First impressions matter

When marketing a property for sale or lease, the most prevalent tool used by brokers and their agents to advertise a listed property is a real estate sign.

Real estate signs are intended to:

  • advertise a property for sale, lease or exchange; or
  • provide directions to the property listed.

Purchasing real estate signs

Signs come in a variety of sizes, materials, and designs.

Sizes range from smaller window signs commonly carried in the trunk of an agent’s car to larger commercial signs requiring professional installation.

The materials used to make signs also vary. From hardboard to metal to PVC plastic, the sign’s cost and durability depend on the type of material chosen for the sign.

When purchasing real estate signs, you want them to:

  • be durable;
  • capture the attention of passersby;
  • convey the marketing purpose of the property; and
  • display your contact information.

“For Sale” signs used on residential property are often made from hardboard and hung on sign posts. Hardboard signs are sufficiently durable to withstand typical California weather.

Sign post styles and designs also vary. However, the most commonly used sign post is the wooden 4” x 4” posts which are placed into the ground. Since the installation of these posts requires some digging, it is typically handled by professional sign installation companies for a fee.

Additional services provided by these sign installation companies may include:

  • sign design and printing;
  • sign storage; and
  • rider and flyer box installation.

Attraction is key

Real estate signs need to attract the prospects at first sight. This means your sign needs to set you apart from the competition. Brokers typically have sign templates and designs which are kept on file with a sign designer or printer.

Signs are meant to attract a prospect’s attention with unique details such as:

  • logos;
  • colors; and
  • layouts.

Many franchises offer pre-set templates for their brokers to use. However, brokers frequently limit their use of franchise artwork to the company’s logo, and design around it to create a unique look with the intent to separate themselves from competing franchisees.

As a broker, you have the ability to control the signs your licensees use by referring them to a sign manufacturer that has your company’s artwork and designs on file. This ensures a coherent company image, known as the broker’s brand.

In most cases, your agents will have the option to use your company’s generic signs or have their own customized signs made, such as a team may want. In addition to selecting the sign’s material, style and size, agents may want to establish their own unique brand.

When personalizing real estate signs, agents may choose to incorporate their own:

  • direct phone number;
  • personal website;
  • logo, motto or slogan;
  • name or team name;
  • portrait; and
  • QR code.

However, fictitious business names or team name may only be used with your authorization and oversight as the employing broker. [Calif. Business and Professions Code §§10159.5(b), 10159.7]

Further, the brokerage’s identification needs to be displayed on all real estate signs, whether personalized or generic. This avoids the improper suggestion agents are practicing real estate independently and without the required supervision of their employing broker who has a duty to protect members of the public.

Cost of real estate signs

Customized signs may cost more than the standard broker template already created for the company. Additional cost will depend on:

  • custom artwork;
  • additional colors used in the design; and
  • any additional typeset.

As an alternative, agents may choose to use the company’s generic design when they purchase signs and save money by not customizing. Sign riders may be used to display their name and phone number to direct calls directly to them. In addition, they may use sign riders to display additional information and features, including:

  • the property’s features;
  • a single property website;
  • home warranty information; and
  • a toll-free 24-hour recorded information line.

Where to place real estate signs

Be cautious where real estate signs are placed. To protect the public’s health and safety of flowing vehicular traffic, local regulations exist which limit a sign’s:

  • placement;
  • dimension; and
  • design. [Calif. Civil Code §§712, 713]

However, cities and local governments may not prohibit owners or their agents from placing real estate signs with reasonable dimensions and design on their property or on another property with the property owner’s permission. [Calif. Penal Code §§556.1, 556.3]

Reasonably located signs within a CID

Consider the owner of a residential unit in a common interest development (CID) who wants to sell their property. The owner and their agent place a “For Sale” sign on the interior side of the window of their unit where it can be seen by others.

A neighbor in the project complains about the sign to the homeowners’ association (HOA) which manages the project. In response, the HOA makes a demand on the owner to remove the sign, claiming the sign is a violation of the conditions, covenants and restrictions (CC&Rs) controlling conduct in the project.

May the owner and their agent place a “For Sale” sign in the window of their unit when the display is in violation of restrictions in the HOA’s CC&Rs?

Yes! Owners of real estate and their brokers have the right to display “For Sale” signs of reasonable dimension and design on their property. Also, they may display “For Sale” signs on property owned by others if they have their consent, despite title restrictions in the CC&Rs. [CC §713]

Reasonably located onsite signs

“For Sale” signs may be reasonably located in plain view for the public to observe. [CC §§712, 713]

In a CID, the boundaries of a unit owned as the separate interest of a member of the CID are the walls, windows, floors and ceilings. If the CC&Rs of the CID do not state otherwise, the interior surface of the perimeter walls, floors, ceilings, windows, doors, outlets and airspace located within a unit are considered the owner’s separate interest. All other portions of the walls, floors, ceilings and real estate are part of the common area maintained and managed by the HOA. [CC §4185(b)]

Thus, the owner is entitled to display a “For Sale” sign on the interior side of the window of their condominium unit. The interior side of the window belongs to the owner. Thus, placing the sign in the window is reasonable. [CC §4710]

However, if the owner seeks to display the sign on the ground area surrounding their unit, the owner needs to obtain the permission of the HOA. Here, the ground area is part of the common area owned by others, specifically, the undivided ownership interest held by all the owners of units in the CID. [CC §712]

Signs on right-of-ways and alongside public highways

The display or placement of a “For Sale” sign on a private or public right-of-way, such as roadways, may be limited or regulated by local government agencies. [CC §713]

Further, a directional sign advertising real estate for sale, lease or exchange that is located on property other than the property advertised for sale and visible from a highway which is subject to the federal Highway Beautification Act requires a special permit be obtained from the Director of Transportation of the State of California before the sign may be erected. [Bus & P C §§5200 et seq.]

Locating signs off-site

Consider an agent who, on behalf of a seller of real estate, advertises the seller’s property by placing a directional “For Sale” sign on a neighbor’s property without first obtaining the neighbor’s permission.

The neighbor discovers the “For Sale” sign on their property and removes it. However, the seller’s agent continues to replace the sign on weekends without permission from the neighbor.

Does the neighbor have recourse against the agent?

Yes! Placing a sign on private property without the property owner’s permission is a misdemeanor public nuisance. Preventing a public nuisance is the responsibility of local government authorities on a complaint from the owner who does not consent to the placement of directional signs. [Pen C §§556.1, 556.3]

Further, when a property owner or a real estate agent places a “For Sale” or a directional sign on public property without permission, such as on a sidewalk right-of-way or at the curbside, the placement is also a misdemeanor public nuisance. [Pen C §556]

Cities and counties often refuse or severely limit the granting of permission for placement of “For Sale” signs on public property, such as street corners, choosing to strictly enforce the penalties allowed by the California Penal Code. [Pen C §556]

When government agencies allow “For Sale” signs, they are usually by a special permit and with the payment of use fees. Further, they are typically only allowed for the sale of parcels in a subdivider’s development.

Knowing these limitations prevents the loss of signs, exposure to fines and a disgruntled client. If you’re unsure about sign placement, seek information from HOAs and local authorities before placing your signs. In this case, knowledge is your reputation and money saved.