One Man's Treasure Is Another Man's Ultimate White Elephant
by RW Ward
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There are nearly 1.5 million people in this country who think they have a white elephant and don’t know how to get rid of it. They have cemetery lots, mausoleum crypts, niches, markers, memorials, caskets, etc., they no longer or never wanted to own let alone use. The problem is, even though these items are sometimes worth tens of thousands of dollars, they haven’t got a clue how to go about getting them into the hands of someone who would want them.
Easy, you say, “Just run a classified and wait for the phone to ring.” You would be wrong of course because these things aren’t sold like houses and cars. You could spend more on running classified ads than your property, product or services are worth and still not sell them. The reason is they are time and need sensitive. Most things sold in our everyday world are want and price sensitive. When was the last time you woke up in the morning and said, “Gee where is that newspaper I really want to get some death care stuff today. I hope somebody has a great price on what I want.”
So how does one go about getting rid of these white elephants? First, they aren’t white elephants. They just appear to be because the way to market them is still being invented. The reason for this is that until just the last three decades there was little need to market them much at all except for the occasional divorce, where, understandably, Romeo and Juliet, who no longer could live together, sure weren’t going to lie through eternity together.
Families tended to remain in the same general vicinity for generations and having family plots or estates was common. This is no longer the case. Mom and dad live in Michigan the kids could be in New Mexico or Alaska and the likelihood of that family being buried together in the future has become more remote every year. Add to this the proliferation of people deciding to be cremated or not having a traditional burial and you start to get an idea of how big the changes have been to the traditions of funerals and burials.
It is estimated that nearly 1.5 million people probably have what they would consider one of these white elephants but don’t know what to do. We know there are a lot because we hear from some of them and the question is always the same, “What do I have to do to sell my property?”
The first thing we tell them is generally it won’t happen fast but when it does you have to be ready to sell immediately. It can take months and sometimes years to find the right buyer. When that email or phone call does come it generally will be because it is needed immediately and so you should have done your homework and be able to turn the property over within hours. This dichotomy is due to the nature of why people buy in the first place, need and speed. Most cemetery property whether sold by the professionals, funeral directors or cemetery owners, or private owners is sold as it is called “At-Need”, meaning somebody has just died and the family needs to decide on where to bury their loved one in the next two or three days. They generally are under pressure to make this crucial decision in the first 12 hours after death and are not disposed, understandably, to doing a lot of shopping around.
So, you should have found out how the property rights are transferred at the cemetery or mausoleum from one owner to another and what paperwork is needed. Generally, a form known as a “quit claim” or something like it is used by most cemeteries to accomplish transfer of rights from one owner to another. It requires your signature and the new owners and usually a fee to do the paperwork, by the cemetery, is charged. The fee can vary from a few dollars to as much as $150 depending on the cemetery ownership. The new owners pay you the agreed upon price and it is done.
So, you can see selling isn’t the big problem here. The big problem is making sure this particular family, on that particular day, at that particular cemetery know you even have the property for sale. Trust me they aren’t going to look in the classifieds for your ad.
So where will they turn to find out about you? That is were this new marketing is being invented. A good amount of it will be up to you and will take some legwork on your part. If you do it right, you will turn that white elephant into something of value and help a hurting family in the process, a very worthwhile goal, don’t you think?
So what do I do, you ask? First write a description and location of what it is you are selling. Make sure you provide pricing, contact information and any other pertinent facts about your offer the potential buyer should know. Don’t forget to let them know you already have done your “homework” and can deliver the property to them quickly and how that will be done. Remember, they are making scores of decisions at a very stressful time and others will be trying to convince them that even though the cost will be greater than what you would charge them for an almost the identical thing, it would be easier to buy from them the professionals. Besides, most states prevent cemeteries and funeral directors from selling already owned property under “sale for speculation laws”. They can however pass on information to a buyer from you about your offer.
Once you have your listing done get into the hands of those professionals who are involved with death care on a regular basis: clergy, social service professionals, funeral directors, nursing homes, hospices, trust accountants, financial and retirement specialists and estate attorneys, to name a few. This should be handled delicately but if you are providing a really good value to a family who is faced with the ever-increasing cost, the effort will be appreciated. You should be prepared to revisit, write or phone those professionals you make aware of your property every six months or so. Remember, if you don’t stay on top of it nobody else will.
Although the classifieds won’t help you much, you should register with one or several of the established Internet listing services available for private owners to list their property, goods and services. The pricing is as varied as the services and exposure. You should be listing with a service that provides potential buyers with a large listing of properties and seller with the least costly and most flexible arrangements. Being able to change your ad at any time and as easily as possible is must. Since time between listing and selling could be months or years you may not like having to pay a renewal fee every three or four months to maintain your listing, unless your getting something in addition to the listing. To find one of these listing services, try running a “cemetery lots for sale” Google or Yahoo Search like a buyer might. Make sure, however there are plenty of properties and cemeteries being listed. Don’t just list because it’s cheap or free. A professional service will have literally thousands of listings.
As this new market develops, the aging “Baby Boomer” population nearly insures this; it will provide a less costly purchase to families now without any alternatives. You will then have turned your white elephant into something of value.
About the Author
RW Ward, Essexville, Michigan, USA
The author writes and studies marketing and consumer trends in death care around the world. His industry experience includes some of the world's largest death care providers.