Anyone who's ever salivated over the Travel Channel's Amazing Vacation Homes need look no further than their computer screen for a hometown version. Type in www.michaelsaunders.com, click on "video magazines" and get ready to drool over ultra-slick, documentary-style movies of houses for sale that feature lush bay or Gulf views (or both), wine cellars, outdoor entertainment areas for 100 or more, and custom everything, from pool tiles to balustrades.
"People are visual," says Drayton Saunders, vice president of Michael Saunders & Company, who spearheaded the project. "The Internet, until now, has been static images and a lot of text. This was a way to entertain and develop relationships with someone online in a way to market the company and property."
The concept is fairly new, says Bradley Inman, CEO of Inman News, the California-based real estate news provider that produces the videos. "Innovative companies are starting to see the power of Web video. We can now bring the entertainment and production value of Hollywood to the Internet in a way that's very exciting. Michael Saunders is way ahead of the curve here."
The videos on the site are easily navigable through a clickable table of contents. One is about Michael Saunders & Company, others depict individual properties, and four showcase Sarasota-arts and culture, downtown, Selby Gardens and the island lifestyle. These are not the virtual tours on most real estate Web sites where a camera pans different rooms. These are titillating mini-documentaries, featuring interviews with current residents, architects and landscape designers, drawing attention to a fabulous media room in one house, a lap pool with gorgeous custom tiles in another and the exclusivity of the community in a third.
"Great marketing is about a layered approach," says Drayton Saunders. "These really bring to life something that written words or a static image cannot do."
They also cost a lot more than a newspaper ad and some flyers. Saunders doesn't want to mention specific numbers, but says the cost of including a video in a property's marketing plan can easily run thousands of dollars. The decision to showcase a property with a video is usually made by the listing agent; a $200,000 property would not warrant a video, for example. If a property does seem like it would justify the expense, the agent then works with the Michael Saunders & Company marketing department to schedule an Inman film crew and then brainstorm what to highlight: A magnificent sunset? A history of multiple generations? An architectural masterpiece? An island location?
As the video magazines have only been online since January, it is too early to gauge their success as a marketing strategy, but Saunders says agents are excited about the initiative. And he knows people are starting to look; in March alone, more than 800 people clicked on the video magazines.
"We set the stage for the experience when they get someone on the phone," says Saunders. "It's a tribute to how powerful telling a good story is."