A word to the wise: If you want traffic when you put your house up for sale, craft your house ad wisely. Those are the findings from a study at the University of Guelph in Ontario, where the wording of more than 20,000 Canadian home listings was dissected. According to the research, a listing's phrasing even affected sale prices and the length of time it took for the listings to close.
Ehsan Nikbakht, a professor of finance at the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University, says such research makes sense - especially in today's buyer's market. "It's no secret that human beings react to words, and any edge that a seller can gain - starting with the house ad - is key," Nikbakht says.
Whether you're trying to sell your home yourself and writing your own ad or using a Realtor who will write it for you, it's important to get acquainted with the ad lingo that works. What follows are some words to use - and others to avoid.
While not an exact science, some words seem to give a listing more power than others. "Beautiful" rather than "move-in condition" translated on the average to 5 percent or more on the sale price - that works out to $15,000 on a $300,000 house.
Words that denoted "curb appeal" or general attractiveness - such as good neighborhood or excellent upkeep, for instance - helped property sell faster than those that described "value" and "price."
"There's usually something that can be said in a positive way which will force a buyer reading an ad to see opportunities," says Catherine Lindstadt, a licensed associate broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Huntington. "It's important to help a seller elaborate on their home's assets with details and to give the buyer a visual," Lindstadt adds.
She says she turns "spacious" into "open floor plan," "vaulted" or "high ceilings" or "spacious layout." A fireplace can get more credit if it's described as a "traditional wood-burning fireplace with designer built-in bookcases," she says.
A spin is important
"If a seller tells me their home was decorated by a decorator, I may say, 'professionally designed,' 'Pottery Barn-inspired,' 'designer decor' or 'gourmet kitchen,' " she says. "It's also important to use proper terminology to enhance a feature. For example, heated floors in a master bathroom should be 'radiant heating' and 'spalike master bathroom.' If an owner claims there's nothing new, I may say, 'lovingly maintained,' " Lindstadt says.
To make sure they are writing an accurate ad, all Realtors should do a walk-through of the house they are selling, says Vicky Reynolds, owner of Norma Reynolds Sotheby's International Realty based in Westhampton.
"A homeowner may not have considered an office room a bedroom, or counted the half-bath, or they may have overstated the newness of the kitchen," she says. "I ask my customers to tell me about Christmas mornings, birthday parties and pancakes in the kitchen. A good Realtor will create a little romance in an ad because every home has it."
Phil Raices, owner of Turnkey Real Estate in Great Neck, says there can be exceptions to the so-called rules.
"As a Realtor, you have to know the area you represent and what adjectives and key phrases will get your phone to ring," he says. "For example, there's a demand for people who want to be near a bus or a train. Those words will attract people who want co-ops or condos near the center of town in Great Neck. But if you're looking for a house with land and privacy, words like 'close to transportation' may not be appealing, even though those people also want an easy commute. In those cases, I'd stress 'close to worship, parks, or schools.' "
Words to avoid
Also, he says, words like foreclosure, short sale, REO, bankruptcy, auction, wholesale or below wholesale may not be a draw in all neighborhoods, but in some it's a magnet - especially to investors who didn't suffer during the recession.
"They know it means it could be a good deal saving them 30 to 50 percent of the asking price, even if they have to put money into the house," he says. "Everything these days is about price and timing, and combined with a properly worded add to the right population - that's synergistic."
A study from the University of Texas at San Antonio titled "Real Estate Agent Remarks: Help or Hype?" analyzed agent "comments" or "remarks" section on the Multiple Listing Service and its impact on selling price and time on the market. These are sections where the agent can add extra information about a property. The study found that comments that state facts about a house are associated with increased selling prices.
"Buyers are attracted to amenities that can be verified - new roof, new carpeting, updated kitchen, beautiful landscaping, golf course community, lakefront, waterfront, gated community," says Marie Montchal, a licensed associate broker and senior vice president of relocation and ancillary services at Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty Relocation Center in Huntington.
Other factually verifiable assets might include finished basements or cul-de-sacs.
Ginny Pergola, a broker and manager of Point to Port Realty in Port Washington, cautions against being deceptive.
"I don't use the word 'waterview' unless it honestly has a waterview - and, I don't mean from the third-floor attic window when there are no leaves on the trees. If a property has a waterview, it has to be fully visible from someplace in the house."
She says she thinks the word "new" can be tricky.
"I know that 'new kitchen,' 'new bath,' 'new roof' and 'new windows' is inviting, but I have a guideline of two to three years, or "newer" if it's older than that," she explains.
Tips for writing an ad
The National Association of Realtors offers the following tips:
1. Start with a strong opening statement about the home, whether it's "Charming cottage" or "Entertainer's delight." Sell those features in the headline.
2. Mention the one or two key benefits that will attract buyers' attention and spark their interest in the first 10 words of the ad.
3. Include the salient facts about the property, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the asking price.
4. If selling the house on your own, be sure to include your name, telephone number, e-mail address and website.
5. Use words that appeal to the emotions and senses - that is, feel, see, enjoy.
6. Avoid abbreviations and real estate jargon that the average consumer won't understand, such as "HDW" (or hardwood floors) and "CTH" (for cathedral ceilings).
7. Be accurate. Prospective buyers are bound to feel disappointed or manipulated if the home doesn't match your description.
8. Close with a statement encouraging the prospect to contact you. "Call today" is good.
9. Keep a notebook of attractive home descriptions from the Multiple Listing Service or newspapers and other property ads, so you'll get ideas for writing blurbs.
Words that bring money in
-- "Gorgeous" : Everyone wants a pretty house.
-- "Move-in condition" and "turnkey": These phrases communicate cleanliness and that your house can be moved into with minimal fuss, speeding up sales time by 12 percent.
-- "Lovingly maintained" : Means, "I'll save money on repairs."
-- "Beautiful landscaping": This fires the imagination. Curb appeal attracts interest because a buyer believes the inside will look good, too.
-- "Granite": The common countertop and floor material equates with luxury.
-- "Gourmet": This is a draw for a cook, who might imagine a beautiful kitchen to work in.
-- "Must see": A phrase that attracts attention
Words that might lower your price
-- "Motivated" and "must sell": These can be loosely translated as, "I'm already willing to lower my price before the buyer even sees it." A wiser choice might be, "Priced to sell."
-- "Good value": It may sound like it's a good value for an unappealing property. "Market value" or "aggressively priced" might work better.
-- "As-is": This can be interpreted as, "The house is a mess, and the owner can't do anything with it." Try, "Needs TLC" or, "Needs sprucing up."
-- "Starter home": Don't use this expression, the research warns. Instead, let buyers decide if they want to live and die in the house or use it as a steppingstone.
-- "Vacant": Stage the house; don't let it be shown empty.
-- "Oversized": Large homes are a white elephant. Experts suggest using "good layout" instead.
-- "Small": Your home or condo may be cozy, but don't call it small.
-- "Basement": "Lower level" is more appealing.
-- "Appliance credit": If your appliances are on their last legs, replace them before putting your home on the market and advertise, "New appliances."
-- "Near a bus line" or "near a train line": People don't like to imagine the fumes or noise. "Easy commute" is smarter.
Beware of violating fair housing laws
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a Realtor or even a person selling his own home privately to "make, print or publish" any statement that "indicates" any preference, limitation or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin, says Enza Cammarasana, a Northport real estate lawyer. You can be subject to fines and even lawsuits if you violate the law. What follows are some minefields to avoid:
Race: You cannot promote a particular minority.
Religion: Do not mention a nearby church, temple or mosque. Near houses of worship is OK.
National origin: You cannot say that members of the community are predominately from a specific country.
Sex: Bachelor apartment can be viewed as discriminatory against women, as can mother/daughter, which can be seen as discriminatory against men.
Handicap: Mentioning walking distance to a market, train or park is arguable if a buyer is unable to walk.
Familial Status: Saying "perfect for couples with kids" discriminates against those who don't have children.
"These restrictions make me more creative when writing ads and also more mindful of customers with disability issues, for example," says Bobby Herrick, associate broker with Century 21 American Homes in Bay Shore. "Sometimes, those of us without disabilities wouldn't understand how describing a home as 'walk to train' could possibly offend someone who is unable to walk. Nevertheless, it can. Even mention of 'No Smokers' for a rental property is illegal, but 'No Smoking' is OK. It can get tricky, but there are guidelines we must abide by."