What's the Story?

A listing agent decided to use her marketing powers to investigate the home's unique history and lifestyle features and share those details with potential buyers everywhere.

February 1, 2011

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a beautiful house for sale on a great block in a desirable town. But there were lots of other beautiful houses on other great blocks in the same town, and buyers just didn’t know which one to choose. One day, a smart listing agent decided to use her special marketing powers to investigate the home’s unique history and lifestyle features and share those details with potential buyers everywhere. All of a sudden, buyers loved the home. They could see it was one of a kind, and the home found a new, loving owner. Together, they lived happily ever after.

This tale is playing out all over the country, as real estate professionals find success through creative and detailed property descriptions that take on a story-like form. Just as staging helps potential buyers envision themselves living in a home, a so-called “house story” helps create a sense of romance or intrigue about a property that will pull in the right buyer. While storytelling is easiest to accomplish with luxury properties, it can work for any listing that has historic or unique features. The stories can be told through nearly any marketing vehicle, from postcards and MLS comments to videos on YouTube. Here are three great storytelling tactics.

1. Interview the Sellers.

When crafting a house story, the best place to start is with the current owner. Jennifer Sheedy, a salesperson with Phoenician Fine Properties Realty in Scottsdale, Ariz.,  uncovers those special details by asking sellers how they use the house and what they love best about it. Through conversation, you can learn about unique architectural features or hobbies that the home allows for—for example, it may have just the right space for wine collecting—and those details can become part of your story.

Jason Berns of Dickson Podley,REALTORS®, in Pasadena, Calif., asks sellers to dig up any old photos they might have of the house. “Having those photos creates a timeline and makes a connection for buyers,” he says. “It gives them a sense of how the house has evolved.” For older houses, libraries and historical society archives are other great places to look for photos and interesting tidbits.

Betsy and John Westman of Westman Realty in Grand Rapids, Mich., are quite familiar with marketing historic homes. They live and work in a restored Victorian that’s located in a neighborhood where almost every home has an interesting past.

“The stories have played a major part in marketing properties,” John Westman says. “People moving into the neighborhood are interested in the roots. To imagine Bill Lear at his conference table in the house next door to you—could that be where the Learjet was invented?” 

One listing, he learned, was once owned by one of the first African American dentists in Grand Rapids. The property also provided lodging to various legends of the Jazz Age who were turned away from nearby hotels because of their race.

2. Brand it.

When you view a property as a product, it makes sense to brand it in a way that makes buyers take notice. For Sheedy, this begins with creating a catchy name for the property.

She refers to one of her most recent listings—an upscale, five-bedroom, five-bathroom home near Camelback Mountain in Phoenix—as “Camelhead Camelot” in her marketing materials. That name is accompanied by a property description meant to appeal to buyers who love to have parties: “Entertainer’s heaven, holds hundreds of guests yet a wonderful family home as well.” She also conveys the history and architecture: “Completely rebuilt from the ground up in ’95 with designers from the Wrigley mansion.”

She named one of her previous listings “Biltmore Rose Cottage,” drawing upon the history of the nearby Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. “You can instantly create an identity through a somewhat romantic name,” even if the home doesn’t have a dramatic history, she says.

3. Target Those Who’ll Buy.

As you write your story, keep a clear focus on the potential buyer. “You have to know your audience,” Sheedy says. “Is it someone who’s looking for a second home on the golf course, or someone who’s going to be working downtown? You have to make sure your story plays to what the buyer wants.”

Laurie Moore-Moore, founder of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing in Dallas, says it all comes down to the principle of sacrifice.

“Don’t waste your time bringing in people who won’t buy the house,” Moore-Moore told practitioners during the 2010 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. “Sacrifice those people and focus on the ones who will buy.”

For instance, if you’re struggling to get offers on a home because it has a minuscule backyard, create a message that targets the small pool of buyers who’ll see that negative feature as a selling point. Start with an interesting and descriptive headline that will grab your target audience. Perhaps: “Backyard Removed for Your Convenience.”

Once you draw prospects in with a great headline, follow up with a story that defines the home’s lifestyle and calls out the one-of-a-kind features.

“Marketing is storytelling,” Moore-Moore says. “Ask yourself what is different about the house that competitive homes can’t say? Find that special story.”

“I create a house story whenever possible,” says Sheedy. “I find that a house with a story draws more traffic, moves more quickly and sells for more money.