big house

by Jay Zenner on June 8, 2009

Here’s a little experiment you can try that may change the way you write copy for your listings. Go to Realtor.com and do a search in your market. I like to do this in the luxury range which in my market starts at about $700K, so I search between $700K to $5M, which doesn’t leave much out at the high end. Just glance through a few of the listings and then do another similar search in a market you are not familiar with.

When I first started doing this every now and then one of the things that bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on for awhile was that even though the homes where beautiful in both markets and both MLS normally pass through the same basic information, the unfamiliar market seemed much more “foreign.” Well, my dad didn’t call me Meathead for nothing. I guess I’m a little slow but it finally dawned on me that while I know the “forest” in my market all I get is a peek at a few trees through the MLS data in the other market.

In your home market, you can usually look at a listing and, because you already know the community, you know exactly where it sits relative to employment centers and shopping, what the schools are like and who built the golf course at the country club. I find that fairly consistently on Realtor.com for only about one or two in ten listings…even for these very expensive homes…does the listing agent write any additional copy at all, and relies on what passes from the MLS to describe the home. This means that something as mundane as “ice maker connection” gets as much attention as an in-ground swimming pool. Worse though, there is no “context” for the home. I did this experiment recently and was delighted to see one listing agent who described how the home was in walking distance to some fine restaurants and walking trails. Still, 90% of his description was about the home itself.

In my community there are three relatively large neighborhoods with homes in this price range and a lot of the homes in each are very similar. But they are very different communities with very different charms. You can do the same experiment in almost any price range and you will get similar results.

Most agents, because they never had to write great sales copy in the boom years are at a loss to do anything better. But now there is intense competition for fewer buyers. We owe it to our listing clients to provide the needed context. When we talk about the three most important things in real estate being “location, location, location” what do we mean? What we mean in residential real estate is location relative to employment, schools, jobs, transportation, entertainment, churches, medical services, etc. But this is hardly ever addressed in the copy we write, much less how it feels to live in that community.

It’s important to keep in mind that many potential buyers are moving to your market and are in another city looking online. Many websites are trying to provide more and more of this context with reams of statistics. But they can’t do as good a job as someone who has lived, worked and sold houses in that market can. That’s you.

Potential buyers don’t know the boundaries of the forest that you as a local take for granted. In the market I just looked at there were 731 homes between $700K and $5M. No buyer  is going to look at all of them. Use the opportunity you have to make your client’s home stand out  in the crowd by artfully providing that context.

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