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Writing tips for real estate professionals

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Book Review
Title: "Before Hitting Send: Power Writing Skills For Real Estate Agents"
Author: Karen Stefano, Esq. and Penny Nathan
Publisher: Dearborn; 2012; 258 pages; $26.95.

Despite the rise of text messaging, Facebook and Twitter, good writing still matters. But a glance at the emails and blog posts authored by real estate agents suggests some could benefit from a writing primer.

"Either your writing says you are a sharp communicator, or it says you are awkward and ineffective," co-authors Karen Stefano and Penny Nathan say in the preface to "Before Hitting Send," a 258-page writing primer for real estate professionals.

Applying some simple rules and strategies can help take your writing to the next level.

Stefano, a lawyer by trade, got the idea for the book from her husband, a real estate agent. Because of her legal training and the precise, effective written communication it requires, Stefano’s husband would come to her and ask things like, "How do I put nicely, ‘I’m sick of you not returning my phone calls’?"

One time, Stefano said, she took a piece of his writing and showed him how to improve it by taking out passive forms of the verb "to be." He was amazed by the trick, she said.

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As Stefano’s husband learned more about the power of writing and the skills involved, he wanted to explore the nuances, such as how "to sound authoritative when he wanted to sound authoritative, and soft when he wanted to sound soft," Stefano said.

She went looking for a book to buy him and couldn’t find one, which inspired her to write, "Before Hitting Send: Power Writing Skills For Real Estate Agents."

Writing isn’t the simplest endeavor, even if you take out the complications inherent in communication. First, there’s grammar. Is that comma in the right place? Is that colon used correctly? And what in the world do you use a semicolon for?

Then there’s clarity. Are the right modifiers next to the words they modify? What is a modifier?

If you’re not a professional writer — and even if you are — the craft of shaping ideas into words and words into purposeful coherence can be difficult.

That’s the gist of "Before Hitting Send." It acknowledges the difficulty of writing and provides some simple guidelines, using language and examples that real estate professionals can relate to.

Numerous before-and-after examples can help you become a better, more thoughtful writer. Many of the book’s 17 chapter titles summarize the concepts addressed: "Use Transition Words to Signal Where Your Message is Going," "Be Specific and Precise in Your Writing," "Proper Word Usage and Three Simple Grammar Rules."

Each chapter — some are very short — contains several exercises (with keys) that emphasize the development of that particular chapter’s focus. The book also provides an extensive appendix with writing samples tailored to the real estate professional that can be slightly modified and used as form letters.

Consider the audience

Tailoring a written message to a specific person is a powerful practice, write Stefano and Nathan. Keeping the recipients’ level of knowledge and the relationship you want to establish with them in mind should help you determine what you write, and the tone to take. For example, there are ways to express frustration while being constructive.

Before
I left you three messages about a condo on Second Avenue that would have been perfect for you … This is very frustrating. Either you want to buy a place or you don’t.
After
As we work together to find your ideal home, it’s important that we stay in close communication. You can reach me on my cell phone every day, any time between 8:00 am and 7:00 pm …

Source: "Before Hitting Send"

Structure

Just as listings in a multiple listing service website require organization, so, too, writing needs structure to be useful — one of the analogies Stefano and Nathan use in "Before Hitting Send."

Organizing your writing — using an intro-body-conclusion, pro-versus-con or step-by-step chronology structure, for example — helps facilitate meaning.

Eliminating the passive voice makes words flow more smoothly and powerfully. Eliminating passive forms of the verb "to be" — such as "I am," "you are," and "he is" — is one easy way to inject energy and clarity into your writing.

Before
I am the leader of a team of four experienced real estate agents.
After
I lead a team of four experienced real estate agents.

Source: "Before Hitting Send"

Getting rid of extraneous words — replacing "in the event of" with "if," for example — can produce the same effect.

Recognizing muddling words like "slightly," "pretty," "totally," and taking them out, makes writing clearer and stronger.

Although it’s easy to overlook, the proximity of a modifier — a word that adds a description to a noun, like "small" in the phrase "small boy" — is another important structural component worth paying close attention to.

Before
Joe bought an old house from a crooked seller with a faulty foundation.
After
Joe bought an old house with a faulty foundation from a crooked seller.

Source: "Before Hitting Send"

Grammar!? (punctuation)

Grammar and punctuation get less attention in "Before Hitting Send," but the basics are covered, including subject-verb agreement and correct verb tense.

Incorrect
The experience of buying a first home — its joys, its challenges, its ups and downs – are not soon forgotten.
Correct
The experience of buying a first home — its joys, its challenges, its ups and downs — is not soon forgotten.

Source: "Before Hitting Send"

Commas, an ever-present punctuation dilemma, take up a healthy section of the book. Different uses — for lists, for bracketing, and for joining — are outlined.

There is no breakdown for semicolons, which can be used to separate items in a list. When not used in a list, each side of the semicolon must be a complete sentence.

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