Coming soon to a grocery aisle near you: Homes for sale

grocery cartNew England's largest real estate company announced plans to team up with the region's largest food retailer to develop small real estate offices based in supermarkets in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Well, why not? If it's convenient to have your bank's ATM machine right near the checkout, why not someone in the supermarket to remind you that your pantry is minuscule for all the groceries you just bought, and besides, you hate your kitchen?

RE/MAX of New England expects to open up to 17 realty offices in Stop & Shop stores. Personally, I think this takes the one-stop shopping experience a bit too far. Won't the ice cream melt while an agent yammers on about what a great time this is to buy a house? In any event, this marks the first time that a major real estate brand has partnered with a large consumer retailer to house real estate offices in its retail spaces.

The practical side of this arrangement is that RE/MAX is selling franchises for these mini-offices, and realty brokers might find the rent near the meat counter a better bargain than leasing a commercial office space. And you can't deny the foot traffic, especially when it's double coupon day.

While in this economy almost every business is willing to take a gamble on the off-chance it might work, the sales logic here of mixing grocery shopping with home-buying does seem to be flawed, according to several real estate practitioners.

From RE/MAX's own blog came this from Larry A. Whited Sr., who runs a virtual real estate franchise system from West Chester, Ohio: "This will be very interesting to watch. If agents don't get quality leads quickly, they will not 'volunteer' to spend their time in that location. Who will be the first to open in Wal-Mart?"

A similar sentiment was expressed by Jay Thompson, broker-owner of Thompson's Realty in Phoenix. "Personally, I think it's kind of silly. Seems like 'shotgun' exposure. Blast away and hope you hit something. The odds of someone randomly deciding to look at homes while they buy groceries seems slim." But, he adds, "Time will tell I suppose."

Tim McFarlin, an attorney with McFarlin & Geurts with expertise in a variety of practice areas including real estate law, doesn't think the RE/MAX plan is a bad idea from a marketing and promotional standpoint. "It spreads the reach of the brand and puts it in front of consumers conveniently," he said. "It can probably be used effectively as a lead generating tool, but that's about it," he cautioned, adding, "Real estate documents and disclosures are complex legal documents that need to be reviewed carefully and explained to clients. Entering into complex and binding legal contracts while the milk is getting warm in the cart is a terrible idea, but from a lead generation standpoint, it might be brilliant."

Brilliant it is indeed, says Rob Frankel, a branding expert who says the RE/MAX plan is a "media distribution," not a branch office. It is bringing the business to the customers and will likely attract new buyers and renters ready to enter the market. "If you are going to list your home, the supermarket may not be the place you will do that. But if you are ready to buy, you will remember that nice agent at the market you chatted with."

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