How to Write Listing Stories for Newspapers

Showcase your listings with an inside news story.

April 1, 2003

The time will come when you or your broker will have the opportunity to showcase one of your listings in the newspaper through a front-page or inside news story. This is an opportunity that you can really maximize with the right editorial and the right follow-up. And who knows? The buyer for your property might be reading the paper that day. Or you might meet some potential buyers who will want to work with you, or sellers who like the way you present a home.

Free editorial is a bonus that many papers offer their real estate advertisers. It creates a win-win situation for everyone. Depending on the amount of advertising they buy, brokerage firms get one or more feature stories that they can use to elaborate on listings, profile a salesperson, or announce company news. The paper gets to provide interesting news stories for its readers without paying for a reporting staff. And the consumers get to read in-depth stories about houses and people to whom they wouldn't be introduced otherwise.

The caveat is that someone in your company will have to write the article -- someone who more than likely isn't trained as a journalist. If the article is about a listing, chances are very good that you will get the duty.

One thing you need to know before you even start is that free editorial space still falls under the rules of journalism ethics, even though it is being generated by advertising dollars. That sounds like a Catch-22, but what that means is that while you are viewing your listing story as an ad, the paper considers it to be news. That means the information you include could be edited or cut completely, and you won't know why. The reason is that once editorial falls in the realm of news, the editor has the right to edit for length and content, and all of the advertising dollars in the world won't change that.

Your job is to produce a news story that will appeal to potential buyers and sellers without sounding too much like an ad. So here are a few guidelines that should insure the effectiveness and integrity of your copy:

  1. Ask what the guidelines are. Call the paper, ask for the real estate editor, and ask her/him what the guidelines are. You need to know the allowable length, whether telephone numbers are allowed, and what the deadline is.
  2. Copy the style of an article you like. Read other listing articles and cut out the ones you like. If a turn of phrase catches your eye, use it in your article. If you like the way the information is presented, copy the same format. Some listing articles feature a quote from the company president to add to the marquee value. You can do the same.
  3. Pyramid the information. The paper cuts from the bottom, so you want your most important news to be at the top of the article. Your first paragraph, or topic paragraph, should contain everything the reader will need to know. Why? Look at the sheer volume of content in an average Sunday edition. Many readers skim the paper, reading only the first paragraph and then moving on.
  4. Avoid subjective language. Many real estate professionals are guilty of describing homes and features in only the most superlative terms. Having written for MLS for so long, they are used to marketing to other practicioners and tend to use exclamations instead of descriptions. To compete, every home has to be "breathtaking," "gorgeous," or "charming." Once you've said that, there is nothing more to say, and frankly, it isn't effective. Not to mention that the paper will cut out subjective language because it isn't factual and can't be proven. So a "fabulous entry" -- which really doesn't tell the reader anything at all -- will be shortened to "entry." Instead, take the reader on a walking tour. "Enter through double hand-carved, 12-paneled oak doors to a two-story onyx marble-floored foyer." Wouldn't you rather see this entry than a "fabulous" one?
  5. Remember who your audience is. In a feature story, you are marketing to the consumer, not your peers. So you will have to cut the Realtorspeak. Include stories about the owners, with examples of how they use and enjoy some of the home's features. "The versatile bonus room adjoining the master suite has served the present owners over the years as a nursery, exercise room, and study." That scenario opens intriguing possibilities for the prospective buyers, who want flexibility.
  6. Try to schedule an open house using the buddy system. An open house still remains one of the best ways to showcase a home, but don't try it alone. The results of a feature story could bring in overwhelming numbers of people, and you will find yourself spread too thin and putting the security of your seller's home at risk. Ask other salespeople to join you. Be sure to have copies of the feature article to give to prospective buyers, and save some for future listing presentations.
  7. It doesn't hurt to toot your own horn. You can put in a quote from yourself, telling what you feel about the home, location, or another feature. If you are a specialist in this type of home, have won an award, or have been recognized as a top producer, stick that in, too.
  8. Sell more than the home. Buyers buy for a number of reasons. Often they shop location first, neighborhood second, and home, third. Be sure to include descriptions of neighborhood amenities, such as schools, parks, shopping, and services. Name nearby business centers or major employers.
  9. Don't use free editorial to save a listing or to market a stinker. How long would Nordstrom's or Neiman's be in business if they only advertised their worst merchandise? You owe it to yourself to use your free editorial to help you develop a reputation in the marketplace. You owe it to your clients, too. And as for saving a listing, seldom will a seller extend the listing because of a feature story. If it is that close to the wire, they are already talking to other agents or planning to remove the home from the market. Why would you want to advertise a property from which you won't collect a commission when it sells? Unless your seller will contract with you for at least three months or more after the article is published, it isn't worth your time or your broker's money.

(c) Copyright 2003 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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