Marketing outside the box: How to sell a murder house

Marketing a home that’s out of the ordinary doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, if you think outside the box, you can make a property’s quirks work in your favour. Kylie Dulhunty speaks to three agents who have taken unconventional approaches to marketing equally daunting properties.

Scrolling through Instagram, a bold headline catches your attention.

“Bluechip murder house to go under the hammer,” it screams.

Not one to shy away from a slice of salacious gossip, nor a luxurious Spanish-style home, you can’t help but click quickly through to the story.

And that’s exactly what Place Estate Agents Ascot Director Drew Davies wants you to do.

While many real estate agents wouldn’t go out of their way to highlight a home’s chequered past, Drew does things differently.

A grisly past

Yes, agents must disclose facts, such as the onsite murder at 2 Grays Rd, Hamilton, to prospective buyers, but not many deliberately make it a cornerstone of their marketing.

But in this instance, Drew shared the newspaper article on his highly followed Instagram page and spruiked that the home was every bit as thrilling as the headlines suggested.

A part of modern Brisbane folklore, the story of what happened at the circa 1929 property in 1953 is like something straight out of a crime novel.

Sylvia Joyce Clare Ferguson conspired with her lover and a friend to kill her husband – wealthy businessman Roy Allan Ferguson.

The two men attacked Roy Ferguson with a claw hammer as he slept, after Sylvia deliberately left the front door open before heading to the bathroom.

It took the jury, who visited the Grays Rd home as part of the trial, less than two hours to find the trio guilty.

They were sentenced to life in jail, but the two men were released after just three years. Sylvia served a decade behind bars.

Throughout the auction campaign, Drew also did stories with major TV and online news organisations and shared them through his social media channels, too.

Feast your eyes on this

Drew says his philosophy is to get as many eyes as possible looking at the properties he sells.

“When it’s something as attention-grabbing as that headline, and there’s no getting away from that, you should use it to your advantage,” he says.

“I definitely have, and with the interest and momentum that was created, it was the right move.”

The home, set on a 607sq m block with sweeping views across the Brisbane River, attracted interest from far and wide, including interstate and overseas buyers.

Multiple conditional offers were put on the table before the house finally sold under the hammer for $2.25 million to a former owner.

Drew is no stranger to selling homes with quirky features targeted at niche markets.

Skating straight to sale

Last year he sold 32 Joynt St, Hamilton, which had a giant skate bowl in the living room.

Once again, Drew made the quirky feature the star of the marketing campaign, did newspaper and television interviews and watched as interest soared.

“The marketing philosophy behind any property when you take it to market is to get that property in front of as many eyeballs as possible,” he says.

“When you’ve got something like a 9m skate bowl in the middle of your living room, there’s no point pretending it’s not there.

“You spend a lot of time and effort filtering inquiries and taking people through the home.

“They’d think I was a bit of a fraud if I took them there without telling them, and then we’re standing there looking into a giant, concrete skateboard bowl, and they’re thinking, ‘what the?’”

Drew says putting a property’s quirky feature front and centre is also a great way to qualify buyers and test if they’re genuinely interested in a property.

“It’s just like buyers on a rainy day,” he says.

“The best way to qualify a buyer is if there’s a storm and people are turning up to open homes, you can guarantee they’re pretty damn qualified.”

A different approach

While some agents may be a bit hesitant about marketing quirky homes, Drew says he doesn’t care what people think of him; his aim is always to get the best result for his vendors.

He says he sits down with every vendor and discusses the marketing strategy, including the pros and cons of tackling the campaign in different ways.

“I discuss all of the pitfalls, how it may be perceived and what we can expect in terms of feedback,” Drew explains.

“But at the end of the day, if it’s the right thing to do for the campaign as a whole, that will yield the best results, then that is the right thing to do.”

When taking the murder house to market, Drew says he considered whether delving into the home’s past was in poor taste but decided that, as a great deal of time had passed, to move ahead.

“With all respect to the deceased, time does heal, and it’s almost Brisbane folklore now,” he says.

Fancy a swim?

Another agent deploying exciting tactics to market homes with rare features is Kay & Burton Hawthorn Director Scott Patterson, who is selling 2/24 Abinger St, Richmond.

An 1880s malthouse brewery conversion, the standout feature of the industrial-style property was an indoor pool in the centre of the home, open to and adjacent to the main living area.

“In a nutshell, we were selling the home from the inside out,” Scott says.

“From the street, the property was very hidden and private. It really didn’t have a street frontage… so we elected to run with internal photos to highlight what was inside the property, which is very unique.

“An indoor pool in your living room is quite a unique feature.

“Indoor pools are typically at the very back of a property and a bit hidden away, but this was a real feature of the property.

“You could be preparing a meal in the kitchen or having a drink with friends at the kitchen bench and have the kids playing in the pool.”

The home also featured a retractable roof above the pool, which not only filled the open-plan kitchen, dining and living room with natural light but could be opened to, in essence, create an outdoor pool.

“You could be sitting on the couch watching a movie with the fire going, and you could have the roof open and rain falling into the pool, without you getting wet,” Scott says.

Changing things up

Scott says as soon as he listed the property, he knew it needed much more than a stock-standard marketing campaign.

Rather than taking the home to auction, he ran an expression of interest campaign and extended it to six weeks, rather than the traditional four weeks.

Imagery was carefully selected, they made a film, and the property was marketed across digital and print mediums.

“We thought it (the pool) would be the selling point for people to come and discover what else was inside the property, which is very special with incredibly high ceilings and retains some original features from the old malthouse brewery days,” Scott explains.

“We didn’t want people to judge a book by its cover and simply see a brick warehouse-looking building. We wanted them to see what was inside.

“We knew that it would appeal to a fairly discerning buyer, who was specifically looking for something quite hidden from view.”

Scott says the campaign created solid interest in the property and they received three offers above $3 million. He’s now in negotiations with the parties to find the eventual buyer.

“We chose to run an expression of interest campaign because we knew it would not necessarily have mass-market appeal,” he says.

“That’s why we chose that method of sale and why we did a six-week program.”

Think outside the square

Scott advises agents who list quirky properties to think outside the box when taking them to market and advertising them to buyers.

“Don’t adopt a cookie-cutter approach,” he says.

“You have to really think strategically and put yourself in the buyer’s shoes.

“Think about what would appeal to them and what would pull them into the frame, because this sort of property tends to appeal to a passive buyer as opposed to an active buyer.

“A passive buyer is a buyer who sees a photograph, a film or a street address and thinks, ‘for that property, I’d consider moving’.”

Scott warned agents against thinking a hot market could sell the property for them.

“I think there’s a temptation in a strong market, such as we have now, to simply put a board up out the front and be a bit pedestrian,” he says.

“But with a property like this, you have to take an active approach to really target the right people.”

’70s Time Warp

One agent who immediately knew he had listed something unique that would need a special level of marketing is Stean Nicholls Director Lachlan Hutchins.

Based in Albury, in southern NSW, Lachlan stepped straight into the ‘70s when he listed 610 Thurgoona St, Albury, last year.

Marketed as a “perfectly preserved time capsule”, the two-storey home came complete with kooky tiles, heavily patterned carpets, timber wall panelling and an array of designer light fittings Carol and Mike Brady would have adored.

“The niece was selling it for her uncle, who’s now passed away, and they were going to take everything out and style it,” Lachlan says.

“We said, ‘don’t do that, leave everything!’ Essentially, nothing had changed in that house since 1970. 

“He didn’t live in it all that much, so there was the original carpet, the original record player, the original toaster and everything was from 1970. 

“We said don’t touch a thing, leave it completely as is.”

Instagram push

Lachlan says his sister, a designer based in Melbourne, was able to get the home featured on comedian and architecture enthusiast Tim Ross’s Modernister Instagram page, and interest in the property soared.

“We had calls from people from all over Melbourne for it,” he says.

“So we ended up running an auction campaign over a week and a half as we had also advertised it to a lot of people as a potential ‘70s themed Airbnb.

“So you could leave it as is, bought with all of the furniture and everything, and people could stay in it as a ‘70s themed Airbnb experience.

“We ended up with a few people bidding at the auction who wanted it for that purpose.

“It ended up going $250,000 above where we appraised it. It sold for $765,000.”

Lachlan says it’s rare to find a property that is as immaculate as the ‘70s time warp house and that they would usually be tired or rundown.

But this home was so well preserved it had to be shown off in all its groovy glory.

As well as pushing out through ‘70s architecture social media pages, the property was featured on the traditional real estate portals, in the local newspaper, The Border Mail, and the agency website and social media pages.

“On our Facebook page, it attracted the most comments of any house we’ve ever had,” Lachlan says.

“People started sharing it with one another, and it just took off from there.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.