My doctor recently confided in me that physicians have a golden rule when it comes to gettingÂ an accurate estimate of how much alcohol their patients drink on a daily basis. They take whatever number of drinks you enter on the patient information form, then multiply it by a factor of three!
While comedic (if slightly troubling), this rule is not that dissimilar from how home buyers approach the art and science of translating home sale listing-speak into what they think is a more accurate understanding of the propertyâ€™s characteristics and condition.
Just as property staging creates a somewhat contrived scenario buyers can imagine their own families taking part in, property listing descriptions have evolved into a sort of verbal staging exercise where sellers and agents may create an artificial â€˜scenarioâ€™ that belies the true state of the property.Â Fortunately for savvy sellers, thereâ€™s another parallel between physical and verbal home staging: itâ€™s all about the edit.
but counterproductive verbal clutter from your listing is simple, but not easy.
It starts with understanding what buyers take away from your words vs. what you
truly meant or intended to convey.Â Here,
to start building that understanding, are four common areas of big-time
disconnects between what sellers say and what buyers hear.
Sellers Say:Â Comfortable, beloved, in the family for generations.
Buyers Hear: Â Lots of room, but probably lots of broken stuff to fix, too. Things probably need to be jiggled or turned twice before you yank hard to get them open. Â Think: scuff marks.
In all honesty, most buyers love to hear the story of how the sellersâ€™ Great Granny and PaPa met right before the War, then built this house with their own hands and sweat when he came back, raising a family there and watching the town grow up around them.Â But they generally like to hear those stories about spruced up, great looking, well-prepared homes they have already fallen in love with.Â Leading with this material in a listing is like waving a red flag that warns of a serious probability that:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The kitchen surfaces and appliances were last updated in the 60â€™s (for some reason, itâ€™s rarely the cute 30â€™s and 40â€™s machines that survive â€“ families tend to get stuck on the marigold and pea green formica stage);
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The furnace is so old it is powered by a team of chipmunks on a treadmill, and that the house has similarly â€˜vintageâ€™ electrical and plumbing systems (i.e., the same water pressure as a schoolyard drinking fountain); and that
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â You (Seller) will blubber with tears on closing day (which might actually happen, and wouldnâ€™t even be the worst thing in the world).
Part of the problem is that when people hear â€œmulti-generational family homeâ€ they tend to think of Tara from Gone with the Wind, or Hearst Castle â€“ or the house from the 80â€™s drama Dallas. So when the first â€œGrandmaâ€™s houseâ€ they see turns out to be a little old house that someone took great care of for 50 years, but hasnâ€™t been upgraded in the same period of time, it bursts their whole bubble and sours their expectations about similar â€˜familyâ€™ homes.Â
My advice is to avoid leading with these sorts of descriptors unless the place is also recently remodeled, and to be super realistic about pricing this sort of property in accordance with any system upgrades that are overdue.
Sellers Say:Â Seller Will Carry, Some Seller Financing for Qualified Buyer, Seller will carry a 10% note.
Buyers Hear:Â Iâ€™ll offer them $1,000 and theyâ€™ll give me their house, with low monthly payments!
This one is all about wishful thinking; thereâ€™s just something about a buyer on a mission to buy a home â€“ especially one who has trouble qualifying â€“ that makes many of them willing to suspend disbelief and come up with scenarios that are simply too good (for them) and bad (for you) to be true.Â Part of the problem is that for years, many people were brainwashed by those guys on the late night infomercials into thinking that buying a home is and should be just that simple (the other part of the problem is that for a number of years, it actually was â€“ particularly during the subprime era).
Sellers who are willing to carry financing on a home generally need a hefty chunk of change up front in order to pay off the mortgage, make their next move or simply feel comfortable signing any interest in their home over to someone who canâ€™t come up with the down payment or the other qualifications to get a â€˜regularâ€™ bank mortgage.Â
But offering some seller financing â€“ especially in a market where homes are having a tough time appraising or many buyers are fresh out of foreclosure â€“ is such a strong selling point, that it is worth touting in the listing, if youâ€™re willing to do it. Talk with your agent about how to skillfully state the specifics of your seller financing terms in a way that makes clear youâ€™re not ready to give away the farm and finance it, too.
Sellers Say:Â Sweet, charming, darling, cute, cozy.
Buyers Hear: Tiny, shoebox, claustrophobic. Or, overly accessorized, with doilies, lace drapes and flowered/striped wallpaper over pink carpet.
Let me be clear, todayâ€™s buyers like a classic look just as much â€“ maybe more â€“ than ever before. But when you use these saccharine marketing terms the visual you paint is much more frilly than todayâ€™s popular versions of a traditional aesthetic. Â Unless your home actually does feature lots of pink carpet and flowered wallpaper (in which case engaging a stager might be in order), consider going with keywords that trigger images of a sleeker, classic look.Â One quick and easy shortcut to spark the visuals you want is to reference the popular stores, home improvement shows and dÃ©cor magazines that are most similar to your homeâ€™s design aesthetic, like Shabby Chic, Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. Â (Caution: if you choose to go this route, please do make sure that you reference the right brands.Â Failing to do so is a quick way to create a disaster. Imagine the scene of a Mad Men-styled, Design Within Reach-loving Â buyer being shown a linen-ruffled Shabby Chic home. Quelle horreur!)
And if your home is small â€“ buyers will know it by the square footage entry on the listing!Â Calling it cozy is not going to make someone interested in a 400 square foot home if they werenâ€™t in the market for something that small in the first place, so ditch the diminutives.
Sellers Say: Up-and-coming neighborhood, upside potential, amazing investment, sweat equity.
Buyers Hear: This place is falling apart! (And you might just have to dodge bullets on the way in and out, to boot.)
Buyers read this marketing lingo for a place or an area that is not being all that it can be, and two things occur:
(1)Â Â Â All but the most intrepid fixer-seeker-outer starts doing what my doctor does and multiplying whatever you said by a factor of three, awfulizing the property or neighborhood â€œissuesâ€ on the assumption that whatever is said in the listing is likely a vast understatement.
(2)Â Â Â They start mentally adding zeros to the budget theyâ€™ll need for repairs and visualizing how theyâ€™ll negotiate down from the list price before they ever step foot in the property.
The Catch-22 for sellers is that if you actually understate the repairs needed or try to price the place high to account for negotiating room, chances are good youâ€™ll have some very angry visitors come to the property, who will feel misled that you didnâ€™t flag the property problems ahead of time. Or youâ€™ll get no showings or offers at all.
So, whatâ€™s a seller to do? Most online house hunting searches are so sophisticated that buyers are searching by street, neighborhood, zip code, radius around a focal point or other geographic boundaries. Since buyers already know where your home is, Iâ€™d stay away from neighborhood descriptors unless your neighborhood has already up and come.Â Instead, just use the name of your area or district without describing it â€“ and let buyers opt in or out based on their own research into the neighborhood. (And talk with your agent about even naming neighborhood names; this is a sensitive subject in some areas.)
If your home needs a basic cosmetic makeover, do it before you list the home.Â Do whatever you can afford.Â If your home needs more serious work than that, though, donâ€™t try to make your fixer sound like a fabulous deal unless its location, price or other characteristics actually render it a truly fabulous deal! Â Call it like it really is; consider even stating factually, in the listing, what systems need repair, after you mention the strong selling points.Â Omitting them in the listing is not going to trick someone who doesnâ€™t want to do the repairs into buying the place, and if your place is a home only a serious handyman or investor could love, then you might actually attract the right people to the property by pointing out that the windows are new but the roof and water heater might need replacing.
Also consider some or all of the following steps â€“ consult with your agent about what makes sense in your situation:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â obtaining a home inspection report and repair bids in advance,
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â pricing your home to account for those repair expenses the buyer will have to incur (with an extra discount for their trouble, if youâ€™re serious about selling), and
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â asking your agent to include in the agent-only online listing these documents and an explanation of the pricing strategy.
It might sound like a lot of
trouble, but the extra work is one of very few options you have to
differentiate your home from all the fixer short sales and foreclosures on the
Sellers: You may not have participated in writing your homeâ€™s description or been aware that it carries that much weight with buyers. If your home is on the market, make sure you visit its online listings around the web and review the listing description your agent has entered, if you havenâ€™t before.
Agents and Buyers: What other home listing marketing lingo do you perceive as a signal of something negative about the property?