Inside a sun-splashed Canton living room, Spider-Man casually lifts a hand to adjust the built-in air conditioning unit. In an updated Hampden kitchen, a unicorn peeks inside a stainless steel refrigerator.
These lovely Baltimore homes, the characters seem to suggest, could be yours.
Or at least that’s what Berkshire Hathaway agents Christina Dudley and Michael Frank hope the scenes communicate. The Baltimore-based duo are incorporating offbeat characters into traditional photo galleries designed to attract viewers and, they hope, buyers on real estate sale websites.
While real estate photo galleries are often staged, they rarely feature people, let alone unusual characters. A representative of Realtor.com said the website has not noticed a significant trend of agents dressing in costumes to sell homes, but did point to one Texas listing that received attention over the summer for featuring a Tyrannosaurus Rex. And in 2016, another agent in Texas and one in the United Kingdom reportedly tried to sell homes staged with pandas.
So far Dudley and Frank have staged two home photo shoots using a quirky character bopping around the property, highlighting the best features.
“These charismatic strategies won’t work with every house,” Frank said. “It’s just a way to show you we’ll have fun.”
Dudley saw a similar gag online in which a real estate agent in the Midwest posed around a house in a dinosaur costume, she said. So when a down-to-earth friend approached her to sell the Hampden home, the team decided to give it a go.
“We wanted to do a flamingo, but we couldn’t find one with a full body cover, so a unicorn was the next best thing,” Dudley said.
In the photos, the unicorn performs ordinary life tasks around the home in a way that accentuates the amenities — walking dogs out the front door, playing Twister in the finished basement and getting into a car parked in the private pad in the rear.
The house went under contract for sale in one day, Dudley said.
In October, the team took over a listing for another home in Canton that had languished on the market for several months. The sellers agreed to try the fun photo strategy in hopes of freshening up the listing and attracting foot traffic from social media.
Soon an agent friend of Dudley and Frank was donning a Spider-Man costume after studying which of the comic book character’s signature poses might translate around the house.
The photos, posted online Wednesday, featured the red-and-blue webslinger crouched atop granite countertops, perched on railings and sprawled seductively across the hardwood floors.
“We don’t expect anyone to buy because of Spider-Man, but it’s more fun than your standard room-by-room shots,” Dudley said.
Realtors trying out unconventional marketing strategies is a reaction to rising interest rates, which may be starting to drag on the housing market, said Karyl Leggio, a professor of finance at Loyola University.
But it’s also smart marketing in the internet age.
“We're in such an era where people like to go viral,” Leggio said of using unorthodox characters in real estate photos.
In previous generations, real estate agents used various strategies during open house events to attract buyers, such as baking cookies in the home to produce a pleasant smell or playing music to distract from traffic sounds outside. Dressing in costumes is a way to get buyers in the door, Leggio said.
“These are all good things when you're trying to sell a home in a market with high interest rates,” she said. “It's an easy thing to post. I bet you'll see this become a major trend.”
Finding a home used to be about addressing a need for shelter. As civilization progresses, the house becomes less about needs and more about desires, said Ross Mackesey, manager of Long and Foster Real Estate’s Lake Roland office.
“You’re actually selling a lifestyle as much as sticks and bricks,” Mackesey said. “Fun does sell to some people.”
Dudley and Frank also have staged more conventional scenes featuring cocktail parties to help prospective buyers picture themselves in the homes.
Still, the Spider-Man and unicorn pictures are as much about selling the personality of Baltimore, with all its quirks and charms, as they are about selling the property.
“If we can show people why it’s a good idea to live in the city, that’s a good thing as well,” Frank said. “It’s not always about the house.”
The two agents have plans to stage another photo shoot featuring a goofy character — maybe a hippo — in November.
“This isn’t for every house, or agent or seller,” Frank said. “But we’re giving it a shot.”