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Are sexy real estate ads the way to go in a softening housing market?

Are sexy real estate ads the way to go in a softening housing market?

Are sexy real estate ads the way to go in a softening housing market?
 

A Calgary real estate agent has stirred up controversy with a suggestive billboard. The Re/Max advertisement features a closeup photograph of Diana Arvatescu and the invitation: “Let me take you home. It’s gorgeous inside.”

Photograph by: Jeff McIntosh , The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — A sexually suggestive real estate billboard that’s sparked controversy in Calgary is raising questions over the use of advertising in an industry that’s facing slowing sales in several major markets.

The billboard, depicting elegantly coiffed Re/Max agent Diana Arvatescu with the suggestive line, “let me take you home. It’s gorgeous inside,” has sparked opposition in Calgary, where a female broker was killed several years ago after being “lured to an open house,” the Canadian Press reported this week.

The billboard controversy comes at a time when real estate brokers in several Canadian cities, including Montreal, are competing for work in softening housing markets. On Thursday, Statistics Canada reported its biggest two-month fall in the value of national building permits since the data series started in 1989.

While sales continued rising in Calgary last month, they dropped 14.3 per cent in Vancouver, with home prices declining 2.8 per cent in January compared to the same month a year earlier. Toronto sales last month declined 1.3 per cent on an annual basis, with the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board to publish its figures Friday. What’s more, Montreal brokers are also competing with Power Corp.-backed DuProprio, the Quebec City-based for-sale-by-owner company that said its website listings grew by more than a third in January, compared to the same month in 2012.

Yet in Quebec, where brokers are regulated by the nation’s strictest industry real estate watchdog — the Organisme d’autoréglementation du courtage immobilier du Québec, or OACIQ — the use of sexually suggestive, or controversial images aren’t usually accepted as a way to sell homes. Quebec brokers and real estate agencies should avoid “controversy,” in their advertisements, where the presented information must be verifiable, provincial regulations say.

“Agencies and brokers must provide enough information so that a reasonable person cannot attribute more than one meaning to the message conveyed, in order that the public be properly informed as to the actual meaning of the message,” the OACIQ’s advertising guidelines for brokers say.

One Montreal broker said he was ordered by the OACIQ to halt the use of a distasteful, but attention-grabbing bilboard ad that depicted overweight women in bikinis with the words: “Things getting tight at home? Call me.”

Marc Cousineau, vice-president marketing and business development at Re/Max Quebec, said brokers must find a balance between good taste and customer appeal in their advertising.

“It’s a very complex issue. In advertising, people will go to the limit to get a reaction,” Cousineau said. “The rules are very strict in Quebec and people here are much more careful.”

In one case, Re/Max Quebec ordered an affiliated broker in the Eastern Townships to take down a video that used scantily dressed women to advertise the sale of a luxurious property in Bolton.

Dominic St-Pierre, Quebec director for Royal LePage real estate services, said he questioned the efficacy of ads as the optimum way to lure clients. He said he believes advertising dollars are better spent on incentives for clients who refer brokers to their friends and family.

“Of course we understand it’s a competitive business and you have to differentiate yourself,” he said.

“It doesn’t give the same return on your investment.”

alampert@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: @RealDealMtl