My unreadable sign rant: Why make life difficult for your prospects?

Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

I don't go in to town often - I don't have to because copywriters get to work at home and my husband is pretty good at bringing home everything on the grocery list - plus a bit more, of course.

But today I did go, and the trip put me on my "Sign rant" again.

When I opened my real estate office there were other brokers who chuckled at my signs. They weren't fancy. White, with black and red lettering. But guess what - anyone driving by could read them. And if they weren't going too fast, they could catch a phone number as well as the name of the company.

The signs I saw today - and in fact the signs I've been seeing for the past few years - don't do that. The names are hidden between the graphics, or the font is so fancy that you have to stare at it a minute to figure out the letters, or the name is so small that there's no way to catch it without stopping the car.

That might be fine on a quiet residential street where stopping is not a problem. But driving down the highway it usually wont' work. Drivers in cars behind you don't appreciate it when you suddenly slam on the brakes.  

Our rural area is often "invaded" by agents from neighboring communities - some as much as 60 miles away when the pickings get slim in their home territories. Thus we get new signs cropping up, and it becomes a phone discussion with a friend later.

"Did you see the sign about 4 miles out on Highway 41? Did you catch the company name? Me either. Wonder if someone has new signs or if it's a new agency." 

I think the worst ones are the black or navy signs with white print. They're as annoying and hard to read as reverse web pages.

Why is this one of my rants? Because those signs break one of the basic rules of marketing: "Make it easy for people to do business with you."

While those other brokers were laughing at my signs, real people (as in customers and clients) were noticing and reading them. At first we didn't have more signs out than the other agencies - we had fewer. But people came in saying things like "You must be doing well. I see your signs everywhere."

And of course, humans being the herd animals that we are, that was one of the factors that swayed them to list with us. They had to do "what everyone else was doing." So we got more of those ugly signs out, and then more.

All the marketing pieces work together, of course. And one adds to the effectiveness of the next. But I believe our "plain jane" signs helped us greatly. So, my advice to agents who want more customers is this: If you're stuck with a fancy, unreadable company sign, at least put a clear rider on top, with your name and phone number in large print.  

If you want help putting all your marketing pieces together, get in touch!




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Marchel Peterson
Results Realty - Spring, TX
Spring TX Real Estate E-Pro
Marte, I have my own company and have tried to keep things simple with a great big phone number.  I get so frustrated when I have to drive by a sign several times just trying to catch the phone number; so I thought that was most important.  I use to be with REMAX and their sign is just so busy; with two different phone numbers.  I think the two phone numbers confuses the consumer.  Long story short I hear you!!
Jan 11, 2008 10:59 AM #7
Matt Ratcliffe
Keller Williams Realty Brazos Valley - College Station, TX
KISS-Keep it Simple ___________, is my thinking.
Jan 11, 2008 11:06 AM #8
Laurie Mindnich
Centennial, CO
Great point- and you're absolutely right about crowded signs.  No possible way to get the info.  Thanks!
Jan 11, 2008 11:22 AM #9
Monika McGillicuddy
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Verani Realty - Hampstead, NH
Southern NH & the Seacoast Area
I have to agree. I've seen so many signs that you simply can not read...some even when stopped in front of them. they're pretty but pretty useless.
Jan 11, 2008 12:18 PM #10
Jeannie Kontis
Lancaster, PA
This is a huge pet peeve of mine!  There is one local independent company who has a beautiful logo, lovely colors, and their sign looks beautiful -- but, stick it in front of a house and it gets completely lost because it's small and so overcrowded, with fancy script writing.  It's a nightmare for the eyes!  I don't know how they expect to get any sign calls.
Jan 11, 2008 12:33 PM #11
Lisa Heindel
Crescent City Living LLC - New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Real Estate Broker
Several of the independent companies here have small signs with colored backgrounds.  Very difficult to read.  Good for me and my big signs, I guess :)
Jan 11, 2008 01:07 PM #12
Kay Van Kampen
RE/MAX Broker, RE/MAX - Springfield, MO
Realtor®, Springfield Mo Real Estate
If it works, don't fix it.  It's not about the sign, it's the message that stays with the consumer.  Great post.
Jan 11, 2008 01:13 PM #13
Ann Cummings
RE/MAX Shoreline - NH and Maine - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Real Estate Preferrable Agent

Great rant, and too bad those whose signs are way too hard to read will never see this post and these comments.  If it's that hard to read the sign, what's the point of even putting it out?  Some signs I see around my area really are only a testament to that broker's ego - certainly not designed for easy marketing.


Jan 11, 2008 01:23 PM #14
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services
Okay - you have a great point to make.  I hate it when I can't read the sign.  I hope that those who have the undesirable signs will simply take them to the dump!  Thanks for your rant.
Jan 11, 2008 02:51 PM #15
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Thanks everyone, for your comments! I appreciate that. You're making a newbie to your community feel very welcome.

I told you that my sign was pretty darned plain. It stuck out like a sore thumb from the ones with fancy graphics, multi-colors, cute fonts, etc. It worked well.

One day an older gentleman was in the office talking about listing his ranch property and for some reason the conversation turned to signs. He asked about ours and I told him why they were the way they were. He looked at me kind of startled and said "Oh. That's the reason. I always thought it was because you were broke."

We laughed about that for a long time after. 

Jan 11, 2008 05:14 PM #16
Karl Burger
ERA Beach Ball Realty - Pensacola, FL
Pensacola Real Estate News
Great point. Readablility really matters. If you can get your logo branded and make your sign readable, all the better
Jan 11, 2008 11:53 PM #17
"The Lovely Wife" (Broker Bryantnulls Wife) The One And Only TLW.
President-Tutas Towne Realty, Inc. - Kissimmee, FL


I so agree with you about this. We have used the same style RE signs for years and years.

There are some things that can't be improved on. Our "old school" basic RE sign is one of those things :)


Jan 12, 2008 12:44 AM #18
John MacArthur
Century 21 Redwood - Washington, DC
Licensed Maryland/DC Realtor, Metro DC Homes

Marte - I have always tried to have form follow function. Signs are not the place to dazzle the world with your creativity. It may be different in a large metro area like dc, but I know signs are tremendously important here. They drive all the traffic to an open house. They create calls from potential buyers.

Using a sign that is not easily readable makes as much sense as having a non-english speaking person answer the phone in your office.

Jan 12, 2008 12:53 AM #19
Christina ONeal
At Home Real Estate Group - Ripon, CA
Realtor - Ripon California

Marte - very good point.  I agree.  In my town of Tracy there are quite a few that we cannot read without stopping & who approved that for those realtors & said that looks good?  I am a mentor & that is one thing I will add to my list when going over purchasing signs.  Maybe we will do a test drive by instead of getting a proof on the web.  thank you.

Jan 12, 2008 01:15 AM #20
Tammi Copsey
Perry Hall, MD

Great blog and so true!  I see a lot of signs that are completely unreadable or with SO much information that everything is in fine print...what's the point of that?  One trend I actually enjoy...sign riders that contain just the web address or just the phone number.  I think it spotlights one thing someone driving by will notice (at least I do) and remember.  Great post!

Jan 12, 2008 02:21 AM #21
Elaine Hanson
Compass - Topanga, CA
REALTOR - Topanga, CA Real Estate Agent

Very good points, Marte.  My company just changes signs and they are not as readable as I would like.  However, the company name is in reflective paint and at night, the headlights make is jump out (we have no streetlights in Topanga).  You suggested what works for me -- my contact info is on a very large, clear rider on the top.  I have to get more made and will be checking out reflective paint. 

BTW, welcome to the Rain!

Jan 12, 2008 02:59 AM #22
Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman
Liberty Homes - Mililani, HI
You sure have spotlighted the importance of having readable signs!  Thanks!
Jan 12, 2008 04:40 AM #23
Deb Brooks
Brooks Prime Properties Wichita Falls Texas - Wichita Falls, TX

Good points Marte. We opened our own company just two years ago and are now going through growing pains. I am about to put up our first billboard. I really had to study colors to be able to design it. We'll be off a highway with drivers doing 70 miles an hour. After studying the "readability" pluses and minuses we now have a yellow board with red phone numbers and blue block lettering for our name. My husband looked at it and said...well, I hate the colors!

I know it's going to work. Thanks for the great posts Marte. Nice to meet you. Later in the rain, Deb

Feb 16, 2008 11:02 AM #25
Donna Foerster
HomeSmart Realty Group - Parker, CO
Metro Denver Real Estate Assistant

Marte~ That's a pet peeve of mine too. It's not just signs, it's vehicles too.  Unreadable font styles and colors.  Just not smart marketing.  We recently re-did our office RE signs because they were hard to read.  The new signs aren't very fancy, but they ARE readable!

Jul 08, 2012 07:06 AM #26
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Donna - I see it on buildings as well - and wonder why the sign painter didn't give them some better advice. "Artsy" doesn't always translate to good marketing.

We used to have a business in town called the Plant Mill - but the round sign read: Plant the Mill. Silly.

Jul 08, 2012 07:41 AM #27
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