At Stanford Federal Credit Union ($1.65B, Palo Alto, CA), the appetite for monthly home-buying seminars was so voracious the cooperative soon realized from the questions members were asking that it needed another, larger educational outlet. The solution? Home-buying fairs, which the credit union introduced in 2003.
The fairs are home-buying seminars on steroids, with more presentations and in-depth discussions than a 90-minute, 30-person monthly seminar can provide. Although seminars focus exclusively on loans and the home-buying process, the fairs cover additional ground related to the entire purchase process. Topics such as home inspections and title and escrow generate the most questions.
“We started noticing people asking questions about title companies, or how they would know if the house was a good one to buy,” says Margaret Wold vice president of marketing and business development. “The smaller real estate seminars just have a real estate agent and our loan officer. The fair has the whole gamut.”
The fairs, which are generally held twice a year in the spring and fall, have been so successful that Stanford Federal is contemplating adding a third, says Indiana Ortega, director of marketing and business development.
How Fairs Differ From Seminars
To offer a more thorough overview of home buying, the fair typically includes four speakers who each spend about 30 minutes discussing their topic before addressing questions from attendees. Consequently, fairs last up to four hours, with time built in for short breaks. Because they are more than twice as long as home-buying seminars, Stanford only holds fairs on weekends.
Hitting on the right length of time for the fair was tricky. The credit union didn’t want speakers rushing through the material so quickly that the audience had trouble absorbing all the information, Ortega says. At the same time, though, fairs that lasted too long risked becoming tedious and time-consuming. Four hours were the sweet spot.
“It’s not too short of a workshop or too long,” Ortega says. “At times we get so many questions that we have to cut it off.” When that happens, the credit union will answer the member’s question after class.
The fair attracts an audience from across the credit union’s membership spectrum, including Stanford University students and faculty as well as members from Stanford Federal’s Silicon Valley SEGs, such as Google and SAP. The cut-off for attendance is 75 people, though the credit union sends out more invitations to account for a few last-minute cancelations. Even then, Stanford Federal usually exceeds its quota because it also accepts a substantial number of walk-ins at its corporate office, where the fairs are usually held.
In 11 years of hosting the fairs, Ortega says the credit union has never had difficulty attracting enough attendees. One reason is because the program offers popular speakers such as Mike Mendenhall of Keller Williams Realty, a real estate agent in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area since 1982. Another is that Stanford Federal heavily markets the fairs to members who live within a 60-to-100-mile radius of the credit union’s headquarters, sending an email blast with detailed information about the event. The marketing blitz begins a few months before the fair and lasts until the day before the event is held to maximize the chances of a large turnout.
Costs And Benefits
Including marketing costs, Stanford Federal says the real estate fairs are relatively inexpensive to set up, though the credit union declined to provide specifics. In any case, the opportunity to build good will with potential homebuyers, who will probably need a mortgage, makes it worth the investment. Because fair attendees are typically serious buyers, Stanford Federal captures their information knowing that within six months or so they may be ready to buy.
“We make sure that we maintain contact with them so that we are there for them when they are ready to get that loan,” Wold says.
One message Ortega likes to convey is that the credit union can be a trusted partner in the home-buying process. Plus, Stanford Federal has a list of trusted real estate partners, she says, from realtors to home inspectors to title companies, that it can pass on to members to facilitate the home-buying process. All of those partners come with the credit union’s stamp of approval.
At the same time, Wold is quick to point out that the fairs are offered for primarily educational reasons. “It’s one of the promises we make to our membership,” she says. “We’re not pitching; we’re educating.”