Writing for Real Estate

During these days of economic turmoil, attracting a buyer can be tough. And yet, in the real estate sector, for many first-time home buyers, the moment couldn’t be more opportune. Prices have been slashed, tax incentives are in place, and while financing has tightened up, it can still be had.

So what must you do as a realtor or individual wanting to sell a house? You must entice. You must spark the imagination. You must help the prospect “see himself there.” In other words, you must write creatively, communicating in terms that tap the emotional hot buttons of your potential buyer.

Ethics and the law prevent you from deception; there are things you must disclose. If your property is far from “pristine” but not quite a hovel, you might use the euphemism “fixer upper.” But there are other words that suggest the same thing, yet kindly. “Imagine the potential when you walk through the rugged archway.” So, OK, the plaster might be peeling or the area may be overgrown, but with some work, it could be great.  You probably don’t want to say “work your fingers to the bone” but maybe a little “elbow grease” isn’t so bad. “Vintage home,” “ready to restore,” “diamond in the rough” all indicate work is needed but these terms don’t scare business away.

What if the location is crowded or the lot is small? That’s when you say, “close-knit neighborhood,” “friendly cul de sac,” “low maintenance lawn,” “conveniently near shops, stores, and the train station.”  What if the environment is desolate or underdeveloped? Then flip the benefits to say, “spacious setting,” “quiet retreat,” “view of the skyline,” “birds and fields abound in this quaint setting off the beaten track.”

“Picturesque” is a word that often comes into play. I still remember the grabber in the ad for the house we bought. It read “storybook Cape.” How could you resist?  So let the architecture lead you into phrasing that sells. Alliteration (words that start with the same letter) works well. Consider “commanding Colonial,” “grand Garrison,” “fireplace-studded Federal,” or “sweet Saltbox set near a salt marsh.” Use the construction material to your advantage: “Sturdy brick,” “natural clapboard,” “no-care siding,” or “rustic log cabin reminiscent of the days of Daniel Boone.”
Are there visible flaws or repairs underway? Then play to the positive! “Spacious kitchen renovation will greet you when you move in.” “Recently refinished floors – so fresh, they’re still drying.” “Molding and chair rails added to bring this antique back to its former glory.”

Are your prospects apt to be young professionals? Then talk about the social scene and career opportunities. “Located near charming restaurants, a day spa, shops and gym.” “A quick commute to the local college,” “Shuttle runs from Main Street to the airport.” But if your prospects are likely to have families, then consider more serious,  responsible elements: “Top 10 Town for Schools,” “safe backyard,” “Located within 1 mile of the regional hospital, YMCA, mini-mall and town park.”

Now comes the creative part. What might your prospect do while living in your property? Appeal to the same “wants” that drive direct response: adventure, idealism, success.  For example, “Follow your dreams of living in a castle with this turreted turn-of-the-century Victorian.” Or “lounge by the lake at the edge of the property on your own personal pier.” Or “In-law cottage ideal for that aspiring writer or gardening enthusiast.” Or more practically, “Zoned for home business.”

And most importantly, make it easy for prospects to respond with multiple options: phone, e-mail, website, and in person. Give your hours. Provide direction. Include pertinent dates, offers, credentials.

Weighted Words

Words carry a lot of weight. Just think about it… the impassioned closing at a trial, those hurtful words you utter in haste, the kind words you use to soothe and empathize… but even without the drama, words are loaded with subtleties and inferences.

I certainly was not slamming her, but praising her. Unfortunately, e-mails don’t have inflections.— Words on the Fly

A couple weeks ago, I was e-mailing with a colleague and thanks to her industry connections, we were able to resolve a situation. In a cc, I said something like, “Thank goodness Jane knows everyone.” Jane quickly e-mailed back and said, “I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to come across as obnoxious.” I had to think a minute, and then I realized she took my sincere compliment as sarcasm. I assured her she was among an elite group of people who truly “know everyone” and are wonderfully connected. I certainly was not slamming her, but praising her. Unfortunately, e-mails don’t have inflections.

That’s where the written word can be tricky. I’ve always been amused at the phrased “alleged” as in “alleged suspect” followed by dozens of incriminating words, leading you to quickly forget the “alleged” part and hear primarily the stream of accusations.

Words we use in everyday conversation can be equally loaded. There’s considerable difference between, “He showed me the message” and “He allowed me to see the message.” The second phrase suggests there’s some sort of secrecy and power at play, whereas the first phrase is extremely casual. With this presentation, the value of the message also changes. In the first example, the message is mildly interesting and of nominal import; in the second example, the message becomes enticing and critical.

Words like “supposed” can plant doubt without spelling it out. “The supposed solution was presented by the committee” suggests the proposed solution won’t work. The speaker is editorializing without saying, “I think it will fail.” Compare this to the simple statement, “The solution was presented by the committee.” Here the solution is introduced in a more positive light, and the committee is empowered rather than dismissed.

Those of us who pay attention to words can employ them strategically and dangerously. Those of us who use words indifferently can miss an important opportunity.

Choose Another Word

Few things irk me as much as having one word used twice in the same sentence, let alone that same word populated a dozen times in a couple paragraphs. I don’t mean words like “and” and “the” but words that have multiple, beautiful, descriptive counterparts that can enrich and enliven written or spoken communication.

Saying, “the doctor showed me the negative images of my bones,” doesn’t exactly ring true. However, more often, with just a bit of imagination, we can stretch a little.— Words on the Fly

Sometimes this is not easy. Chances are if you’re conveying that the “doctor showed me the X-rays,” there may not be many alternatives that get the job done. Saying, “the doctor showed me the negative images of my bones,” doesn’t exactly ring true. However, more often, with just a bit of imagination, we can stretch a little.

For example: “Shyly, he handed her a bouquet of flowers.” Very sweet. But what if we said, “Lowering his eyes, he thrust the profusion of blooms at her.” Hmmm. This phrases allows you to read more into the statement. You can understand that he is shy because he can’t look her in the eye, and that by “thrusting” the flowers at her, you can almost sense his relief in accomplishing this brave task.

By using the word “blooms” here, that allows you to use “flowers” later… or “daisies” specifically… or their “riot of color” in a popular cliché. How did the flowers smell? They were “delicious” or “fragrant” … “perfumed”… “laden with nectar”… “smelling of earth and rain and possibilities”… “heady in scent”… “overpowering”…“delicate” …”sensual”… “intoxicating”… “spicy.” In this case, there’s more to flowers than meets the eye – or the nose.

A favorite trick of mine is to imagine I can’t use the first word that pops into my head. I suppose it’s an act of discipline. So I force myself to think of the “second right answer.” Before writing about nightfall and going for the logical “darkness,” I try to consider the subtleties. Is this the pitch of night or twilight, when day and dusk meld? Is this the kind of biting cold night that stings your lungs like acid as you inhale… or the balmy night that envelopes you in a warm bath? Is it a night pierced by pinpoint stars, a night assaulted by city lights, or a night kissed by a pale moon?

While clearly indulgent for the creative writer, this exercise has merit in the workplace as well. How many times have we all written, “To recap the meeting?” Well, maybe it’s time to “summarize,” “consolidate ideas,” “distill the best thinking,” “crystallize our strategy,” “formulate a plan”… Maybe we can offer a “synopsis,” an “outline,” an “overview,” or “over-arching goals.” Maybe we can turn the old “committee” and current buzzword “team” into something more proactive. How about the “task force”… the “thought leaders”… the “idea accelerators?” By using words creatively and intentionally, you can turn “same old, same old” into something “fresh and new.”

The Art of Mincing

Early in my career, having already established a strength in copywriting, I was taken aside by a veteran ad director and asked if I knew how to identify the strongest selling words. I already knew that words like “Free,” “Announcing,” and “New” were powerful, but this gentleman had something else in mind as he relayed the story about fish.

Now, this is not an original story and I’ve actually seen other writers relay it, but it’s an excellent example and if I knew the source, I would credit that person. The situation was explained to me like this:

There was a store selling seafood and the sign at the counter read “Fresh fish on sale here today.” There was nothing wrong with the message, but it was wordy. The ad director proceeded to whip out his pen and cross out the words “here today” because clearly, we knew where we were and what day it was.

He then crossed out the word “fish” because we could see what they were selling… and since the fish was priced and offered for purchase, there was no need to say “on sale.”

So, the key word became “Fresh.” It described the fish, it implied today, and it appealed to our senses.