Desperately seeking sale

Believe it or not, being brutally honest can help move troubled properties

These signs on Storrow Drive are acclaimed as effective in selling their properties' benefits. These signs on Storrow Drive are acclaimed as effective in selling their properties' benefits. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Kate M. Jackson
Globe Correspondent / September 14, 2008
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Single Page|
  • |
Text size +

Can't get a match?

Home sellers can be forgiven for feeling a little desperate in this slow real estate market. After months of no interest, it's hard not to feel like the wallflower at the school dance, the dorky 30-something who still lives with his parents.

Perhaps it's not because you don't have anything to offer. Maybe it's how you're offering it up.

Your real estate listing, like a personal ad, should try to manage buyers' expectations, according to Paul Campano, a broker with Keller Williams Realty in Boston.

"You definitely want to paint an interesting, intriguing picture without over promising or under delivering," he said. "Same goes for the pictures you post online. Don't be the guy who puts up a picture of himself from eight years ago when he had hair and was 20 pounds lighter. Some sellers will post a couple of glorious photos but then crop out the I-93 overpass that runs over their backyard."

It's better to put it all out there, warts and all, he said, because today's Internet-savvy buyers can spot a padded profile or Photoshop-altered picture a mile away.

For instance, when Campano recently listed a "fixer-upper" in Cambridge, he purposely posted a picture of the kitchen, clearly the worst room in the house as some of its walls were torn out.

"I would much rather have buyers see that upfront, than make the trip to the property having only seen the 'nice rooms' and be disappointed," he said.

In addition to truthful pictures, the listing's headline should be a real attention-grabber, according to Michael Russer, a real estate speaker and author who specializes in marketing and selling homes online.

"Your ad's headline should immediately hit buyers right in the gut," he said. "Put yourself in the buyer's shoes. What would stand out for you? What would you find attractive."

"It's OK to play a little hard to get in the body of your ad," he added. "For instance, you can write it as if you have the upper hand in the deal, i.e. 'If you meet the criteria, this home could be the place for you.' "

Russer also said your real estate listing should be "benefit laced" rather than "features laced."

"You can list all the features you want but that won't answer the buyer's ultimate question: 'What's in it for me'," he said.

For instance, don't just say there's a fireplace, tell them how that fireplace will warm the home on snowy evenings, he said.

Another good example of a benefits-laced ad would be the iconic signs that have long tempted, perhaps even taunted, commuters in gridlock on Storrow Drive with the phrase: "If you lived here, you'd be home now."

For many people, that kind of candor is appealing. That is why Walter Hall believes if you're a desperate house seller, then it's perfectly appropriate - perhaps even smart - to just say so.

"Why not sound like a desperate personal ad? If you're truly a motivated seller, it could be a smart move to let the buyers know, in no uncertain terms, that you're serious about selling," said Hall, founder and chairman of HouseSavvy in Norwell.

"Why not say something like 'the only thing that is wrong with our property is that it's been overpriced for too long.' You'd be sending the message to buyers that you're realistic and understand the current market."

Esquire magazine used to run a feature called "Brutally Honest Personals" where people put it all out there - "I have a huge gut, am very esoteric and horrible at parties" - in the hopes that someone, somewhere would be attracted by their raw sincerity.

In the home sellers' version, Hall believes sellers with "brutally honest real estate ads" would surely find a match, and sometimes more than one offer.

"By being brutally honest, you can shift your situation from desperate to competitive. You may even spark a bidding war among buyers looking for a steal," he said.

In addition to knowing what properties are worth, today's buyers demand truth in advertising, according to Anna Matsunaga, a broker for Keller Williams Realty in Tacoma, who blogs on Active Rain, a real estate networking site.

"Buyers know when they're being whitewashed," she said.

Inspired by a humorous e-mail she received that translated the familiar lingo of personal ads, Matsunaga compiled her own translations of real estate listings on her blog. For instance, in personal ads, if a woman describes herself as "athletic," it means she's flat chested; a man who describes himself as "mature" is usually bald, Matsunaga said.

On the real estate ads, she said, "cute" means, "small, under 600 square feet, including the garage." "Desirable neighborhood" means "out of your price range," and "Ready for your ideas" means the property has 1970s countertops with dark wood paneling and an olive green fridge.

"Instead of 'ready for your ideas,' my team is more likely to say 'this house needs to be completely redone inside and out, it is the worst house on the block,' " she said. "I know that seems to go against what's intuitive, but people like you to be honest and we have found real truth in advertising really does sell houses."

It may be hard to describe your house in such blunt terms. But then again, do you really want prospective buyers to guess what you meant when you said the home has "great personality?"

Between the lines

More decoding of real estate ads from Anna Matsunaga:

Victorian: Old, pretty, and small rooms throughout.

Original charm: Likely has original problems as well.

Granite countertops: We expect to get every cent we put in back out of it.

Unique: Too weird and hard to resell later, even if you like weird.

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.