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Where Did All Those Cemetery Lots For Sale Go?

By RW Ward, Death Care Consultant
©The Final Arrangements News Journal
February 15, 2004

Where did all those cemetery lots go when American consumers decided they didn't want to be buried anymore? Who has them to sell? Who in today's Cremation only world is buying them and where are they going to find them?

If we can believe the numbers from such organizations as the Cremation Association of North America, the American consumer is rapidly changing how he wishes to have those final arrangements take place. According to CANA's predictions there is a shift from traditional funerals to cremations that is shaking the very foundation of the death care industry.

CANA has been predicting since 1998 that Americans by the year 2010 will have shifted their choice to be cremated from 15% of all deaths in 1987 to over 47% in 2010. If this is true, and there is evidence to say it is, the traditional funeral and cemetery industry is in for some tough financial times.

Given this shift in consumer choice, what has happened to all that cemetery property sold in the hay day of cemetery expansion that went on in the 1950s, 60s and don't forget the inflation pitch of the 1970s.? Why haven't we seen more offers to sell those  lots granddad bought in 1950 to create the "Family Estate" in that new fangled  memorial cemetery that sprang up on farmer Brown's "Back Forty"?

The "cemeterians", as the cemetery industry likes to call its salesmen, told granddad he was doing the right thing by the whole family when he signed up for the 12 lot estate. Granddad, the kindly cemeterian told him,  was showing love, saving money, not losing out on his family's share of space, making a shrewd deal only paying $50 a lot when next year they'll probably be double that and most importantly bragging rights at the next Grange meeting about his smart family purchase. Granddad buying all or some of these hot button closing pitches signed up.

He paid the $10 a month for the five or six years it took to actually get a deed to the family estate. Then the whole family sat back and waited for that first shovel to be wielded.

The cemeterians have long left town. Actually they never were in town, really. They were part of band of roving pitchmen who would roll into a small town for six or seven months to turn twenty to eighty acres of what used to be corn stalks into those tranquil, peaceful, rolling lawns of everlasting bliss memorial parks and gardens the cemeterians told their potential customers they would be in a few years.

So how did granddad make out? Well, actually from an investment stand point, not too bad. But it is still a no no to refer to cemetery property as an investment. We can thank those wonderful Cemeterians and their less than ethical selling tactics for that. The cemetery  today sells lots right next to the ones granddad bought, for $50 a piece, to new buyers for thousands. If only granddad could look at his property as an investment like the cemetery's do.

From a practical standpoint, granddad didn't do so well. Of the 12 lots only four have been used .and one is waiting for him. The other seven sit there with no one in the family remotely interested in using them. All five kids moved away from town and live thousands of miles away and don't plan to be brought back just to go into a hole in the ground with their family name on it. Besides they have been reading the CANA stuff and have decided to be one with nature and get tossed to the wind right after the cremation.




Granddad wouldn't even be going back home if it wasn't for the fact grandma is buried there and they have a memorial just waiting for the year to be stamped in it below his name. Of course he no longer remembers that fact and hasn't remembered much of anything since 1995 when his Alzheimer put him in that nursing home in Boca Raton.

So what can the family do? They have seven lots nobody will use, worth thousands of dollars the family sure could use and not one person they can think of who isn't also reading the CANA surveys. 

The cemetery won't buy the lots and they can't spend enough money in the newspaper trying to act like cemetery property gets sold like a car or a sofa. Sally, the eldest daughter found that out the hard way. She tried running ads in granddad's old home town newspaper but after a year of trying nobody called and the amount she spend now means just to break even they have to sell at least one lot to pay for the thousand dollars of weekly insertion orders that piled up.

Sally's son had her thinking the Internet was the way to go. He told her she could auction them off on one of those Ebay type sites. It just had to work he told her. Well after four tries and no bids Sally decided it didn't. The son insisted maybe the Internet classifieds. If nothing else he told her, they only cost a little every week or so, no where near what the newspaper cost. How could she lose.

Sally lost. Now it will take two lots to pay for the newspaper, auction and Internet advertising that didn't work. The problem Sally faces is not that unusual. It is estimated there are nearly 1.5 Sally's in the US who could save the 53% of consumers who still want to buy granddad's cemetery lots a whole lot of money on final arrangements if they only knew she was there and willing to sell.

The problem is Sally needs to be available when these buyers want to buy and that means somewhere she can stay visible for however long it will take to have that buyer need or want granddad's lots, without running up the bill. Some place that people turn to for property and someplace that actually does something to promote her besides running her offer and hoping for the best.

Sally and the 1.5 million other private owners need a market essentially like the real estate industry has. Someplace people turn to when they're going to look for cemetery lots and someplace that like the real estate industry actually tries to put buyers and sellers together. 

It would have to some place that has high visibility and doesn't end up costing Sally another 20% of granddad's investment in commissions on top of the 20% she already spent on classifieds and auctions.

The only place we know of that understands the difficulties Sally and her family face in selling granddad's cemetery lots is The Cemetery Registry on the Internet. TCR never charges for how long Sally would have to advertise. TCR has a unique Buyer Request program that literally seeks out buyers and asks them if it can help find the cemetery and the property they want to buy and does it for free! As result TCR now has thousands of buyers actively looking for lots and more make requests everyday. The problem for TCR is now they don't have enough Sally's with property these buyers need.

TCR has high visibility for what it does, list and sell cemetery lots. You can't use Google to search for cemetery lots in any state without TCR showing up in the first page or two of the search engine results. That is visibility. We would have Sally click here if it were us The Final Arrangements Network

About the Author
RW Ward, Essexville, Michigan, USA
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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.

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