Up Your Blurb Appeal

Do your listing ads tell the story you want?

January 21, 2015

Your listings may have great curb appeal, but are you telling their story as effectively as you can? While the photos—and prices—may first grab buyers’ attention online, your property descriptions offer up another important piece to the marketing puzzle, says Melynda Capps, a sales associate with 1st Choice Realty in Citrus Heights, Calif. “The appeal of a home is usually not just a double oven or bamboo flooring, and words like ‘wonderful’ don’t usually say much,” says Capps. “The property description offers a chance to sell the luxury of a home.”

When Capps started in real estate, her ads read like most others, a long list of features: “Wolf range, granite, lg island, butlers pantry w/ice maker/wine fridge . . .” Eventually she realized she was overlooking an opportunity to make more of an emotional connection with buyers. On a $1.2 million listing she crafted a narrative—“Living is easy in this impressive, generously spacious residence with Delta views and access”—then led buyers through a verbal tour, carefully noting the “sleek and stylish gourmet kitchen that flows through the dining room” and how the “expansive living room opens up to a spacious rear patio with pool and spa.” She realized then that all of her listings, including entry-level homes listing for below $200,000, would benefit from rich, descriptive prose that made the homes come alive to buyers.

Indeed, other real estate professionals are hiring professional writers to improve their property prose. Real estate copywriter Valerie Haboush, once dubbed by The New York Times as a “poet of property,” has made a business out of writing lyrical property descriptions for two decades. Her clients have included The Corcoran Group, Douglas Elliman, Coldwell Banker, and Sotheby’s International Realty. She charges an average of $150 per ad, though the price varies depending on the length and scope of work required.

“You can use words to create a feeling for a place,” Haboush says. “When you start describing the richness of the kitchen cabinets or the fineness of the finishes and that perfect place to prepare gourmet meals in the kitchen—you start to create a picture.”

Jazz It Up

Here are suggestions for amping up the literary power of property descriptions.

  1. Set a scene. Capps walks through properties, asking herself, “Why would a buyer want this house? What do the pictures not show that I can tell in the description?” For example, maybe buyers need to “imagine sitting on the spacious patio, playing games with friends while enjoying the gorgeous sunset.” For a Mooresville, N.C., home, Haboush wrote about the wall-to-wall windows as “a haven for gazing at Lake Norman views” and how the “grand entryway with a sweeping staircase draws you into a voluminous layout made for entertaining.”
  2. Get more descriptive. Instead of simply saying “bedroom,” use adjectives to sell its appeal: “expansive bedroom,” “light-filled bedroom,” “south-facing bedroom,” or even a “sumptuous master bedroom as a special haven adorned with Brazilian hardwood floors,” Haboush says. For a property in Delray Beach, Fla., Haboush wrote, “the sun-drenched ambiance flows through all the massively proportioned rooms that include a dramatic double-height great room [and] gourmet kitchen with all the bells and whistles.”
  3. Complement the photos with your text. If you write about a bright, open kitchen but the photos show a room that’s dark and cramped, you’ll leave buyers confused. Pull ideas from your photos. For example, if the photos show wall-to-wall windows, reflect that in your text—“bathed in light all day in the sunken living room,” Haboush says.
  4. Don’t offend or exclude. Remember the Fair Housing Act. The National Association of REALTORS® Legal Affairs department points out that potentially offensive or exclusionary phrases to describe a neighborhood should be avoided. Instead, NAR urges real estate professionals to describe the features of the property, not the buyers who might want to use the feature.
  5. Write for SEO. You may need to squeeze more descriptors into the first line or two of your ad to help it show up higher in search engines, Haboush says. She aims to include the number of bedrooms, type of home, and name of the neighborhood in the first two lines (“This luxurious 4 bedroom 4.5 bath Dienst-built estate on the Lake Normal peninsula is . . . ”). That way, if a potential buyer types into Google “four-bedroom home on lake in Mooresville, N.C.,” the listing has a better chance of surfacing.
  6. Watch grammar and spelling. About 43 percent of about 1,200 people surveyed say they’re less likely to tour a home if the listing contains misspellings or improper grammar, according to a study by the real estate brokerage Redfin and proofreading site Grammarly. The majority of buyers say they bypass ads using all caps or too many exclamation points. Another turn-off: words that spelling checkers miss. (“This is a real germ!”)
  7. Highlight features; don’t just list them. Listings that include specific, verifiable property characteristics—like granite countertops, wood-burning fireplace, or wainscoting—tend to sell at a premium, according a study of more than 16,000 transactions between March 2000 and February 2009 on a south-central Virginia MLS. Highlight a property’s physical characteristics—the fenced yard, full basement, or bonus room—by weaving such attributes into a narrative context. Researcher Bennie Waller, a real estate professor at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., found that each property characteristic mentioned in a listing can increase the sales price by just under 1 percent and boost its probability of selling by an average of 9.2 percent.
  8. Accentuate the positive, but don’t overdo it. Positive adjectives like “beautiful,” “charming,” “fabulous,” “lovely,” and “gorgeous” help lift the sales price by an average of 0.9 percent each, according to the Virginia MLS study. In other words, 10 positive words could bump up the sales price by potentially 9 percent, the study suggests. But be careful. Too much puff and the buyer will move on, Waller says.