The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Words Matter in Home Listings

Long ago, comedian George Carlin made a name for himself with a bit about the seven words that could not be said on television. Nowadays, you can hear all of those words on cable, and many of them on broadcast TV.

But some real estate professionals say there are still some words neither their colleagues nor their clients should use in their listings. These phrases and terms are so overused that they have become meaningless, agents complained in a recent ActiveRain discussion.

Take the phrase “motivated seller,” for example. Hey, if you aren’t motivated to sell, you shouldn’t have listed your house in the first place.

That phrase is “counterproductive,” says Morgan Evans, an agent with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City, who believes it is better to “communicate in person that if the buyer likes the property, then the owner may be open-minded to an offer.”

Scott Godzyk of Godzyk Real Estate Services in Manchester, New Hampshire, doesn’t like it, either. If the owner is so motivated, he says, he should have priced the home correctly in the first place.

“I’d rather lower the price than announce we are ‘motivated,’” adds Steven Beam of RE/MAX Alliance in Parker, Colorado.

Says Myrl Jeffcoat of GreatWest Realty in Sacramento: “’Motivated’ needs to be stricken from the multiple listing service lexicon.”

That’s the thing with phrases like this: They are so shopworn that agents tend to ignore them altogether.

“Will not last” is another unworthy phrase. Nina Hollander of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Shirley Coomer of Keller Williams Realty in Phoenix both call it “the kiss of death.”

“If it’s not going to last,” asks Anna Kruchten of the Phoenix Property Shoppe, “then why has it been on the market for four months with no takers? So lame.”

Adds Jill Sackler of Charles Rutenberg Realty in Long Beach, New York: “’Will not last’ is a phrase we can all do without.”

“I have yet to see an MLS entry that states ‘owner unmotivated’ or ‘will look at offers when we feel like it,’” says Juan Juarez of Keller Williams in Fremont, California. “Some things are to obvious to state, yet we see that stuff constantly.”

By the way, if your place has been on the market for more than a few months -- or maybe even a few weeks -- ask your agent to redo your listing. “I’ve never understood why agents don’t go back and rewrite their MLS listings and change pictures around when a house lingers,” comments Debe Maxwell of RE/MAX Executive in Charlotte.

Two other hackneyed phrases that ruffle pros’ feathers include “almost new” and “will look at all offers.”

There is no degree of new; it’s either new or it isn’t. If a house was lived in for one day, it is no longer new. Better to say “like new.” And if you are not going to entertain all offers, why bother? Otherwise, agents say, you are telling everyone your place is overpriced to begin with.

Colorado agent Bean thinks he knows why many agents have become so verbose with meaningless phraseology. With so much space allowed by the latest MLS technology, he says, agents can type till their fingers fall off.

Perhaps that’s why Ralph Gorgoglione of Maui Life Homes in Hawaii hates what he calls “corny, cheesy phrases.” Such as this one he spotted recently: “As you walk through the front door, bestowed upon you will be a thing of beauty.” Or this: “As you step through the walls of glass ...”

Joe Pryor of Oklahoma (City) Investment Properties has some favorites, too. Among them are “Show your picky buyers,” “a real dollhouse” and “snooze, you lose.”

Of course, words do matter, as shown in a 20-year-old study of 20,000 Canadian houses listed and sold between 1997 and 2000. If a listing contained the word “motivated,” the house took 15% longer to sell and sold for 8% less than the original asking price, found the study by Paul Anglin, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario. And if it was described as a rental property, it took 60% longer and resulted in an 8% drop in asking price.

Other words had a positive impact. When “landscaping” was mentioned, the house sold 20% faster and at 6% over the listing price. The words “beautiful” and “move-in condition” also resulted in faster selling times.

As for selling prices, the study found that certain words could increase the selling price by as much as 6% -- or cause it to fall by as much as 10%. Thus, the price on a $250,000 house could rise to $265,000 (a 6% increase) when described as “landscaped,” or drop 10% to $225,000 if designated a “starter home.”