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When buyers purchase a luxury property, what they’re really purchasing is a story. That’s according to Jack Cotton Jr., a Real Estate Professional with Sotheby’s International Realty – Osterville Brokerage. As he notes, items with a compelling backstory sell for more money in shorter periods of time — and that includes homes.
“If you think about the definition of luxury, one of the descriptors you think of is history,” he explains. “Every luxury item has a history. And what is history but a story?”
It’s a point not lost on Eric Iantorno, a Real Estate Agent at Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty. “Storytelling is so powerful in sales,” he says. “I am constantly telling stories — whether it’s in my social media, magazine ads, or in-person on a listing interview. Stories are what piece everything together.”
Both these agents rely on impactful storytelling to drive their business forward. So what are they doing right? Here are four strategies that have been fundamental to their success.
1. A flawless storytelling formula
Employing the methods of animation studio PIXAR, one of contemporary culture’s most successful storytellers, can be helpful.
“Whenever possible, we actually follow the PIXAR storytelling formula in creating a story for our listings,” says Cotton.
The system can be summed up like this:
“Once upon a time…” — set the context and characters.
“Every day…” — establish what ordinary life looks like.
“Until one day…” — suddenly something pivotal occurs.
“And because of that…” — a new journey commences.
“Until finally…” — the journey culminates and concludes.
“Ever since then…” — this is the lesson to be learned.
“What really captivates the audience is my addition of a seventh stage: buyers want — and can’t wait — to step into the story themselves and share it with friends and family,” says Cotton.
“I advise agents to be authentic and genuine with their storytelling, but also organized and structured,” adds Iantorno. “How does the message relate to what you are trying to accomplish? How will people react to what you are saying?”
2. Oftentimes, seeing is believing
As PIXAR would no doubt attest, videos also make the most compelling stories, and Iantorno matches his channels to his objectives. “I love YouTube for educating consumers and clients, as people go there to learn how to do things,” he says.
“For Instagram and TikTok, I like to publish short clips that keep people wanting to see more. And for my website, I want structured, elegant videos telling my story.”
Cotton and Iantorno both make a point to appear on screen in their videos, which helps them build a personal brand. “Being a good storyteller means stepping up as a calm, confident speaker,” Iantorno points out.
3. Craft every narrative with care
Presenting the story of a property has to be done thoughtfully and conscientiously. “We use a checklist to help trigger a story for each listing, conducting research and talking to the seller,” says Cotton. And it pays off, too.
“We once listed and sold an eight-figure home that had originally been marketed as a teardown — but ultimately, the buyer was so keen on stepping into the seller’s story that they did a full-on renovation of the home,” he recalls.
“Another time, we sold an older home where the original owner hung a portrait of his wife next to the fireplace in 1890. The portrait hangs in the same spot to this day. Her eyes follow you no matter where you stand in the room, and the story is ‘don’t remove this painting.’ Buyers loved this, and can’t wait to share it when people visit.”
4. As an agent, you’re also a story
As Iantorno alluded to already, it’s not just homes that are engaging stories — it’s the real estate professionals themselves. “Telling a personal story may be the differentiating factor in someone deciding to work with you,” he notes.
“Your story is your brand. It’s important to be concise and truthful because clients love and gravitate toward authenticity. What makes you stand out? Being honest and humble — for example, sharing an embarrassing but funny anecdote — may spark a connection with people you may not have connected with otherwise.”
No two homes — or stories — should ever be the same
Just as agents need to be genuine and unique, each story should be unlike any other. “We listed and sold a luxury estate last summer during a time when the market was hot enough for buyers to purchase and close sight-unseen,” recounts Cotton.
“When the buyer finally arrived at the house just before closing, his first question was whether I would ever use our marketing story on another property, or if we would retire it with the sale of this home. I assured him that the story was unique to this property, and we’d not be using it again.”
A story can be meaningful enough to a buyer that it can inspire them to make a life-changing purchase — and so storytelling requires integrity and responsibility. “Care about your mission to uncover, craft, and convey a story,” says Cotton. “See this as the funnest part of the listing and marketing process. Embrace and enjoy it.”