How to find the real story in real estate copy: Kylie Dulhunty

Real estate copy doesn’t have to be boring, says Kylie Dulhunty. Properties have personalities, and those come as much from the people who lived there as the bricks and mortar features themselves.

‘Pulchritudinous’ is a word I’ll always remember for all of the wrong reasons. For the past 11 years it’s been a constant source of amusement, and a reminder to me to think outside the square but to keep things simple.

For a while I even had it printed out and taped to the wall at my desk at the newspaper where I was working as a real estate journalist when I first saw the word.

Pulchritudinous. It means ‘beautiful’. Rather than reading it in a Jane Austen novel, I came across it as I was editing a real estate agent’s prose on a renovated period home about to hit the market.

The home was indeed ‘beautiful’ but, given most of the wordsmiths working alongside me didn’t know what pulchritudinous meant, I doubted readers of the newspaper would either.

If they did, I have little doubt they’d scoff and put its use down to an agent trying to oversell the property.

After a few laughs, it was cut.

Now, more than a decade later, I have written thousands of real estate editorials for newspapers and real estate agencies themselves. It wasn’t until I worked for agents that I understood why a word such as pulchritudinous had crept into Agent X’s real estate copy all those years ago.

They wanted to be different. They wanted this home to stand out amongst all the other editorials in the paper that day, as well as online. The use of the word pulchritudinous was their attempt at the big sell.

An agent has to present a home in a glowing light. They have vendors to please and a sale to make.

That’s an agent’s lot – they have to present a home in a glowing light. They have vendors to please and a sale to make. How do you balance the need to detail a home’s features and sell the property with the need to provide useful yet inspiring content that buyers, particularly sceptical buyers, will love?

With real estate also a hot topic for fans of the industry, regardless of whether they are buying or selling, content needs to be engaging, not smarmy.

So how do you stand out in the real estate copywriting crowd?

Find the life

Call me crazy, but I firmly believe every property, be it a period home brimming with heritage features or a sleek new apartment, has an aura.

Properties have personalities, and those characteristics come as much from the people who have called those four walls home as the bricks and mortar features themselves.

So, instead of immediately launching into the spiel about how many bedrooms and bathrooms the property has, why not let buyers know the vendor’s great-great-grandmother was born by the cast iron fireplace in the front living room, or the piece of timber lining the kitchen benchtop came from a dismantled wharf 300km away?

Over the years I’ve written about a house the owners painted black and another with every room painted a different colour in the brightest hues possible.

Instead of glossing over those details or ignoring them they became the ‘hooks’ for the editorials, as each had a personal story that showed how much the vendors had loved the property.

If something is different consider celebrating it, not hiding it, as it just might be the story behind the feature that gets the sale.

Stock your toolkit

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and today we also have video, virtual reality, floor plans and interactive floor plans, among a host of other tools, to use to sell the features of a property. It’s often a combination of these elements that work the best.

However, if you want to stick to the written word there’s a lot you can incorporate when telling a home’s story that goes far beyond just a long-winded spiel. Features listed in dot point format are effective, but that’s not exactly unique.

With today’s time-stretched buyer looking for cold, hard facts fast, why not use a timeline to detail the home’s journey from building, through renovating all the way to auction date?

Highlighting items such as ‘November 2001, held Sarah’s 21st in the new Queensland room’ is a creative way to list the property’s features as well as paint a picture of how the home was and can be lived in.

Another way to stand out from the crowd is to turn the old-fashioned real estate flyer, filled with paragraphs of copy, into a succinct postcard highlighting just one standout feature in a quirky way.

A quote from the owner on how they adore relaxing in the ensuite’s freestanding bathtub with a glass of wine and a good book will have people picturing themselves doing the same.

That’s what you want to create – potential buyers imagining themselves in the home.

Forget the hyperbole

When you write real estate copy day in and day out, it’s easy to use the same tired phrases over and over and over again. If you’re bored writing about ‘quaint front porches’ and ‘sun-drenched entertaining decks’ so too will be the reader.

Plus, I don’t think it’s a big secret that many take real estate copy with a grain of salt. People expect clichés and exaggeration, so when they read something fresh and new it really stands out.

One of the things I try and instil in my clients is to play things with a straight bat.

That cupboard under the stairs is not a study or potential fourth bedroom (unless you’re Harry Potter, of course) and as for the Juliet balcony where you can enjoy a lazy Sunday brunch, don’t be silly; everyone knows you can barely fit one foot on one of those balconies.

Instead, forget the clichés and hyperbole and paint an accurate picture. You don’t have to include every element of the property in an editorial, so if it’s not a selling point don’t exaggerate it to become one; just leave it out.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.