A Very Seattle story unfolded as a Denver startup that put ads all over parks to promote its new real-estate services ran up against locals protective of their park space and suspicious of out-of-towners coming in to profit off the booming market.
An out-of-town real-estate company hoped to make a big splash ahead of its launch in Seattle on Wednesday, so it put cutouts of little green pigs all over the region. The plan was to create buzz and online searches that would lead people to discover the firm.
So early Tuesday, its street team scattered 1,500 of the little pigs, from Seattle parks and the University of Washington campus to lifeguard stands, trees and the grass beneath the welcome sign to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. And it set up mysterious “green pig” social-media accounts and a website that would ultimately lead curious people to their company.
But the community response did not go as planned. Initial curiosity by people posting online (“anyone know what these pigs are all about?”) quickly turned to disdain.
A city that is famously protective of its park space and upset that the soaring housing market is pricing people out was not pleased that a newcomer was littering the region’s green spaces with ads for a company trying to profit off the local real-estate boom.
One popular Reddit post, which made a point of not even wanting to name the company, figured the marketers were checking social media and wanted to send them a message: “You should know that you have read our region wrong. This is not the sort of thing we respond well towards,” the poster wrote. “We take our parks very seriously and are so proud of them, that to see them used for free advertising is insulting.”
Others were less polite. “Where do you live? We’ll be happy to drop them off on your yard for you, along with any other trash we find,” one person wrote to the Green Pigs Facebook page the company had set up.
“Please, go bankrupt,” another Facebook commenter wrote.
The Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, in support of local real-estate agents, said of the pigs: “I say gather them all up and get them out of town!” Some people posted pictures of themselves doing just that.
A UW professor said she gathered a bunch of them up from around campus and brought them to her lecture to make a point about the legality of removing signs from public property.
Even the city of Seattle took notice. Parks and Recreation Department crews spent the day Tuesday removing the green pigs during normal maintenance rounds, a spokeswoman said.
The company responsible for the ads, Denver-based TRELORA, said it had always planned to take the pigs down by the end of the week, and will still do that if any are left after city crews and upset neighbors are done with them.
TRELORA CEO/co-founder Joshua Hunt said the company will be donating $2,500 to the Seattle parks department and has already given $10,000 to the Pike Place Market Foundation in support of social services and community housing.
“We’ve always had every intention of removing the pigs, and will have TRELORA crews dispersed throughout the city this week for cleanup,” Hunt said in a statement. “We chose Seattle for this very reason — it’s a passionate city that cares about its residents, its image, and its community.”
So what is TRELORA? It’s a jumble of the word “REALTOR,” and is the latest in a long line of startups trying to “disrupt” or “innovate” the traditional real-estate industry.
Most brokerages charge a 3 percent commission to each homebuyer and seller, generally taken from the sale price. TRELORA charges a flat fee instead. It officially launched in the Seattle metro area on Wednesday, after expanding from the Colorado market, and will be charging a flat fee of $2,500 for access to its real-estate team.
Traditional brokerages like Windermere and John L. Scott still dominate the home-selling market. Even the largest of the companies trying to change that model — Seattle-based Redfin, which charges lower commissions — has had limited success, selling 0.6 percent of all U.S. homes.
(The jury is still out on what the right model is for homebuyers and sellers. Real-estate startups have proliferated because there is a sense that homes today in hot markets sell themselves, while buyers don’t need expensive agents because they can only get homes by offering the highest bid regardless. But traditional brokerages produce studies showing their agents negotiate prices to the point where their commissions pay for themselves, while the local brokerage community is tight-knit and members generally work together to generate leads for their clients.)
And why green pigs? A spokeswoman for the company said they “represent how TRELORA will turn consumers’ piggy banks green with commissions savings.” All right then.