Real Estate and Storytelling

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Maria, a realtor attended one of my storytelling workshops at the suggestion of a mutual friend. “What does storytelling have to do with real estate?” she asked before the session started.

Tell me about a property you’re excited about,” I replied.

“I just got a listing for a 1937, two-bedroom, Dade County pine house in the Roads Neighborhood,” she said. “It’s 1800 square feet, Key West style, has a car-port, a remodeled kitchen with restored 1930s appliances, an original art deco fireplace, and a fenced yard. Everything has been redone, and it’s only three blocks from a great elementary school and two blocks from the Metro-Rail. And Brickell Avenue is just over a mile…”

I closed my eyes and interrupted Maria with a loud snore.

“What was wrong with that?” She put her hands on her hips. “You asked me to…”

“I know … and I’m being obnoxious to make a point, but indulge me and I’ll circle back to your question about storytelling.

She crossed her arms and took a breath. “Go for it.”

“The golden rule of storytelling is: Stories are always about people. If you’re not talking about people, you’re not telling a story … and if you’re not telling a story, you’re not connecting.” I smiled at Maria and continued. “And if you’re not connecting, you’re not moving real estate.”

Maria’s arms remained crossed. “Okay, but what am I supposed to say?”

“You just gave me a mountain of information about what admittedly sounds like a pretty cool piece of real estate, but it’s all data. Take all those features and turn them into benefits for a particular person. The very definition of a ‘benefit’ is that it offers value to someone. Stories are always about people. How will this house deliver the transformation your ideal buyer is looking for?”

“Transformation?” asked Maria.

“Stories move from conflict to transformation. Someone is shopping for their dream home, and that property is going to allow them to fulfill a certain vision for themselves and their family. Or do you think a single person is a good fit?”

“Oh no,” said Maria. “Two bedrooms close to a school … I envision a young couple … maybe with a young kid … or planning to have one soon.”

“Keep going,” I encouraged. “Who are they? Tell me their story.”

“They’re professional people who work in the high-rise office towers on Brickell Avenue … or maybe one of them works at home … but they don’t want to live in the middle of the city. They want a place to come home to at the end of the day that has a yard with a mango tree and a puppy. And maybe they have a taste for old Florida architecture—a little Key West, a little art deco.”

Maria grew animated as she brought her imaginary buyers to life.

“They have one car between them so they live close to the rail system.”

“Good, you’re getting this. What about the school?” I prompted.

“This is Miami so maybe they’re Latinos—Cubans or Venezuelans or Colombians like me. They want their kid to speak English but Spanish is also important. Coral Way K-8 is a bilingual school, so…”

“Yes!” I interrupted. “You just told me a story about a young family—how they want to live and work and commute and educate their child, what their tastes and lifestyle choices are.

“Now let me ask you your own question, Maria: How can you use this? How can you put storytelling to work in your real estate business? Think for a moment.”

Maria closed her eyes and took a breath. “I think what you’re suggesting … is that if I just list a bunch of specifications, I’m not thinking about whether a piece of property is good for buyer X or buyer Y; I’m just adding the property to the MLS database and waiting for someone to compare it to their list of preferences. But if I think about the buyer’s story—if I think about their authentic needs—I can write the listing in a way that appeals to that ideal homeowner. Maybe I could write in the description that ‘this home is perfect for a young family who…’”

“Yes, and as a realtor, you might choose to specialize in a certain type of property that dovetails with a certain kind of story, or, at very least, you’ll have conversations with your buyers that go deeper than, ‘How many bedrooms are you looking for?’ and ‘How many square feet?” Why not specialize in art deco or mid-century modern or old Spanish stucco homes? You could build a real estate empire around establishing yourself as the go-to expert in a particular category.”

Maria nodded.

“Lead by listening,” I continued. “Understand your buyers’ stories. Ask the right questions because your clients might not be clear about those stories, themselves. Put the pieces together and what happens?”

“The customer feels … listened to … and understood?”

“Exactly … and who will they want to work with?” I pointed at Maria. “Then you can show them homes that will deliver the transformation they’re really looking for. And you’ll spend a lot less time driving around showing them properties in their price range that don’t fit their needs.”

“I guess I got hung up in the business end of things—getting more listings and earning commissions and…”

“We all fall into that trap,” I reassured her. “But though it may look like you’re selling properties, you’re really in the business of selling happy endings. Customers—whether they’re buying or selling—come to you with incomplete stories. Some are starting new ones and some need to finish old ones so they can move on. Understand their stories. Reframe the data and position it to provide the transformations buyers are looking for. Talk about people. Sell the benefits, not the features, and you’ll find that the listings and commissions and other day-to-day business operations will more or less take care of themselves.”

“I like this,” said Maria. “It feels … meaningful.”

“There are sixty-thousand realtors running around Miami trying to move properties. When you stop selling stuff and start telling stories that connect with people, you’ll have a lot more fun and you’ll find a lot more success.”

“I guess that’s my transformation,” mused Maria.

“And that’s what storytelling has to do with real estate—everything.”

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