Listing Your House? Stay Away From These Words

home listing languageIn this buyers' market, even the newbie lookers are savvy to listing descriptions. Who among us doesn't know that "cozy" means "small," or that "needs some TLC" means "bring your bulldozer?"

But about a decade ago, Paul Anglin, who teaches real estate and housing trends at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, studied the language used in listings and came up with some findings that bear repeating in today's slower-sales market.

For example: Homes where the seller is described as "motivated" actually take 15 percent longer to sell. And besides, how many sellers today aren't motivated?

To be fair, Anglin did his research before the current boom-and-bust cycle, and we all know how much the housing market has changed since then. No one, including Anglin, has revisited the subject of what impression prospective buyers form from the use of particular words in a listing.

But for what it's worth -- and with the caveat that while the market may have changed, human nature likely hasn't -- here are some things to consider as you describe your house for sale.
1. Put style over substance.

Words that spoke to the general attractiveness of a property helped it sell faster than those that spoke to "value" and "price." Homes in Anglin's study that were called "beautiful" sold 15 percent faster. On the other hand, homes described as a "good value" sold for 5 percent less than average.

Real estate industry insiders say that today's buyers are all about getting a bargain, but that they still put great emphasis on the condition of the house -- and it better be tip-top. With the Internet information at a buyer's fingertips and the ability to easily research what else is for sale and what prices homes in a neighborhood recently fetched, the pricing process is a lot more transparent.

2. Don't bother telling buyers what to do.

Listings that proclaimed a house was something that they "must see" generally didn't motivate a soul. Using "must see" produced statistically insignificant results on the number of days a house sat on the market. In today's market, buyers are in the driver's seat. Find some other way to get them to your doorstep -- like competitive pricing.

3. Tell it like it is and be realistic about the results.

Words like "foreclosure," "as-is" and "bring your contractor" signal buyers that there is wiggle room and invite low offers. Words like "granite" and "gourmet kitchen" translated into a higher sale price. The only problem here is you can't inflate what you're working with. If your kitchen isn't gourmet, the word "functional" isn't going to bring buyers by the busload. If it's in your budget, consider a kitchen upgrade, however minimal, and call it "newly remodeled" for better listing results.

4. Don't use superficially positive language.

Mother was right: If you can't find anything nice to say, it's better not to say anything at all. You won't fool anyone. "Clean" and "quiet" not only won't rock anyone's boat, superficially positive words, in effect, damn with faint praise. You might want to stay away from "fresh paint" for the same reason.

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