The radio producers looked impressed when Kris Lindahl swept into the studio to record a holiday-themed commercial.
He spoke so fast that he came in well under the 60-second mark, dropping in his signature “guaranteed offer” pitch as smoothly as Santa sneaking a toy under a tree.
The KS95-FM team had just one suggestion: Should he say “Kris with a K” when he mentioned his website?
“I think people know it by now,” he replied.
We don’t really have a choice. Lindahl’s name and mansculpted face are literally unavoidable anytime you leave your house in the Twin Cities.
A hyper-promotional, personable Realtor who’s leading the shift to impersonal online home sales, Lindahl is the guy with the open-arms pose spread across hundreds of billboards around town. He’s on buses and trains, and even airplane banners.
Lindahl is all over social media, too, as an advertiser, aspiring motivational speaker and vlogger — and the target of a sizable backlash. Hashtag: #krislindahlmustbestopped.
Simply put, many people are sick of seeing him. His inescapable signage has led to spoofs by everyone from fellow Realtors to “Daily Show” vet Lizz Winstead to trick-or-treating Halloween kids whose parents tagged Lindahl on Instagram (where he also has a heavy ad presence).
Competitors question his tactics but follow his innovations — his two-year-old agency sold more homes than any other independent in the state this year. Colleagues and friends vehemently defend him, and admire how the snark seems to roll off his back.
His resiliency isn’t surprising when you learn the back story of the man recognized by so many but known by so few.
Lindahl, 37, first saw the family name splashed in the media when he was just a sophomore at Fridley High School.
His dad was run over and killed by his girlfriend after a drunken argument.
“I grew up fast,” said Lindahl.
While getting an education degree at Minnesota State University, Mankato, he hawked spring-break vacations to other students to earn free trips for himself. “I had to create a lot of my own opportunities,” he said.
In the mid-2000s, Lindahl gave up designs on being a schoolteacher after attending a seminar on how to profit from short sales — houses with too-big mortgages — just as the real estate bubble burst. He scored big in the downturn, specializing in selling homes for less than what people had paid for them. Then he went mainstream when the market turned around.
He still fancies himself an educator, though.
He has started his own podcast and is giving motivational speeches on making it in the modern, digitally driven business world. He posts instructional videos via LinkedIn and other online outlets offering “his game-changing tips and tricks.”
Lindahl touts his success regularly, but often inarguably. Only a decade since getting his Realtor’s license, and two years since he split off from Re/Max Results to start his own agency, his Kris Lindahl Team already boasts 140 employees. By design, nearly all are under the age of 45.
“People with more experience are often set in their ways,” he explained, “and right now, the way the industry is changing, that’s not a good thing.”
Partnering with the flourishing realty website Zillow, he relies heavily on strategies to attract online shoppers — high-quality home photos, for one. According to MLS data, his company sold about 1,250 homes in 2019. Lindahl claims more than double that figure, saying that many homes were sold so quickly that they didn’t even make the MLS listings.
A real estate agent’s name isn’t supposed to be bigger in ads than their agency’s, at least according to the old-school rules. But the impact of all those billboards that many claim to hate is a big reason people are turning to his team, Lindahl insists.
“Name recognition is a big part of this business now. Anyone who hangs out with me can tell you: I’m definitely getting recognized now. But it’s really not about me.”
The Minneapolis ad executive who handles Lindahl’s media buys, Tracy Call of Media Bridge Advertising, argues that the omnipresent ad campaign “is not ego-driven.” It’s practical — and effective.
“He’s getting a lot of coverage and attention off a very simple billboard campaign,” Call said. That allows his team to focus less on drumming up new customers, and “more on the other tasks they do.”
Strike a pose
Lindahl’s mass-marketing approach was rather massive from the get-go: He started with about 100 billboards and bus ads in 2017.
He did not have his signature pose right off the bat, though.
“It took me a while to figure out what to do with my arms: Do I cross them, hold them down, or what?” he remembered.
His biggest attention-grabber was a pro-Minnesota Vikings billboard outside the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium before their NFC Championship match in 2018.
That’s the only sign he actually intended to irritate people.
“It really put me on the map,” he said, laughing. He has yet to do business outside Minnesota and western Wisconsin, but “it got a ton of media coverage and social media play back home.”
Lindahl never seems to turn off his marketing switch. It was on display last month at WeWork in Uptown, the trendy, latté- and juice-bar-equipped shared office space where Lindahl works more often than at his team’s offices in Blaine and Eden Prairie.
Conscious of the journalists shadowing him, he spent much of the afternoon talking to team members about his namesake scholarship, charity efforts and merchandising ideas for a campaign called #BeGenerous — a slogan he hopes will become as much a personal trademark as his arms-wide pose.
Sweatshirts, T-shirts and hats with “Be Generous” emblazoned on them “make you feel proud and good about yourself,” he trumpets.
While a fellow Realtor suggested the guy “must only get four hours of sleep, like Donald Trump,” Lindahl insisted he gets plenty of downtime.
He attends a lot of football games (where his ads also can be spotted, of course). He’s an avid fisherman, too. (Kris Lindahl ads on boats and icehouses cannot be ruled out.)
He also spends ample time co-parenting his 10-year-old daughter Victoria, a dancer and (he hopes) aspiring golfer.
After his divorce became internet gossip fodder, Lindahl’s ex-wife helped arrange an adorable billboard where Victoria mimicked her dad with an open-arms Father’s Day salute.
Facing down the skeptics
The oldest of four siblings, Lindahl was 16 and squarely focused on varsity football and basketball in 1998 when his father, John — separated but still legally married to Kris’ mother, Karwyn — was killed.
John’s fiancé, Regina Shaddick, ran into him with a van and dragged him about 50 yards after they fought at a Minneapolis bar. Her blood alcohol content tested at more than twice the legal limit.
She claimed she was trying to defend herself; John had been convicted three times of domestic abuse. She pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide and was sentenced to six years in prison.
A friend of Lindahl’s since they were teenagers, Ryan Nelson said the self-made mogul is “somebody people should be rooting for, not against.”
Nelson recalled driving around in Lindahl’s beat-up Ford Explorer — “you could fit a baseball through the holes in it” — to symbolize his friend’s modest upbringing.
“He’s faced a lot of adversity in his life, and he always finds a way to get around it. I think there’s a lot of jealousy for his success, and the internet in general is filled with negativity.”
Some of the skepticism comes from competitors. Ross Kaplan, a Realtor for Edina Realty, wrote a widely read blog post debunking Lindahl’s “guaranteed offer,” which promises a home seller a set price within days.
“The ‘guaranteed offer’ really isn’t,” Kaplan wrote, pointing to “caveats, buried in the fine print.” Those include inspection laws in cities including Minneapolis and Bloomington that make such transactions nearly impossible, and a general exception clause that states such offers are “made at Kris Lindahl Real Estate’s and its third-party investors’ sole discretion.”
Lindahl declined to say how many of his agency’s sales actually involve the guaranteed offer. “It works in some cases, but not all,” he said, admitting that he’s not personally involved in most of his team’s sales.
A fellow Realtor who worked alongside Lindahl at Re/Max, Jason Stockwell, called his former colleague’s approach “gimmick-driven.”
“Unless you’re somebody who absolutely needs to sell your house in a couple days and is willing to do so at what’s probably a lower selling price, there’s really no reason to go that route,” said Stockwell, who otherwise admires some of Lindahl’s “bold practices.”
“No one is willing or able to outspend him” on the marketing front, Stockwell said, while praising Lindahl’s understanding of where the internet is taking the realty business.
With online companies such as Zillow and Opendoor taking over the industry, the average face-to-face Realtor who only sells a dozen homes a year could largely be swept aside by agents with large online presences and highly Google-searched names.
Lindahl likens his arm-spanning ads to Nike’s famous swoosh: “It’s all about brand identity to make us the No. 1 team in Minnesota, which benefits our agents and especially our customers.”
So all those billboards and bus ads aren’t going away anytime soon?
“No,” he said with an unapologetic smile. “Not while they still work.”