Property Observer- Signboards: A real estate staple, but do they have a future?

Property Observer- Signboards: A real estate staple, but do they have a future?

22 May, 2014 - The signboard is one of the most recognisable symbols in real estate. But in a world that is increasingly becoming dominated by digital technology, has it reached the end of its lifespan?

Property Observer took a deeper look at the humble signboard and the changing environment that has seen both industry members and innovators up in arms.


When many of our most renowned industry members started their careers, signboards were a block of text on a wooden board nailed to the closest tree.

This was the case when Century 21 chairman Charles Tarbey started off in real estate back in the 1970s. But even further on into his career, at Combined Real Estate in the 1990s, little had changed. He provided these circa 1994 black and white, grainy photographs (see below) taken on what was, no doubt, one of the top mobile phone models of its day. The changes since that time have been extensive.

Today, the signs are larger, cleaner, more visual and polished. Tarbey laughs about some agents’ approach to signboards. “In some areas in Melbourne they're actually like billboards that almost cover the entire property behind it,” he says.

Century 21, LJ Hooker, and several other franchise groups have recently undertaken significant redesigns of their signboards. It’s unsurprising that the new signboards are fresher, more modern and appear to be more reliant on iconography.

You can clearly see the changes in signboard design over time in the gallery above, which shows the signboards of a number of real estate franchises.

Tarbey is a strong supporter of the signboard and its ability to instantly signal that a property is up for sale, providing quick information about what is beyond the façade.

However, he also warns that signboards favour the successful and, if not used strategically, can signal a selling agent’s failure.

“A 'For Sale' sign that’s up for four to six weeks is a sign of success,” he explains. “After that it's a sign of failure. A signboard needs to be manipulated, moved, controlled and if it's not taken down or re-installed then it becomes a stale sign and a sign of failure. It's always suggested to anyone, look for the agent with the most sold signs in the area, not the for sale signs.”

Chief executive of McGrath Estate Agents, John McGrath, is also a supporter of the signboard.

“Signboards are still an incredibly important part of the marketing mix,” he explains. “Most buyers frequent areas of interest and signboards provide both local and out of area buyers immediate access to what is available.

“For vendors they are cost effective tools to advertise their property for sale. In a $10,000 marketing campaign, a signboard equates to 3% to 4% of the marketing investment but many yield 10% to 15% of the enquiry.”

Encouraging enquiries is the focus of Century 21 national brand manager, Jane Wilkinson. 

We asked Wilkinson what exactly was the behind the redesign of signboards across the franchise, and the rationale for the information provided on the new signboards. The aim, she describes, is for a “succinct summary”, ensuring that the signboards are not overloaded.

“The new photo boards incorporate design elements which aim to make the photo ‘pop', allowing people viewing the signboard to quickly get a feel for the interior and styling of a home,” she says.

Today’s culture is undeniably visual-orientated, and new look signboards are ever more eye-catching.

In 2011, Century 21's signboards were redesigned with the 'Smarter, Bolder, Faster' campaign launch, and this process is undertaken every couple of years.

This is no small feat and, with several hundred franchisees to keep happy, but she notes that the process has been very collaborative.

“Our signboard review panel then workshopped several designs which incorporated features from across Century 21’s global network before arriving at a final design,” she explains.

And yet, despite the focus lavished on signboards by almost every real estate group, the statistics around interested buyers coming in via the signboard are notoriously difficult to pinpoint. While McGrath suggested that signboards drive 10% to 15% of enquiries, it appears that some agencies place greater emphasis on these signs.

Dennis Vlandis, franchise principal at LJ Hooker Belconnen, says that vendors could be missing out on up to 30% of the buyers in the marketplace if they do not use a signboard.

“Local residents make up 30% to 35% [of prospective buyers] and word of mouth and the recognition factor are important. They might talk to someone who was looking around the corner,” he says. 

This matches up closely with the numbers cited by Century 21 McCann Alliance director, Trevor McCann. He notes that their past figures see around 30% of interested buyers locating a property via signboard. However, new technologies have moved this number closer to 5%.

That the signboard enquiry conversion rate could have decreased to a sixth of its former prominence for McCann suggests that something greater may be at play.


That “something greater” has seen a growing, vocal, anti-signboard wave of real estate agents – typically from those not connected to the larger franchises where signboards are a mandatory part of the selling approach.

Just Think Real Estate’s Edwin Almeida, notoriously outspoken on the signboard issue, created the humorous below video to illustrate exactly why he doesn’t use them in marketing for his clients.

Is the idea of driving the streets and looking for a signboard redundant?

He hasn’t used a signboard in approximately five years.

This argument is, however, countered by the concept of the ‘passive buyer’ who stumbles on the signboard, rather than actively searches for it, and then contacts the agent. Someone who is on the verge of buying and perhaps needs that extra nudge to push them down the path.

Almeida suggests signboards are advertising the real estate agency and not the property itself. In fact, he could barely come up with a reason for using a signboard.

“[To] alert the potential neighbourhood buyers that don’t have computers or internet access, know that your home is for sale,” he jokes as a potential reason.

He points to a recent situation where he drove down a cul de sac and saw multiple properties offered for sale in the same dead-end. He snapped the photos below for this article.

In fact, he says, a 'For Sale' sign takes away from the front aspect appeal of the home and encourages people to knock at the door rather than call the agent.

At the end of the entire process, the signboard just “advertises the agent”, believes Almeida. He argues that the agent should pay for the board.

The idea that these signs are part of an agency’s branding is clear through the frequency of redesigns.

“They’ve been known as the ‘silent salesperson’ in the industry, building brand awareness and recognition in the streets which assists in generating interest in our clients open for inspections,” explains McCann. A well-marketed agency helps bring in more interested buyers, build a real estate agent’s database and therefore helps the buying process all round.

But Almeida’s argues that an individual vendor would be better off spending the money on sprucing up the home itself, with most of the enquiry coming from online sources. A signboard can cost from $250 to $800, depending on the style and provider., a new listings website with a focus on the visual, also delved into the worth of signboards.

Throwing around the questions “Is there a place for the signage board in real estate, where does it work best and what are the limitations?” at the Homely office, the team had a direct 50/50 split for and against, with very strong opinions in both camps.

Here are their pros and cons the team came up with:


  • The sign can serve as a great marker as to where the property for sale is in the street. If you are searching for a home and it is in a long street, the sign can generally be viewed from quite a distance making it easy to spot.
  • Some people here believe it maximizes ROI. Because of the culture we have come to expect it for our property search, by not having it we are limiting the exposure of the property and the experience for consumers searching for it.
  • Another key positive for the board being used is the way it maximizes leads for an agent. If an agent is able to showcase their personal agent details, this can lead to both enquiries about this house, but also leads for future people looking to sell who can see that this agent is a trusted local expert.
  • It assists in marketing collateral. One of the key themes a few people in our office mentioned was that by having a signage board you essentially up your marketing collateral, this was more of the belief that the more exposure the better.
  • They can showcase a wealth of information if displayed correctly. If converted in to digital boards they could display in depth images, floorplans, agent details, and be linked to 3G data to request further content of the sign to be emailed over.
  • Staying on the digital theme, it could be an opportunity to sell in joint partnerships, with partners having the ability to display their material on your board at certain engagement times. (e.g if you walk past at lunch time, near by lunch options could advertise whilst you view the sign)


  • One of the key concerns with signage boards was security, with some people stating that if the house is unattended and it has a board out the front, it may encourage people to try and break in as they believe no-one is there
  • It can be an invasion of privacy. One of the main things people like to do is to have a sticky-beak at what properties are for sale, if you have a sign out the front you could get unwanted attention out the front of your house.
  • It seems outdated. It was mentioned here that signage boards are outdated and consumers don’t get listing information from the board. They prefer it from their own personal mobile device, and if they want to go through the house they should know by looking at the online images, not the board.
  • It doesn’t work for a market where there are lots of building in a premise. Apartment complexes that have hundreds of units and can have a large number of properties for sale and lease at one time can’t really display as it would take up too much room and not show the property in the best light.
  • Static boards are much like newspapers and becoming redundant, they need to be replaced with at minimum digital boards

In essence, they could not agree over whether there was a need to eradicate the use of signboards, as those who are wandering the streets can see them. However, as digital engagement grows, they acknowledged that a signboard may turn into more of a “marker, with consumers using digital devices to view the details”.

You can read the continued discussion on the Pros v Cons of signboards from the original article on Property Observer here 

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