Once upon a time, real estate listings were bloodless facts about the number of bedrooms, square footage, and amenities like a lap pool and flat backyard. Today, experienced agents are putting on their writers’ caps and telling compelling stories about properties for sale and using storytelling to help sell a house.
“The right description could be just what gets your buyer in the door,” says Denise Supplee, a Philadelphia-area REALTOR and co-founder of Spark Rental, an online tool for property owners and managers.
From cradle to grave, people love stories, and that doesn’t change when they search for a property to buy or rent. Pretty pictures and the right price might lure a shopper to a listing, but a well-written narrative, which helps a looker imagine him- or herself living there, can be the hook that reels in a buyer.
Flavia Berys, a Southern California real estate broker, uses listing narratives to create “a sense of emotion and to inspire the right imagery in the minds of potential buyers,” she says. Berys has described a beach property with this delicious nugget: “Imagine drinking your morning tea or coffee on the sun-drenched deck, watching the ocean to your left, the mountains to your right, and hearing the sound of the waves as you start your day.”
Ben Ullrich, who has created many real estate websites, imagines he’s convincing a new acquaintance to go on a blind date with a friend when he writes a listing like this: “We started a remodel of the master bath in spring of 2014 and found all the pipes old. In the end, we redid the entire house. You won’t have to worry about that anymore.”
You don’t have to be a Hemingway to write an effective property narrative. Here’s how to find and tell a great story.
Discover the story and use storytelling to help sell a house
A story doesn’t reveal itself; you have to dig to find a property’s history and uniqueness. Start by walking the house with the seller, asking for details and memories of different rooms, maybe Christmas in the family room, Thanksgiving meals in the dining room, their daughter greeting her first date in the foyer.
If you’re lucky, a famous or prominent person owns or has owned the property, which can make a listing stand out. If the seller doesn’t know much about an older home’s past, search property records for deeds and titles. Michael Kelczeski, a Delaware-area Realtor with Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, traced the history of a farm he listed back to Welsh settlers in 1780.
Accentuate the positive
Agents are skilled at noticing a home’s great qualities, like working fireplaces, open floor plans, and a kitchen with a center island. Now, close your eyes and imagine how a family could live there. That’s your narrative, and here are some examples.
For fireplaces: “There’s nothing like relaxing before a warm fire on a chilly autumn night.”
For kitchen islands: “Your friends will gather around your kitchen island on Super Bowl Sunday, dipping chips into salsa while chili simmers on the stove.”
Tubs in the master bath: “Imagine soaking tennis-tired muscles in the jetted tub, your cares melting away.”
Recast negatives into positives
There’s an entire school of cognitive therapy dedicated to changing the way we look at the facts of our life, and you can use the technique when describing a property.
Instead of hiding the home’s proximity to railroad tracks, write, “Think of all the time you’ll save by taking a short walk to public transportation.” Instead of describing a tiny house as “cozy” – buyers are wise to that—describe it as “an intimate space for quality family time.” A small bedroom becomes a “standout home office with great lighting,” and a deck overlooking a hilly backyard becomes an “outdoor entertainment space for sipping cocktails after a rough work week.” You get the idea.
Make maintenance a plotline
Although lifestyle is the obvious story, the way a home has been lovingly maintained can be a compelling subplot. Remodeling and maintenance records can create a digital history of a home tenderly cared for, which gives buyers confidence in their purchase.
Good writing is rewriting
Professional writers know that great stories don’t spring fully formed from the mind to the fingertips. Good writing is rewriting, crafting sentences with strong nouns and verbs and eliminating qualifiers like “really” or “very.” Find the great thought, “To be, or not to be,” and powerful language is likely to follow.
Accelerate your learning
Learn more strategies for selling a listing and getting top dollar with McKissock’s CE PLUS Membership. With the membership, you’ll have access to hundreds of videos, webinars and job aids to help you grow your real estate business, including:
- Video: Talking List Price with Your Seller
- Video: Clean Listings Sell Faster & For More Money
- Video: Create a Custom Showing Checklist for Each Listing
- Job Aid: Storytelling Sells Houses
- Video: Use Your Own Words to Tell a Home’s Story
Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon. Lisa Kaplan Gordon is a builder of luxury housing and an award-winning writer specializing in home improvement and real estate topics. She lives in McLean, Virginia.