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Writing lessons from the world of real estate (how to punch up your writing)

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 16th May , 2023 in The Write Fit
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When was the last time you bought or rented a new home? I used to move often but it’s been more than 20 years since I last had to find a different place to live. It’s been an exhausting exercise, partly because of the depressingly awful copy in the property listings.

Here’s one gem from a squalid heap on a major artery:

“The gorgeous polished solid jarrah flooring looks incredible, the kitchen has been revitalised including a new oven, there is a modernised bathroom, the home has just been painted internally and the 2 bedrooms, particularly the main are very spacious.”

Listings are the main lead generator for real estate agents. You can tell who’s put care into each one – and who hasn’t. It’s made me realise how easy it is to get in the flow of what you want to say, especially when it’s content you produce on a continual basis.

It’s easy to guess the intention behind this kind of writing but I’ve felt more inspired by cold leftovers.

What can you do when what you’re writing becomes repetitious or inspiration isn’t knocking on your office door as often as you need it? Here are tips for putting more punch in your copy, especially when you might be writing on autopilot. Let’s look a little closer at the offending advertisement.

Don’t use one sentence when five are better

As Shakespeare pointed out in Hamlet, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you have a compound sentence or a series of points in one sentence, see if you can break each one into its own sentence. Better yet . . .

Break up your copy

Use bullet points and subheadings where possible. Most people don’t have patience with long columns of text. Lists let you provide short, sharp jabs of information. And, as Sara Howard pointed out on LinkedIn, “Subheadings are an act of kindness for a busy reader”.

Remove redundancies

“The gorgeous polished solid jarrah flooring looks incredible.” Anyone who’s seen polished jarrah knows it’s gorgeous. But if readers have never seen an example, you don’t need to say it looks incredible if you’ve already said it’s gorgeous.

Provide context

“The kitchen has been revitalised including a new oven.” What does “revitalised” mean? I understand a new oven but there’s no context for understanding what condition the kitchen is in, except I have to assume it’s better than before. It was still bad when we visited the house.

Avoid vague descriptions

There is a modernised bathroom.” Come again? Are they talking indoor plumbing or one of those fancy Japanese ‘washlet’ contraptions?

Don’t lead with mundane detail

“The home has just been painted internally.” If this is a major selling point, then they better lower the asking price.

Don’t embellish

The 2 bedrooms, particularly the main are very spacious.” Spacious infers you can get more than a double bed and a nightstand in the room. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Don’t lump your audiences together

The house was billed as a “wonderful opportunity” across many categories, including a) a wonderful opportunity to break into the market, b) a wonderful opportunity for first-time homebuyers, c) a wonderful opportunity for downsizers, and d) a fantastic opportunity for the savvy investor. Getting the attention of each of your target audiences requires more care.

Tell the truth

The ad promised “a surprise the minute you walk in the door.” While true, it wasn’t because the house was “wonderful”, but because it was so far from how it was advertised.

One last tip — avoid sweeping generalisations

By the fourth or fifth listing, I was getting sick of reading things like, “the one feature everyone wants” or “no-one can resist this location”. By the fiftieth, I was in tears. Now, I’m walking around with a chip on my shoulder waiting for an agent to say something ridiculous to my face. So far, no-one has.

I don’t think anyone will. The people who wrote these turgid ads have been personable and good at communicating value during home viewings. They’re being let down by the writing. I can appreciate writing might not be considered a core skill for selling property, but it should be. As Ann Handley reminds us, everybody writes. In this case, writing is a skill that can make the difference between leads that convert and those that don’t.

We put an offer on a house last weekend, so I’m released from reading property listings. It’s remarkable how annoyed I am about overblown descriptions, hyperbole, and redundancies even as I recognise how easy it is to let them slip into my work.

What’s your advice?

I’d love to hear your tips for keeping your copy punchy, especially if you’re regularly producing the same kind of content. Reply to this email to let Dan and I in on some of your tips.

Sarah Mitchell
16 May 2023


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