Q: I loved your article on powerful words to use when selling a home. How about an article on words not to use? –Tonya

A: Thanks for reading, Tonya. I have loads of thoughts on words not to use in a home’s marketing and listing description. As a general rule, the word bombs I suggested were driven by my belief that you should get as much descriptive power out of every single character space available to you, as online listings in particular put a tight lid on how many words you can use. The goal is to be using words that go a very long way in terms of describing the home in a way that entices buyers to go see it.

So, when understanding the words not to use, one approach is to do the opposite: Eliminate the fluffery. Buyers see textual fluff and ignore it, in the best-case scenario, or become suspicious of it, in the worst case.

In a market like today’s, where buyers’ standards have been boosted by the lovely homes they see on television and in magazines, and where many listing agents have gotten the art of listing a home down to a science, having your home’s description or listing ignored is a surefire way to end up with it lagging on the market far longer than it has to.

1. Don’t use: fluffery. Remember, in recommending what to say, I urged you to get specific, listing off brand names of upscale appliances and decor brands that describe the aesthetic style of the home, as well as the details of desirable finishes like polished cement, granite and stainless steel.

So it’s no surprise that when Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner looked into it for their 2009 book "Freakonomics" they found that the five home listing terms that correlated to a lower sales price were very general terms, i.e., terms that just express a pleasantry but are devoid of any significantly useful information to a buyer:

Five terms correlated to a lower sales price:

  • Fantastic
  • Spacious
  • !
  • Charming
  • Great neighborhood

You see, buyers don’t just skim over these terms. They wonder what’s wrong with the place that the agent would have nothing more substantial to say about it, and they compare it to the hundreds of other competitive homes whose agents do say more substantial and compelling things in their descriptions. Guess which ones they go see.

2. Don’t use: obfuscation. Here’s another thing about buyers: In this day and age, they have finely tuned B.S. detectors. So don’t even waste your time or your character counts on words that are classic cover-ups for property weaknesses.

Describing your home as "cozy" or in an "up-and-coming" neighborhood has virtually the same impact as describing it as really small or as being located in a rough part of town. I suggest you get specific about describing the strong suits of your property, rather than wasting time trying to trick buyers into believing some strained characterization of its weaknesses.

And, in fact, the same goes for listing photos, neighborhood names and others: Don’t lie and don’t stretch the truth — or the pictures.

Though it seems obvious, one of the most frequent sources of buyer outrage is photos that have clearly been manipulated and stretched beyond all reason, and homes where the desirable neighborhood named in the listing turns out to be 10 blocks over and a mile to the left. The fact is, buyers will see the truth when they see the property. And some buyers who have been just as interested in the property without the embellishment will be turned off by what they see as fraud or fiction in the listing.

3. Don’t use: descriptors that run counter to the listing photos. If half of your home’s listing description is a rhapsodic depiction of your backyard, in which you have painstakingly replicated every specimen contained in the U.S. Botanic Garden, make sure you have images of the backyard in your listing. If you describe a gourmet chef’s kitchen with custom pot rack and a Viking range, show pictures of it, too.

Buyers and their brokers get extremely suspicious when listings don’t show any pictures to back up the claims made therein, or when the images that are included don’t look anything like the home described. Don’t trigger their B.S. detectors in this way, either; make sure your marketing copy lines right up with the pictures that your listing agent includes in your home’s online listing.

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