There’s always something to howl about

Words, words, words: How evocative listing copy helps to sell homes . . .

Mike Price at Mike’s Corner is kvetching about clumsy Realtor lingo, and while I’m with him on the main point, I have turf of my own to defend.

Sez Mike:

I’ve often wondered what consumers think when they are subjected to the same goofy tag lines and incomplete sentences that seem to proliferate the inventory of any MLS.

Indeed. It’s possible to overthink this stuff, though. I think most of what passes for experience in residential real estate is nothing more than thoughtless imitation — monkey-see, monkey-do, monkey-don’t-ever-test-the-results. I wrote about tin-eared Realtor marketing last fall, taking particular note of ‘riders’ on real estate signs.

But: I think there is more to this than clumsy cliches versus just-the-facts-ma’am. If that’s the only choice, I’ll take the facts. But my own preference is to express, as best I can, the features of the home as benefits and the benefits as the story of a life enriched and perfected by the home. We call this rhapsodizing, and the listings I like best are for homes about which I can wax rhapsodic at first glance. Most homes don’t seem to glow of their own light at sunset — ain’t that poetic? — but, even then, I’m looking to sell you your life in the home, not the mere details.

In an ARMLS listing, I get exactly 680 characters to do this. We give up space for the address of the home’s custom web site, so, ultimately, I get about 100 words, maybe 110. As you may have noticed, I can write more than 110 words.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Your Moroccan oasis in the city… The style is Spanish Eclectic, but the details come straight from Marrakech. In the midst of the brutal Phoenix summer, you’ve found a refuge that is… cool, shady, refreshing. From the lush gardens front and back to the interplay of light and shadow in the 1935 residence, from the luxury of the Kitchen, Master Suite and Guest House to the simple understated elegance of the Living Room and Formal Dining Room, from the travertine and hardwood floors to the Moroccan arches, this is a home like no other. Find your respite from the desert heat in this Story Historic District retreat.

I haven’t proved that this style is effective, but I believe it is. We’re specific and detail-oriented, but we’re using the details to evoke images and the images to tell a story.

Here is the same kind of approach for a production home:

Chaminade is as close as we can come to perfection on this Earth: Gated mountainside luxury. But imagine a perfect Chaminade home built and owned by perfectionists: A floorplan that combines stateliness with comfort, spaciousness with a warm, cozy togetherness. Picture thoughtful decorator touches gracing every room. Envision a backyard that is the perfect desert oasis — a shady patio, a masterfully-appointed outdoor kitchen, a beehive fireplace with conversation pit, and a playfully-perfect PebbleTec pool. Imagine all this and so much more. It’s so close to perfect you’ll never want to leave your new home…

My feeling, a rebuttable presumption, is that people can discern details from the listing and the photographs. I’ve got a scant 100 words to sell them. And since I don’t trust other agents to make my points, I’m selling them, too.

My goal is to answer every conceivable objection with passive marketing, since I may never have the chance to speak directly with the prospect. For that reason, we use copy everywhere. We get 250 characters per photo caption in a listing, and most often we use them all. There are miscellaneous wasted fields in the listing form, and we use those for bullet-point selling. I have a side-bar built into my flyer format. Often I’ll use that for just-the-facts-ma’am details, but, for exceptional homes, I use that space to tell a second story.


Here, at last, is a home that dares to make a statement. The image of the Phoenix, a Thunderbird, vast, fierce and fearless, is too much betrayed by our architecture. Our homes are small and shy, aspiring only to a blandness and uniformity of form and finish.

This home, by contrast, is outstanding — it stands out from the crowd.

The style is called Adobe Revival. It’s built from concrete block, but it was designed to look like the Classic Adobe homes of the Southwest. It was built in 1936, the depths of the Great depression, when only a few dozen homes were built in all of Phoenix. Even so, it stands on a poured concrete slab, rather than a foundation. By 1940, this would be a common practice in Phoenix, but in 1936 a slab was a radical innovation.

Everywhere you look on the exterior of this home, you see the signs of an active mind — thoughtful details, exquisite ornament, the shape of antiquity with every comfort modernity demands. Where other historic homes were built — rigged, even — this home was designed. This is not a haphazard one-off precursor to a tract home. This is a one-of-a-kind treasure, an experience unrepeatable in Phoenix — or anywhere.

One of the things I’m doing is giving the buyer the rational/logical justifications for doing what he already wants to do. In other places, we’ll go at the same thing from the opposite direction, defending things we normally think of as being purely utilitarian with emotion. Because we build web sites for every listing, we have many opportunities to use the written word to sell our homes.

This starts out as a kitchen, but I want you to see it as the best part of your marriage:

In every house, not just this one, the Kitchen is the anchor of the home. It’s the most expensive room to build, and the most expensive to maintain and to restore. But it is also the most important room in the house — not simply because it is the locus of cooking, but because it is most often the focus of the lives of families. There is an intimacy to cooking and cleaning up that lends a bond of intimacy to the people doing that work together. It is in service of that bonding, and not merely for purely utilitarian functions, that this room has been so thoroughly restored and updated. A sumptuous meal prepared in a beautiful, professionally-equipped Kitchen — this is the trophy and testament to lives lived together wisely and well.

The truth is, there is nothing I can do to cause you to love a loathsome house. But I can help you find the reasons to love a home, if those reasons are there. And, at the same time, I am not representing myself as anybody’s paragon of copywriting. I stand in awe of giants who understand this far better than I ever will. There is no excuse for clumsy marketing, not in any form. But I think well-thought-out copy can be an important part of the process of marketing a home.

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