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I doubt that anyone gets into real estate for the writing opportunities. However, they soon find out that there is plenty of writing to be done in marketing a property or a real estate business, communicating with clients and colleagues and keeping up with contracts and contingencies.
Once you’ve mastered some of the basics of grammar and syntax, it’s time to move on to real estate-specific grammar and syntax. Some of these are matters of taste and opinion while others involve common errors and miscommunication.
1. Property descriptions
Of course, mistakes can be embarrassing in MLS copy or can even cause you to inadvertently make a false claim about the listing. One of my favorite examples is a property description that boasted about the home’s spacious “panties” instead of “pantries” — creating a titillating, albeit comedic, effect that was surely not what the agent or client would have wanted.
Here are a few of the most hotly debated grammatical issues that come up in property descriptions.
To ampersand or not to ampersand?
Many agents find ampersands (the “&” symbol) tacky or overly casual, while others see them as a necessary way to save two characters on short MLS descriptions.
While there is no hard and fast rule, you may find it easier to avoid the issue by limiting the use of “and” in descriptions. Consider the following options:
- Resort-style amenities include heated pool, tennis courts and playspace.
- Resort-style amenities include heated pool, tennis courts & playspace.
- Resort-style amenities include heated pool, tennis courts, playspace.
Option three saves the most room and keeps you from using the ampersand altogether.
If there’s one syntax issue that riles up agents more than any other, it’s the home that’s personified as “boasting” about its fixtures and finishes. While this one is a matter of (strong) opinion, there are plenty of ways to avoid this usage, including offers, features, includes, and contains.
Some people just love exclamation marks! They feel that they provide a great deal of enthusiasm and enhance tone! Many of us use them in texts and emails to sound friendlier, then include them in MLS descriptions as well! Isn’t that awesome!?!!
Seriously, please don’t do this. If you must use an exclamation mark, limit yourself to one mark per property description, only if the sentence is truly exclamatory.
Leaving out necessary commas
While every character is precious when you only have a 510-character limit, there are times that you simply need a comma. While a final comma may be optional in a list, it may improve readability in other parts of the description.
Read the description aloud and, if a pause or break is needed, don’t be afraid to use a comma.
All caps, occasional caps or title case
MUCH LIKE THE EXCLAMATION MARK, MANY AGENTS FEEL THAT ALL CAPS INFUSE A PROPERTY DESCRIPTION WITH ENERGY. IN REALITY, HOWEVER, IT GENERALLY FEELS LIKE SOMEONE IS SHOUTING AT YOU. LIKE RIGHT NOW, DON’T YOU FEEL LIKE I AM YELLING? I’M NOT, JUST FOR THE RECORD, BUT IT FEELS THAT WAY.
I Have Also Seen Descriptions That Were, Inexplicably, Written In Title Case With Every Word’s First Letter Capitalized. No, Just No.
Splitting the difference, there are Descriptions that feature Random Capitalizations, much like those in the Declaration of Independence. Presumably, these are included in order to Highlight some of the most Important and Prominent features. I don’t find them very effective.
You know what people love? A 2br 2ba co-op on a cldsc w/ eik feat st st appl, hdwd flrs, Cth & CrMs.
In all seriousness, don’t make people wade through and try to interpret your abbreviations because in most cases, they won’t bother. You don’t have to fit everything into your MLS description.
In many cases, you can include descriptive captions on your photos or add a more thorough description as an attachment for the buyer’s agent to share.
Language that is all flour and no meat
Some homes are so sun-drenched and inspiring that, as the last tendrils of daylight drift across their Western exposures, the agent becomes positively lyrical, tenderly bringing forth descriptions burnished with such poetry that they become practically incomprehensible.
Here too, figurative language is not your friend, and buyers will not spend their time puzzling out the literal features of the home through your purple prose. Favor a more straightforward approach that highlights the home — not your artistic instincts.
“Won’t last long!” loses its impact when the listing has been on the market for 82 days without a nibble. If you include time-sensitive information or calls to action in the description, set a reminder in your phone to go in and remove them in a timely manner.
Fair housing violation
All jokes aside, one of the biggest mistakes agents make is to inadvertently violate fair housing guidelines with their property descriptions. Remember, phrases like “family home,” “walk to shops” and “close to churches” carry implications about the type of buyer who’s preferred for a home or neighborhood.
Evaluate your go-to phrases for property descriptions, and make sure that they are not carrying unintended messages that seem to exclude some house hunters.
2. Social media posts
Social media, of course, is rife with errors. Perhaps it’s because people tend to post on the run or because they’re using their phones instead of a computer. Either way, we tend to see more errors and more problems with punctuation, spelling and syntax.
Sometimes, these typos can result in embarrassing errors, undermining your credibility and making you look rather silly. Sometimes, however, they can create serious problems, like this Australian agent whose missing apostrophe in a Facebook post may end up costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Far beyond embarrassing or even costly errors on social media are ill-advised, inflammatory posts that undermine your credibility, your ability to serve clients and the reputation of the industry as a whole.
While some advocate a separation of personal and professional communication, hate speech, slurs and other discriminatory and bigoted language calls into question an agent’s ability to abide by the code of ethics and fair housing laws no matter where it appears.
3. Email and texts
Emails and texts offer a host of opportunities for errors and simple, downright rudeness. While there aren’t as many etiquette rules to remember when it comes to texts, it’s generally considered a good idea to let someone know who you are and where you’re from when you’re texting them for the first time. This gives them a chance to add you to their contacts.
While many people think of texting as a much less formal type of communication, when you’re using it for professional purposes you should follow the same communication standards that you would with a messaging or email platform.
Spell out words, and don’t use an excessive number of emojis — one happy face at the end of the message is entirely sufficient.
Email communication should be more formal and include both a greeting and a signoff. Make sure to proofread your emails since they are frequently referred to again and again or archived for later reference.
In addition, make your subject lines descriptive enough to give people a sense of your purpose when you send an email. While it’s easy and quick to make “Hi!” the subject line for every email you send, it makes it more difficult for people to go back and find the correct email later or to know when you need an urgent response.
Finally, know which type of communication works for which type of topic. For a quick, on-the-go answer to a question, text or a messaging app may be entirely sufficient. However, for more complex discussions or for sending important documents, email is probably a better choice. If time is of the essence, consider prompting the recipient via text to check their email.
Clear and correct communication in all of your real estate transactions helps you to look more professional and competent to clients, colleagues and the general public — in other words, potential clients. Take a little extra time on every piece of writing so that you’re always putting your best rhetorical foot forward.
Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.