In the competitive game of enticing would-be home buyers to look at a new subdivision, real estate advertisers today are aiming their pitch at a family's emotions, not its checkbook.
Builders are depending more on glitzy, creative advertisements to sell images of planned residential communities to buyers looking beyond house prices and monthly mortgage payments. Local real estate advertising experts say they believe that today's potential house buyers want "lifestyle."
The lowest mortgage interest rates in seven years are attractive, but swimming pools, tennis courts and jogging paths sell houses, according to Washington area real estate advertising experts.
"Before, buyers were more concerned about the nuts-and-bolts kind of information," said Marvin Gerstin, whose advertising firm has designed real estate ads in Washington for 30 years. "I used to have to tell people how many bedrooms they would have . . . and now I tell them about lifestyle and let them count the bedrooms themselves.
"It's not like going to the grocery store and buying a steak. A house is a place to raise a family . . . . It's the center of a tremendous range of activity," Gerstin said.
The imagemakers are spreading their ideas about the new breed of buyer through slick advertisements in newspapers and magazines, on radio and television and through huge direct-mail campaigns. The advertisers even are holding special seminars for builders to teach them about what grabs today's potential purchaser.
Howard Bomstein, president of Bomstein/Gura, one of the largest real estate advertising agencies in Washington, summed up his selling secrets to five elements: price, product, financing, location and lifestyle.
"Every real estate development offers a combination of one of those five elements," Bomstein said. "See what elements of these five our community offers versus the competition and then determine the most important selling factor for your ad."
Bomstein said the bulk of his ads are geared toward young couples, with at least one child, interested in houses with fireplaces, dishwashers and greenhouse windows, not storm windows and copper piping.
At one recent seminar on advertising techniques, Bomstein told a group of marketing experts and developers to be positive in their ads, to highlight the benefits of a new house -- not the fact that the swimming pool or clubhouse is not built yet.
"You're looking for the well-heeled individual," Bomstein said. "Avoid negatives and create a story appeal."
Bomstein said real estate advertisers will try to minimize weaknesses in their clients' products with euphemisms or vague references to future amenities. For example, Bomstein said, if the tennis courts or pool will not be installed for another year, the ad might refer to them as "a planned swimming pool and tennis club" or "with swimming and tennis soon to be available.
"You don't lie to somebody and say something is there; normally, you try to tell the truth." Bomstein said.
Buddy Zoslow, another long-time local advertising specialist, agreed that images of "slices of life" in the supposedly serene outer suburbs are what sells half-finished town houses or single-family planned communities. "We're putting people in front of a fireplace in the winter and out on the tennis courts in the summer," Zoslow said. "We're showing people what they want to see. We're reinforcing their emotions."
Zoslow said the combination of low interest rates and an upbeat focus on comfort and year-round recreation has made future and new developments an easy sell for builders, and has enabled advertisers to decrease the size of newspaper and magazine ads. He said builders now spend 1 percent of the sales price of a house to advertise instead of the previous 1 1/2 to 2 percent of the sales price.
"It's money in the builders' pocket," he said.
Zoslow noted that several years ago, the larger real estate advertisements used color photographs with elaborate descriptions of the house and surrounding area. Today, he said, the ads are much smaller and use black and white photographs or illustrations to make their sales pitch.
"The market here is so voluminous and so good, you don't need to spend the bucks" for larger advertisements, said Zoslow, who has been in the advertising, marketing and public relations business for 26 years.
Even planned communities situated in sparsely developed areas of Maryland and Virginia are being sold at a rapid rate, Gerstin said. He said the advertisements do not necessarily have to highlight the development's remote location because today's buyers know where they are going and what they want.
"If the community is on an isolated country lane somewhere, it will appeal to someone who is looking for something totally quiet. If the house is urban and right off a highway, well, that has its own built-in attraction," Gerstin said.
"The idea is to be positive," Zoslow said. "The further out, the better the value. If you say Centreville Va. or Damascus Md. in your ad, the buyer will understand that. And, they might be working out there. You can't fool the public."