we used what we had. We put together a list of all the people we knew, went through our address books for the names and addresses of friends, relatives and neighbors, my past clients, and anyone else we could think of who would recognize at least one of us by name.

Then we wrote a letter that we mailed to each of them. We did this every month for more than a year. The letters were true stories having something to do with real estate. Our aim was to educate and entertain while making the people on our list aware that we were available as agents.

We xeroxed the letters because that’s what we could afford, and we hand addressed the envelopes and put real stamps on them because we thought that would cause more people to open the letters and read them.

One of our friends on the mailing list was Liz Stevens, the manager of what is now the Berkeley Prudential California office. She was not, of course, going to be sending us clients, but she’d been a good friend and supporter, and we wanted her to know what we were up to. It was Liz who suggested that we submit our letters to the Montclarion for publication.

We thought about it and decided that readers wouldn’t remember us unless they saw us in print every week – a big commitment for us. I am the writer. Could I come up with something new every week? We waited until I had 5 or 6 columns in hand, then went to the newspaper and said that we’d provide the columns if they’d promise to print one every week. That was 10 years ago.

Some of our clients do come from the column, not enough to make our living, but we get other bonuses. Because of the column, we’ve made many good friends, among them a number of local agents who talk to us about things we’ve written. We’ve also met people who immediately trusted us because, they said, they already know us; they read the column.

Anniversary cards are another type of marketing. Anet sends them out. She has kept track of every sale we have made and she never misses sending a handwritten card to everyone who has bought a house from us. On these cards, Anet tapes a dollar for every year that has passed since their purchase. If it’s been 8 years, the client gets 8 brand new dollar bills. They look terrific all lined up on a card, and people love getting them.

The best part of our job is working on listings. We enjoy all aspects of getting a seller and his house ready, including inspections and disclosures. Because every house is different from all others, we spend quite a chunk of time on each listing learning everything possible about it so that we can advertise it truthfully and well.

We make a custom flyer for each house, then mail it to approximately 200 agents before the house is first shown. It is, we think, necessary to target the right audience. We primarily market to agents because they are the ones who have buyers ready and able to buy.

At our agent open houses, we always serve food and, depending on the theme, we’ve given as favors castle keys, cowboy hats, toast and jam, tiny jars of honey, and packaged glasses wipes. For a fixer listing we had once, we gave away bottled water we had re-labeled Restorative Waters. We had a lot of fun with that one. Agents asked if they should drink the water or would it work even better if poured all over their bodies?

We do these things for fun and because they give agents something to remember us and our listings by. But they are only a small part of what we think good marketing is.

Maybe I can let Anet do the talking at the luncheon. She’ll say that original songs and bottled water may be effective, but only as an adjunct. The basics of unique marketing are complete preparation and unfailing follow-through.

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