Call on a muse to turn a house into a palace

SMART MOVES

August 16, 1992|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Want to know a powerful device to sell your home? The right words.

All too often, home sellers and their agents use dull, forgettable language in advertising, real estate experts say.

"The purpose of an ad is to catch the buyer's eye and motivate him to action. If people think an ad is clever and catchy, they'll read it and call. People get tired of reading the same old typical ads," says Elaine Northrup, who sells real estate through the Howard County office of Coldwell Banker.

The idea is to create a visual image of the property for the buyer -- even if that means taking poetic license, says Rick Merrill, a senior executive with the Prudential realty chain. Why advertise that you have a "wooded lot" when you could say you have "star-reaching pines"?, he asks.

"You've got to use words that are not redundant or hackneyed," advises Karl Breckenridge, author of the book "Staying on Top in Real Estate," published by Dearborn Financial Press.

You'll get a lot more attention by titling your house ad "The Lady in Red" than calling it a "Lovely Red Brick Ranch," for instance. Ms. Northrup, a former English teacher, suggests you call on the titles of songs, books, films, fairy tales or other cultural staples to give your home an imaginative theme carried out through metaphorical devices.

Turn a typical colonial home located near water into "the swan on the lake" and you're likely to generate far more interest in the property than if you had simply called it a "beautiful lakeside home," Ms. Northrup says. This is especially true if your ad is well-written and carries the swan metaphors throughout, she says.

"I find that the more I exaggerate and the further out I go, the more comments I get on my ads and the more people like and remember them," Ms. Northrup says. By drawing a picture and using hyperbole, you create an element of humor that appeals, she believes.

Take a Columbia contemporary Ms. Northrup is now advertising. Rather than just mentioning the property's many sets of sliding glass doors and glass atrium, she plays up the glass under the heading "Water, Water Everywhere! Mirror Mirage." The ad goes on: "People who live in glass houses should throw stones especially when their deck is only a stone's throw from two large lakes."

Appealing ads are more important than ever, given the glut of properties on the market in many neighborhoods. It's a different world than that of the 1980s, when houses were in such demand from buyers that several prospects might bid on the same property and contracts were sometimes written urgently on

the hoods of cars.

"Advertising is extremely important -- particularly in a marketplace where there are 10 houses for every buyer," Ms. Northrup says.

Real estate specialists offer these pointers on wording for house ads:

* Tell little rather than a lot in your ad.

A good ad uses economy of language to tempt a buyer to learn more, says Mr. Merrill, the Prudential executive.

"The purpose of an ad is to generate a call. You have to give enough information to stimulate the call, but not so much that the buyer will eliminate the house and not call on it," he says.

One big waste of words is to offer specifics on a home's location, says Mr. Breckenridge. "There's hardly a place in the United States you can't identify geographically in a couple of words," he says.

Anyway, if you give the prospect specific directions to your home, you're tempting him to drive by without making an appointment. All too often, homes are dismissed by a prospect before he sees the interior, Mr. Breckenridge says.

* Key on special features, buyer motivation or location when marketing a ho-hum house.

Is your house that forgettable tan, aluminum-sided town house with an ordinary three bedrooms? Then it's especially important that your ad be carefully written. You could emphasize special features, such as an open foyer, skylights or cathedral ceiling. You could emphasize the setting -- by saying the home is a five-minute drive from downtown or stressing its beautiful afternoon exposure to the sun. Or you could focus on buyer motivation -- reminding the first-time buyer how purchase of your property would let him "take the landlord off your payroll."

* Steer clear of words that imply seller duress.

Losing your job, your wife or your health may be forcing you to sell at a cut-rate price. But phrases such as "desperate seller," "bargain price," or "foreclosure pending" have been so overused in advertising as to have virtually lost their meaning.

"Why would the buyer care about the seller's motivation? He's looking at price, amenities, geography and when the house is available for move-in. All this 'must sell' business is a lot of baloney," says Mr. Breckenridge, the real estate author.

The only prospects possibly drawn to a desperation ad are the so-called "bottom fishers" -- those searching for property priced well below market, says Ms. Northrup, the Howard County agent. "These buyers are looking to scalp the seller. They're like sharks looking for blood," she says.

* Pay someone to help you write your ad if you need an assist.

If writing was never your forte and you're not happy with your agent's efforts, either, it could be worth the expense to engage an English teacher, out-of-work writer or some other wordsmith to help find the right words, says Ms. Northrup, one of the nation's top-selling Coldwell Banker agents, who spends $15,000 a month to advertise her house listings and spends hours each week writing ads.

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