In the following interview, Judy Craft, principal broker of Milestone Realty Consultants in Lexington, Ky., discusses the challenges and opportunities in the market, and how the right marketing strategies help maximize both.
Maria Patterson: How did you first get into the business, and what led you to where you are today?
Judy Craft: I’ve been in the real estate business for 31 years. A friend of mine was a real estate broker and I thought it sounded like an interesting career. I took the classes, passed the test and worked for a real estate appraiser for a while. I also worked for a developer and home builder, so I had quite a bit of experience in a lot of different areas of real estate before I came to Milestone.
Milestone Realty was opened in 2003 by the Ball family—Ray, Lisa and Mike. Their parents (Don and Mira Ball) opened Ball Homes in 1959, a family-owned and -operated home-building company. They had thought for some time that they wanted to open their own real estate company to sell their own developments, and others, as well. In 2003, they had the opportunity to do that and started Milestone Realty Consultants, a full-service real estate company. We do market Ball Homes, but the majority of our business is non-Ball properties—resale homes and other builders’ homes.
Today, I co-manage the firm with Managing Brokers Becky Locknane and Mike Wheatley.
MP: What region does the firm serve?
JC: We have two offices; the main office is in Lexington, Ky., and we also have an office in Georgetown, Ky. Toyota Manufacturing is located in Georgetown, and it has a thriving community. It’s slated to be our largest growing area over the next year. We have 95 agents who serve all of central Kentucky.
MP: How would you describe current market conditions in your area?
JC: We actually have a tale of two markets. In the price range of $250,000 and below, it’s a seller’s market. It’s a very difficult first-time homebuyer market—it has dried up here. Anything that fits their price range is unavailable. There’s more demand than there is supply. When you get to $250,000-plus, there’s more imbalance and it’s more of a buyer’s market. One thing I really like about this company is that we sell everything in all price ranges.
MP: What are some of the biggest challenges your firm and your agents are facing?
JC: First and foremost, the competition from Zillow is real. The second issue is inventory. We have people who are ready and willing to purchase, but no inventory that meets their criteria. That’s exacerbated by a lack of new construction. We’ve had urban service area boundaries for 40 years to prevent sprawl into horse farm country, which we’re for. The fear is that if we expand too rapidly and too haphazardly, we threaten the very thing that makes us so special and unique. But we’ve run out of land and have very few acres left in our urban service area for expansion. We haven’t had expansion since 2006. They evaluate every few years, so hopefully, they will add some additional acreage that would be conducive to construction.
MP: Given these various challenges, what business strategies are yielding the best results for your firm and agents?
JC: We encourage our agents to follow the Ninja principle. First, you have to go to work, show up and treat it like a real job: make a certain number of calls a day, write personal notes, and stay in constant contact with your sphere of influence. There are plenty of opportunities regardless of market conditions. If we engage in consistently following good practices, we’ll be successful. Too many people are looking for a magic pill.
MP: What are you doing creatively in terms of marketing?
JC: We’re constantly analyzing all of our marketing efforts. One thing we know is that we can’t do things the way we’ve always done them.
The under-55 market, rarely, if ever, reads the local newspaper, so money we previously spent there doesn’t have the same return on investment. Instead, we’re focusing on some print publications that have a longer shelf life. “Tops in Lexington,” for example, goes to all the local parties and events, and takes photos. It’s a very beautiful, glossy coffee table magazine that businesses leave for people to flip through. Our advertising there is more about branding; we run lifestyle-type ads that highlight the fact that our agents live local—we live here, we love it here, and we know the area.
MP: How and why has social media become a part of this mix?
JC: We’re looking to utilize social media more heavily. We started about five years ago. To us, social media has been a boon to business. It’s where the consumer lives. They look to social media as a source for news, current events and—even more important—recommendations. We utilize social media not only to advertise listings and sales, but to share our agents’ testimonials. We can put that in front of potential consumers for little or no cost in a professional and innovative manner.
Let’s face it—if you’re looking for a plumber, you’re not going to the Better Business Bureau; you’re asking people on social media, “Hey, do you know a good plumber?” We feel that’s how people are looking for good real estate agents, too. Social media is an awesome opportunity and a way to get the word out.
MP: What’s the biggest challenge in figuring out the best way to do social media?
JC: Our biggest challenge is that every expert has a different opinion. We know we have to mix personal and business posts, but it’s a very fine line, and it’s hard to know if you’re doing too much or too little of either. We want to know how to take our social media marketing to the next level, so we’re actively researching and talking to other brokerages like ourselves.
The biggest challenge is knowing the best way to do it, and figuring out how to get the most exposure, as it’s a little bit of an enigma still. We have a great mix of agents in our company, ranging from 23 years of age all the way up to 70. We have someone in charge of social media in her 20s.
MP: How is RISMedia’s ACE (Automated Content Engagement) helping you with your social media strategy?
JC: We feel ACE provides us with fresh, relevant content on a daily basis. It’s kind of a no-brainer for us. It makes our company and our agents look good.
MP: What are your predictions for your business and for real estate as a whole in the year ahead?
JC: We’re extremely optimistic. Our market conditions indicate a strong market—steady employment, low interest rates, and a steady and level economy. This allows us to move forward with confidence.
For more information, please visit ace.rismedia.com.
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at email@example.com.
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