Published on November 3, 2014
Today’s innovative master-planned communities are hiring marketing directors, and more, to get the word out and attract new buyers. Why? According to the Community Associations Institute (CAI), communities spend upwards of $1 billion per week through more than 300,000 homeowners associations. That’s a big investment to protect.
If you’re relying solely on word of mouth, goodwill from current residents and local real estate professionals to entice prospective buyers to your community, you’re missing huge opportunities for long-term growth and prosperity.
“Owner referrals from an established community of goodwill ambassadors are vital, but your community association should be reaching outside of that market to ensure long-term success and to safeguard property values,” says Elisabeth Miller-Fox, co-founder of PrivateCommunities.com, the go-to source for information about master-planned communities in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. “Local real estate professionals sell the house, not the community. It’s not their job to market communities,” says Miller-Fox.
Marketing is Your Job
Just as the developer didn’t rely on local real estate professionals to market the community and keep property values strong, neither should the Homeowners’ Association (HOA). “The HOA must have a focus on how the community will be perceived post transition, and they must hire the right experts or choose the right people for its marketing committee,” says Steven Y. Brumfield, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, national director of community associations for Toll Brothers Inc. and the 2011 past president of the CAI.
…we have a demographic that will have 10 percent of our homes on the market every year…
Jeff Mullins, co-chair of the marketing committee at Sea Oaks Beach and Tennis Club in Vero Beach, agrees. “Our community is built out, but we have a demographic that will have 10 percent of our homes on the market every year either because of residents’ ages or changing lifestyles. We wanted to attract new residents through marketing—get more involved in open houses, give prospective homeowners more access to the tennis and beach club, put videos out there to show the benefits of our community.”
A Website Isn’t Enough
The fact is, for most communities, a website and relying on current residents just isn’t enough. Competition is fierce. Buyers and sellers are returning to the market. The millennial generation, whose size rivals that of the baby boomers, is starting to buy homes, and investors are buying for quick resale. “So much expertise in the industry left when developers left the gates,” says Craig Lehman, former broker of Spring Island in Beaufort, South Carolina. “Our community thrived for many years on word of mouth. That doesn’t work anymore.” That’s why many HOAs are taking an innovative approach to marketing by hiring marketing teams, directors and composing resident-run committees who market to both residents and prospective residents.
…so much expertise in the industry left when developers left the gates…
Of those approaches, hiring a marketing director seems to be key to getting the most bang for your buck. “With a committee, you’re relying on people who bought in the community 10 years ago to be innovative and shift to the mindset of today’s buyer,” says Kirk Smith, COO and GM of Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick, South Carolina. He joined Savannah Lakes Village in 2001 in a newly created position—marketing and communications manager. “I was tasked with developing marketing plans for continuing to promote the community.” Because the HOA was proactive and hired a marketing director, it was ahead of the curve and able to rebrand and adapt quickly to a new market and a new set of buyers. “We’ve never thought of ourselves as being just a HOA. We asked, ‘What will it take to position our community to be successful in the future?’” Smith is basically taking over in the developer’s marketing role. “We’re not shifting our focus from property owners; we’re telling them that the new buyers are the solution to providing a sustainable quality of life.”
…marketing is key to any business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a housing community or a bank…
Dannet Botkin, President of Designs Group Consulting, also believes in robust marketing for the HOAs. Having directed marketing efforts for the largest master-planned community in the country, Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association in Hot Springs, Ark., Botkin brought awareness to the community on a national level.
“Marketing is key to any business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a housing community or a bank,” says Botkin. “You have to control your story and get it out there.”