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Luring prospects to your website

Ask FSB's experts check in with tips for marketing a specialized real-estate business.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: I own www.Off-BaseHousing.com, an online real estate advertising company that specializes in military communities. We help military men and women find homes for sale and rent near military bases. With 500,000 military families relocating each year, we get a lot of military families visiting our website looking for homes. However, we are lacking home advertisements to meet the demand. How can I reach home owners that are trying to sell or rent their homes?

- Richard, Colorado Springs

Dear Richard: "Congratulations! You're already doing what less than 2 percent of real estate professionals do: specialize in a particular niche," says Michael Russer, a.k.a. "Mr. Internet," a Santa Barbara-based real estate Internet marketing consultant. "Especially online, the vast majority will try to be everything to everybody and end up talking to nobody."

The challenge is drawing sellers to your niche. Sellers generally don't go to websites to list their properties, according to Stephanie Singer, senior public affairs associate for the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors. Usually, they find realtors who place it on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). About 90% of those listings from independent brokerage sites feed into the NAR-owned Realtor.com, Singer says.

"You need to drive sellers to your site, which is very different from driving buyers to your site," Russer says.

To do so, tap into the behavioral component of marketing, where you can predict when members of a specific market are likely to need services. Work with a title company to determine the mean holding time for homeowners in the area you're focusing on.

"Typically, it's four to seven years," he says.

Have the title company generate a list of all property owners in your market area who have purchased property anywhere from a year before to a year after that mean holding time. Now, you have a very targeted base of potential sellers.

Create a direct mail postcard campaign to send people to your website.

"Send them out no less than monthly," Russer says. Ideally, have separate sites for sellers and buyers. If you just have one site, at least have a specialized section addressing sellers' needs. Russer suggests that on the seller page, have potential sellers complete a maximization-of-value assessment, a list of questions that helps buyers analyze their current situation.

"As they consider your questions, it will become clear to them that whomever is asking the questions must be pretty smart, and should probably be the one to handle the listing," Russer says .

Be sure to capitalize on your military niche, says Brandon Cornett, a real-estate Internet marketing specialist in Round Rock, Texas, who spent eight years in the military.

"It's a very tight-knit community, and people really identify when you can relate to them," Cornett says. "They think 'hey, this guy speaks my language.' Because in the military, they do speak a different language."

Cornett also suggests conducting regular seminars on the base: "I remember when I was on base they always had people like financial advisors coming in, offering informational seminars. People are redeployed every few years and they need to know how to list their homes. It's a soft sell, but it would generate a regular stream of interest." To top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.