A little over a week ago, Michigan real estate agent Lisa Kay VanderMeer eloped with her now-husband, Steve. In getting back to business, she’s grappling with a common question for many agents who change their last names after marriage or divorce: How should she market the new moniker?
VanderMeer, formerly Lisa Kay Yonkus, didn’t want to keep the Yonkus name, which belongs to her ex-husband, so she asked for some advice from fellow real estate pros on Facebook earlier this year.
Some fellow agents and brokers replied simply “Don’t change it!” or “Have him take your last name,” but neither option appealed to VanderMeer, who describes herself as “traditional.”
There are several avenues for making the change a smooth transition, according to suggestions from industry pros, including leveraging the announcement to gin up business, separating business from personal so as to not lose brand momentum or finding new use for the oft-ignored middle name.
1. Hyphenate or tack on the new name.
This keeps the old, familiar name but also introduces the new name. It also leaves open the possibility of slowly letting the old name fade away à la Hillary (Rodham) Clinton.
2. Keep your old name for real estate and your new name for private life.
“I do this and would never consider changing it,” said broker-owner Ilanna Ball Coulbourn.
This might also come in handy if the unexpected happens and “happily ever after” doesn’t work out.
But check your state laws if you decide to go this route. Some may or may not require agents to file a DBA (doing business as) for the old name if the legal name is different or might not allow the practice at all, some real estate pros noted.
3. Play up your middle name.
Or make your maiden name your middle name.
4. Make sure your tech is in order.
Change your email signature, change your email address to reflect just your first name if you can, and make sure that if you buy a domain with your new name, both the old and new domains point to your website, others advised.
5. Use the name change as an excuse to reach out to your sphere of influence — friends, family, past clients.
“I used it as a reason to contact my SOI [sphere of influence] and was thrilled with how happy everyone was for me. Didn’t affect me at all,” said broker-owner Jill Eades.
Associate broker Jon Hegreness suggested making the name change a big deal — by sending out eight announcements over eight weeks, for instance. “Oddly, you will be sending a marketing piece that may drive your name into people’s memories better than any before,” he said.
‘Lisa Kay’: A plan of action
VanderMeer took much of this advice to heart. “I really liked the advice of ‘Market it, use that as a tool to reach out to your sphere.’ These are people that know you, like you, and trust you. Let them be happy for you, too,” she told Inman in an interview.
She’s still waiting for her real estate license to transfer over to her new name in the next couple of weeks, but once it does, she’ll start a marketing spree playing up her first and middle names, Lisa Kay.
Her new last name will replace her old last name in her marketing materials, “but people will hear my first and middle name for the most part,” she said.
“I’m going to push this hard through social media, letters and basically acting like a brand new agent when I first started,” she added.
VanderMeer started the transition process months ago, making new business cards topped with the names “Lisa Kay,” signing the holiday cards she sent out to past clients “Lisa Kay,” and making her Coldwell Banker Hubbell BriarWood email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Probably for awhile I will hyphenate on Facebook [i.e.] Lisa Kay Yonkus-VanderMeer and then just one day Yonkus will disappear,” she said.
She hopes to make “a significant amount of touches” to her sphere and implement some “pretty neat marketing ideas,” including dropping off small potted plants to several of her past clients, advertising with her business photo at the local movie theater, and maybe even hosting an event for past clients, such as a movie night or a client appreciation dinner.
And since VanderMeer and her husband eloped, her daughter has already advised her to send out a heckuva bridal announcement.