Photo: tibchris via flickr
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” the age-old adage goes. And this is particularly true in real estate, which is why it’s so critical for sellers to make sure their agents post polished photos that tell an accurate story about their home, while showing it in its best light.
That said, in most listing systems and property flyers, you don’t have the opportunity to post a thousand words’ worth of text describing your home: you might get 100 words, at best — and many systems limit you to just a couple of hundred characters in total.
To market your home like a pro, you’ve got to make sure that every single one of these precious characters counts, adding something powerful to the picture that your home’s listing photos have already created.
Here’s a double-digit list of words, phrases and word families that you and your listing agent can use to craft a vivid listing description of your home — and the lifestyle you want buyers to visualise living in it.
1. “Walkable to. . .”
Listen, I’m aware that some people feel the phrase “walk to” is fraught with political correctness pitfalls, from possible insensitivities to our friends and relatives who cannot walk due to a physical disability to vagaries and confusion presented by wide variances in what you and I might consider “walkable.”
But the concept is valid: home buyers have a soft spot in their hearts for homes that are highly accessible to the shops, parks, cafes and cultural amenities they want to make a part of their everyday lives.
The results of a study by Walkscore.com bears this out: buyers are simply willing to pay more for homes with high “walkability” rankings, compared with homes in sprawling neighborhoods where cars are necessary to get to and from essentials.
Accordingly, if your home is within walking distance or otherwise well-located vis-a-vis nearby conveniences, you should shout it from the rooftops. I mean, include it in your listing description.
To do this, you might actually include the hot spots and major employers your home is “walkable to” if you and your agent agree that it’s the best way to paint the picture of your home’s proximity to desirable amenities and community resources.
Alternatively, consider strategies like giving a precise distance, number of blocks or length of the drive (at the legal speed limit) it would take to get from your home to the target amenities, on average.
2. Feel, floor plan and flow.
Words which indicate that a home is characterised by stretches of clean, clear space, light, flow and openness of floor plan are generally attractive to buyers, and can trigger their interest in coming to see your home.
However, what is even more important in a listing description is that you avoid the temptation to flat-out manipulate buyers/readers by inaccurately describing your home in an effort to get them there at any cost!
If your home has a darker, more compartmentalized floor plan, don’t say it’s bright and open – instead, reference it as offering a more formal style of living, or leave the ‘flow’ descriptions out entirely and let the pictures do that work instead.
3. Lifestyle upgrades for first-time buyers.
If your home is in an area, a price range or has other characteristics that are treasured by first-time buyers, you can get major bang out of every listing description word by simply mentioning the ways in which life in your home would represent a big lifestyle upgrade compared to living in an apartment or a rental.
For example, dropping verbal clues that your home has ample storage spaces, offers exceptional privacy and quiet, or has uniquely usable furnished or otherwise ready-to-enjoy outdoor living spaces are all mentions that can capture the attention of even the most bargain-hungry first-time buyers.
If your home’s finishes include materials that your agent feels are particularly desired by buyers in your area, you might want to call those materials out in your home’s listing.
In fact, in their 2005 book Freakonomics, economists Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner ran some numbers and found five words which, when present in listings, were positively correlated with higher purchase prices — and three of the five were finish materials: granite, Corian and maple. (The other two? State-of-the-art and gourmet.)
As you explore whether you should be calling out your home’s finish materials in your listing description, keep in mind two things: (1) what buyers prefer changes over time, and (2) different buyers prefer different materials.
So, while granite counters and hardwood floors were the materials du jour a couple of years back, buyers are increasingly responsive to mentions of more avant garde materials like concrete countertops and cork floors.
5. Brand names.
Describing your home’s style or design aesthetic with reference to brand names is a pithy, yet power-packed, way to communicate a great deal of information and paint a contextual and stylistic picture, with very few words. For example, describing a home as Pottery Barn chic sparks images of family-style living spaces that are well-coordinated and comfortable.
While declaring that your home’s decor or fittings are styled after a Restoration Hardware aesthetic creates images of upscale, polished and modern takes on vintage-inspired looks.
You’d better believe that people in the market for homes are also in the market for designs and furnishings, a truth you can use to create a quick mental image of your home by evoking any brand with a particularly strong aesthetic, from Crate and Barrel to Neiman Marcus.
Another way brand names can be powerfully included in your home’s listing is joint with #1, by indicating the popular stores and shopping corridors that are conveniently accessible from the property. Mentioning the home’s proximity to “shopping and dining” is good; detailing that it is less than a half-mile from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and the Elmwood shops is great.
And, of course, if your kitchen appliances are Wolf, Viking or Miele, your closets were custom-designed by California Closets or your home has other name-brand built-ins or items you’re including in the sale that are valuable and sought-after, drop those brand names, too!
6. neighbourhood names.
If your home is in a desirable or up-and-coming neighbourhood, don’t just assume that buyers are going to find it by searching for listings on a map, within a certain radius or within a particular zip code. Including the actual name of your district or neighbourhood allows your home’s listing to become searchable for that term.
In particular, if your home typifies a style of home for which your area is well-known, dropping the names of both the neighbourhood and the style can pack a one-two punch with just a couple of words, e.g. Westbrook Victorian, Broadmoor Tudor and Rockridge Craftsman.
7. “Built-in” or “custom.”
Caveat: throwing a custom hot rod tricycle, bonsai tree trimming workshop or other arcane “value-adds” into the deal is not necessarily a compelling proposition for buyers. But if you have had custom features with wide appeal built into your home, you should definitely consider mentioning them.
Some that fit the bill include:
• Custom desks and bookcases
• Built-in closet organisers and garage storage systems
• customised recycling centres or backyard composters
• Custom, artisan-built wood doors, windows and cabinetry
• Built-in furniture like breakfast nook banquettes and window seats.
8. On trend features.
I’m not suggesting that you stage or change your home to make it line up with short-lived trends, but I am suggesting that you work with your agent to keep your finger on the pulse of current shifts in what buyers like and make sure to trigger those preferences with mentions of your home’s features that map to buyer’s wish lists.
For example, urban farming is hot right now — if you have a kitchen garden, a chicken coop or an in-ground composter, make mention of them in your listing. In the same vein, buyers are looking for home with features that are both environmentally and financially responsible, so if your home has solar panels, dual-paned windows, low-flow shower heads or was recently remodeled with low-VOC paints and no-emission/sustainable flooring, these green features should also be considered for inclusion in your home’s listing description.
9. Little kitchen luxuries.
Buyers like food prep space, plentiful counter space, professional-grade appliances and – that Holy Grail of kitchen features: islands. Other mention-worthy kitchen features that can change a buyer from indifferent to interested in a viewing include breakfast nooks, vegetable sinks and pot-fillers (a plumbed-in faucet right over the stove) and stoves that run on gas (vs. electric).
10. Differentiators from the competition.
Think of your home’s listing description as a luxury chauffeur that escorts prospective buyers right to the very best features of your home. Don’t make buyers have to hunt around for the reasons why they should see your home instead of the one across the street!
If your home is on a premium lot, or has an extra bathroom or a mother-in-law unit compared to the others for sale in your subdivision or town at the same price range — mention it. And same goes for pricing, condition or incentives you’re offering, like prepaid HOA dues or closing cost credits: whatever your home has going for it that others lack should be front and centre in your listing.
ALL: What words have you seen in listings that you found particularly powerful – or powerless?
Read more posts on Trulia’s Real Estate Realist »
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