Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Back in 2004, I was showing homes to my second buyer client ever. We pulled up to one, and the client looked over at the sign, and pointed to the sign rider shaking his head. There it was, in all its glory: White, with big red letters that said, “Honey stop the car!”
“Seriously?” asked my client. “Who talks like that? Can that possibly be effective?”
Knowing he was also a fellow grammar nerd, I had to chime in: “Of course, it needs a comma, too. Honey, stop the car! Which of course is imploring your sweetheart, your honey, to stop the car. Without that comma, you’d need a hell of a lot of bees and a ton of honey to stop a car.”
He shuffled through the printouts of the listings we were seeing. (Don’t judge. The iPad wouldn’t even be invented for six more years. “Paperless” was something people only dreamed of then.)
“Wow, they even used that, commaless, in the property description too!” the client remarked. “Why?”
All I could mumble was, “I have no idea.” Even as a very new and green agent, I’d already seen many things in listing descriptions that made me scratch my head.
That was 15 years ago.
Fifteen years later, those kind of phrases are still being used.
11 other listing cliches
In addition to the silly and useless “Honey, stop the car!” we have these old, tired and confusing words and terms that agents really need to retire.
1. ‘This one won’t last!’
I get it. The listing agent is trying to convey that they’ve got a hot property that some fortunate buyer will surely snap up in a matter of days, if not hours.
The problem with “This one won’t last!” is agents tend to never revisit their listing descriptions. When your market has an average days-on-market of 30 days, seeing “This one won’t last!” on a listing entering its eighth month on the market will either make a buyer laugh out loud or think, “Hmmm, it did last, so there must be something wrong with it.”
Neither of those are good things.
It’s quite similar to those snow-covered listing photos you see — in August.
2 ‘Needs TLC’ or its partner in crime, ‘the handyman special’
In other words, the home is is disrepair, outdated or has some other issue that needs to be fixed. By leaving those issues to the buyer’s imagination, you might very well be causing buyers to skip right over your listing and move on to the next one.
Handyman special? How special? How handy does one need to be?
Phrases like this can cause buyers to overthink — and to think the worst.
3. ‘Cozy’ or ‘quaint’
This is fluffy marketing-speak. What you’re trying to do is cover up the fact that the home is small. Guess what? Any potential buyer who walks through the front door will swiftly figure out that the home is small. You can’t hide that fact behind cozy or quaint.
Why not tell it like it is, and market that listing to people who want a smaller home? Yes, that’s going to reduce your potential buyer pool. That’s really no big deal as the small size itself will limit the pool.
People appreciate honesty. They also don’t appreciate having their time wasted.
4. ‘Better than new’
No, it’s not better than new. Even if the home has been demolished and rebuilt from the foundation, it’s not better than new. It’s new. Well, it’s a new home on an old foundation. But you get the point.
“Better than new!” is one of those phrases that makes buyers ask, “What does that even mean?”
5. ‘Good bones’
Even more confusing to consumers. If a buyer isn’t an investor, a flipper or a builder, they won’t have a clue that’s supposed to mean the foundation and framing are solid and in good shape. Of course what the buyer also won’t know is that the home’s “bones” are about the only thing that’s good about the listing.
Stop the code-talk and real estate jargon. You want a buyer? Tell the buyer about the home — in words they understand.
6. ‘Too much to list!’
Your listing is just so full of goodness and wonders that there’s too much to fit in the description?
What a load of hooey! Most MLSs these days allow hundreds and hundreds of characters in the description. And of course there’s all that other info, such as beds, baths, square footage, year built, type of roof — the list goes on and on.
Simple fact is, there is enough information in listings these days that you probably don’t even really need a property description. So don’t tell me there is “too much to list.”
7. ‘Show and sell’
Thanks for the suggestion! And here I was, hoping to spend my time showing a property that my buyer won’t buy.
Show and sell makes a lot more sense than saying, “Show, but don’t worry about selling.”
8. ‘Priced to sell’
I kid you not, I once had a buyer ask, “Should we only consider homes that are priced to sell?”
With a confused tilt of my head, followed by “huh?” The client slid some listings across the table and said, “Four of these say, ‘priced to sell,’ but the other three do not. Should we even bother looking at the ones that are not priced to sell?”
Jeepers. A nonsensical phrase like “priced to sell” has the potential to cull out listings that don’t include that ridiculous phrase.
It also confuses buyers. That’s really something you never want to do.
Everyone wants shiny new things. No one is ever going to buy a home marketed with something like “built in 1965, never updated.” (Wait, that would be “needs TLC!” Or “good bones!”)
Define “updated.” Does a new fridge, the cheapest one the seller could find, constitute an “updated kitchen”? I once showed a home with an “updated roof.” When the buyers and I saw it, the first thing we did was look at the roof and its shingles that were beginning to curl.
“That’s not an updated roof,” my client said. I was already calling the listing agent. When they finally returned my call four days later, I was informed that the 8-by-8-foot roof over the back porch was “reshingled a few years ago.”
Meanwhile, my buyers and I were busy setting up inspections for the home they found while waiting to hear from the lister.
Don’t just say “updated.” Detailing what and when something was done to the roof is what matters.
P.S.: Return your calls.
10. Anything that is somewhere else in the property listing
As mentioned earlier, the listing displays of today show a tremendous amount of information. There is no need to repeat that information in the listing description. Use the descriptive space for info not included elsewhere.
11. ANYTHING — AND EVERYTHING — IN ALL CAPS
PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THE KITTENS ON THE INTERNET, STOP WRITING LISTING DESCRIPTIONS IN ALL CAPS!
It’s hard to read, and it LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SCREAMING AT PEOPLE.
Just stop. If you really need to emphasize something in a system that doesn’t use bold or italics, try something like *this* or +this+. Fact is, if you write clearly, you really don’t need to emphasize words in a listing description.
What should I put in listing descriptions?
Brace yourselves — a whole lot of buyers don’t even bother to read listing descriptions. Why not? Because they are typically marketing pitches, and buyers are way smarter than many give them credit for. They don’t want to be pitched when they are looking at listings online or in print. They want info on the house.
So give them info on the house. Tell a story about what it’s like to live there. Talk to your sellers to see if they know any interesting history of the property that should be shared. The listing description space is great for including info about the home that isn’t already displayed somewhere else.
Lose the jargon and code words. Tell the truth. The last thing you want is for a buyer to walk into your listing and have them say, “This is nothing like what was online.”
Give the buyers what they need. Hiding flaws behind flowery copy does nothing but waste the buyer’s and their agent’s time, along with yours and your seller’s time.
People have been using these cliched phrases for years, and buyers are on to it. Put that space to good use, and you might be surprised how well it can help sell your listing.
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Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.