Prudential reaches out to buyers

June 26, 1994|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Staff Writer

Today's highly-sought-after homebuyer might be found cruising the streets in search of "For Sale" signs or traipsing through yet another open house. Or he might be home waiting by the phone.

Officials at Prudential Preferred Properties are betting on the latter -- and hoping to reach out and touch some buyers.

Through a new telephone-sales program intended to meet changing needs in an increasingly competitive market, the company hopes to contact potential buyers by targeting areas based on demographics. Individual agents have used similar techniques, but Prudential, the fourth-largest real estate company in the Baltimore metropolitan area, appears to be the first to launch such a program agency-wide.

At a time when real estate companies are going beyond wooing buyers with signs and advertisements, Prudential officials say buyers' shopping habits are changing, too.

"Consumers aren't shopping the way they used to," said Nancy Wagener, vice president of marketing. "People belong to computer networks and are talking to telemarketers. The consumer's buying habits have changed dramatically."

Prudential's campaign -- launched last weekend mainly around Washington with plans to expand the Baltimore area by late summer -- also includes full-page, color newspaper advertisements showing several dozen homes. The ads give a phone number for a new consumer hot line that offers detailed descriptions of properties.

Such telephone hot lines have gained in popularity with home shoppers across the country during the past year and a half, said Brenda Shipplett, a vice president with Long & Foster, the first agency in the Baltimore and Washington areas to make all its home listings available by phone. Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. has let computer users access its listings for several years.

Since April, when Long & Foster started its hot line -- in which shoppers choose from among 18,000 properties based on price, location and type of house -- the company has logged some 20,000 calls a week. Between 5 and 7 percent of callers make appointments with agents, Ms. Shipplett said.

L "It's the first step toward embracing technology," she said.

In its next step, the company expects to add video to the audio. Long & Foster is working toward setting up interactive video monitors in places such as malls, airports and hotels in which consumers could view available homes.

Carole Greenwald-Ryan, president of Prudential in Baltimore, said the agency came up with the telephone sales idea in hopes of counterbalancing a diminishing rate of response to advertising. People will respond better to targeted marketing, she said.

"Maybe they're not interested, but they know someone who is," she said. "It draws their attention to the ad, but more importantly it sends a message that Prudential is being creative and innovative in its marketing."

The company has targeted areas by sales price as well as those with a high rate of turnover in homeownership, taking real estate agents' suggestions for specific streets.

To sell a home in the mid-$100,000 range, for example, a salesperson would call someone likely to move up to that home, possibly a townhouse owner living nearby.

LTC Prudential's telemarketing staff began making calls last weekend, including some areas of Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

The company expects to expand its campaign into Baltimore and Harford counties by late summer or early fall, then analyze results before deciding whether to continue the program, Ms. Wagener said.

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