Advertising campaign takes aim at housing anxiety

TACOMA - Two local marketing campaigns are launching to combat what real estate agents and builders say has become an overwhelmingly gloomy wave of national real estate news.

Both sets of ads - one from the Master Builders Association of Pierce County and another from the Washington Realtors - sell the upsides of buying.

And both will be augmented by national campaigns also being launched this month.

While sales activity year-over-year is down in much of Pierce County, prices continue to rise, though at lower rates than in recent years. Other markets around the country, however, are seeing consistent price drops and far larger swells of inventory.

The association is putting up 12 billboards this week with the slogan, "Buy Now Pierce County," which will direct consumers to a Web site of the same name, Mike Crowley, executive vice president, said this week. The site includes a directory of homes built by companies the group represents. It also highlights local restaurants, parks, shopping and other amenities.

Crowley said the campaign is intended to counter negative national headlines about the housing market and the economy, which he thinks are causing buyers to hold back.

"People get the mindset that the sky is falling when in Pierce County and the South Sound it really isn't. Maybe other parts of the country are suffering from job loss and a poor overall economy, but we aren't," he said.

Builders, however, have more to sell this year than last.

In August, there were 2,702 new-construction houses and condos listed for sale in Pierce County compared with 1,947 the same month in 2006, according to Dick Beeson, a director for the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The increase amounted to 39 percent more new homes on the market.

The effectiveness of the real estate campaigns likely will come down to how strongly consumers hold a belief and how well-drawn the ad's arguments are, said Mark Forehand, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Washington.

One thing, he said, the campaigns have going for them: Buying a house is a decision consumers spend more time and thought on than most purchases.

"If they have strong, credible arguments, it will help them, because potential home buyers are more likely to pay more attention," Forehand said. "If they don't have real good arguments, drawing attention will hurt, not help."

Ads primarily on TV and the radio from the Washington Realtors will pitch the strengths of the local market, such as growing incomes and strong population growth, said Bill Riley, vice president-elect of the group and owner of Gateway Real Estate.

Inventory of for-sale homes across the county in August was at about 7.5 months, Riley said. The industry standard for a market moving to one favoring buyers is about six months, though Riley said continued price appreciation points to "a balanced market."

Pierce County's median home price in August climbed 4.4 percent compared with the same month in 2006, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Numbers for September are scheduled to be released today.

"We're trying to convince the buyer that there's no reason to hold back, because our experience is that those who hold back are going to get caught on the sidelines," Riley said.

He discounts the theory that price drops will eventually show up in the Puget Sound area, primarily because of new jobs and expected income growth.

"I've never seen it decline when you have good fundamentals," Riley said.

Advertising campaign takes aim at housing anxiety