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Radio Sales - When A House Begins To Talk, Start Listening

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Radio Sales When A House Begins To Talk, Start Listening;
Alan J. Heavens, Knight-Ridder/Tribune.. Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: May 30, 1998. pg. 30

Abstract (Document Summary)
It's called the Talking House. Using a low-power transmitter on little-used frequencies at either end of the AM radio band, real estate agents broadcast information about a house for sale 24 hours a day, until the house is sold.

[Larry] DiFranco has been using the Talking House for six weeks, both at the Burkes' and at a property he listed -- and sold -- in the 400 block of Mount Airy Avenue two streets away.

"It's hard to say if the Talking House sold the Mount Airy Avenue property," DiFranco said. "It's just one part of a marketing strategy that also includes open houses, balloons, and brokers' open houses. I think it does add to the excitement of the house and enhances the exposure.

Full Text (861 words)
Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. May 30, 1998
The Burkes' house has started talking to me.

I don't remember the date it started exactly, but I do recall that it was a weekday, about 6 a.m., and I had misplaced my glasses.

Someone--probably one of the haters of big-band music in the family--had been fiddling with the kitchen radio.

But instead of being at the 640 end of the dial, I was at the opposite end.

And then it happened. The Burkes' house began talking to me.

"You know," I told John Burke later that day, "your house was on the radio this morning."

"I know," Burke said. "They say you can hear it all the way past Houston School," which is on the other side of Germantown Avenue, several blocks down and over.

"It's such a big deal," Burke said. "Kids from all over the neighborhood stand in front of the house, waiting for it to say something."

My house talks to me sometimes. It says "Paint me," or "Trim the hedges," or "Pay the mortgage." I simply snap to attention and do what it tells me.

Why is Burke's house so vocal all of a sudden?

Because it's on the market, and agent Larry DiFranco of Elfant Wissahickon Realtors in Mount Airy, Pa., is using a technology that has been around since Marconi as one of his marketing tools.

It's called the Talking House. Using a low-power transmitter on little-used frequencies at either end of the AM radio band, real estate agents broadcast information about a house for sale 24 hours a day, until the house is sold.

You've seen the same set-up on the turnpikes, using the technology to provide traffic or tourist information.

DiFranco was surprised at the range of the Talking House transmitter.

"It's only supposed to be good for a half a block," said DiFranco, who saw the Talking House advertised in real estate magazines. "I guess it must get picked up on the trolley wires" that run up and down Germantown Avenue.

DiFranco has been using the Talking House for six weeks, both at the Burkes' and at a property he listed -- and sold -- in the 400 block of Mount Airy Avenue two streets away.

"It's hard to say if the Talking House sold the Mount Airy Avenue property," DiFranco said. "It's just one part of a marketing strategy that also includes open houses, balloons, and brokers' open houses. I think it does add to the excitement of the house and enhances the exposure.

Both the Burkes and the owners of the other property said they saw people sitting in their cars in front of their houses listening to the radio.

The Talking House brought back a couple that had seen the Burkes' house before, DiFranco said.

"They learned on the radio that the Burkes had added a fireplace since they last saw it, so they called to see if they could get back into the house," DiFranco said.

The Talking House is a transmitter with a recording device -- a computer chip, actually, that looks very much like a telephone answering machine.

The chip allows the agent to record up to three minutes of information about the house, which then plays continuously 24 hours a day.

Since the device was introduced to the real estate market three years ago, 52,000 have gone into use, according to the Talking House company, which has its headquarters in Fond du Lac, Wis.

The unit, which complies with regulations of the Federal Communications Commission, costs between $250 and $300. Buying in bulk reduces the per-unit price, and there is a lease-purchase arrangement available.

If the 1610 frequency doesn't work, the unit can be easily tuned to another unused frequency on the AM band.

The company provides sample scripts for the agent to use when recording the Talking House message as well as copy for newspaper ads.

The device also comes with a video the agent can use when trying to convince the homeowner to let the agent list the house.

As DiFranco said, the Talking House has attracted at least one couple to the Burkes' house who, it appears, had crossed the house off their list. It might be attracting others as well.

There is some marketing potential for the Talking House similar to what is happening on the Internet. A lot of shoppers are using the Internet to weed out areas and houses they aren't interested in, and are calling agents already armed with wish lists.

Talking Houses probably help weed out the serious from the curious, who might not be interested in a particular house after they hear about its features on the radio.

Conversely, by giving a lively description of the interior, a Talking House might attract buyers who would otherwise pass it up because of a bland exterior.

The Burkes have no such problem. The guy's got a lawn that looks like a carpet, and he's got a treehouse in the backyard that shows his incredible skills as a carpenter.

My old house, reveling in the contrast, has been pointing these things out to me lately. I've decided to turn up Benny Goodman to full volume and stop listening.

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