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Property Descriptions 101: How to Write Listing Descriptions That Sell

Property Descriptions 101: How to Write Listing Descriptions That Sell
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When buyers (and their agents!) are browsing online real estate listings, professional photos are what grab their attention first, but it’s the listing description that really tells the story of the home.

Listing descriptions are an essential part of real estate advertising, and a well-written one can help your house stand out from all the other listings in your area. Remember, your real estate listing description won’t just show up online — it’s what will be used on flyers, social media, open house materials and more.   

Whether you’re selling your house for sale by owner (FSBO) or want to ensure that your agent has written an effective description for your home, here are the things you need to know about great real estate listing descriptions.

Keys to writing a great listing description

  1. Format your description
  2. Use creative words to highlight your home’s best features
  3. Avoid words that are known to deter buyers
  4. Mention brands, upgrades and unique features
  5. Pay attention to length, grammar and accuracy

Formatting: How to write a property description

The first thing to keep in mind is formatting. Formatting your description is important because it helps buyers understand your home’s appeal and makes it easy to share the unique features that set your home apart.

Your whole description should be 250 words or less, not only because of text space limitations on your local multiple listing service (MLS) and sites like Zillow, but also because buyers are unlikely to read a very long description. Aim to be concise throughout the whole description. Note that some sites have a special field for headlines, and on other sites, your headline will just be the first line of text in your main description field. Either way, you should include the headline in your total word count.

Write an engaging headline

Keep your headline short and descriptive, while focusing on a benefit that is location-specific. If you’re using an agent, they should be able to give you some guidance on what’s popular in your  area, but you can also review other local listings for inspiration. Here are some good examples of headlines that pair location details with something unique about the home:

  • Condo in Chicago: “West Loop condo with private roof deck and sweeping city views”
  • House in Seattle suburbs: “Stunning craftsman home in red-hot Kirkland”
  • Townhouse in the Bay Area: “Loft-style living in Mill Valley”

Construct an opening statement

Your opening statement should answer the buyer’s question, “What am I looking at?” It should give buyers a reason to continue reading. It’s also a great place to showcase features that you couldn’t fit in the headline, but that buyers will love. Here are a few examples:

  • “Check out this top-floor condo in an all-brick, elevator building with a deeded indoor parking space.”
  • “This spacious, single-family home in Boston features both modern amenities and architectural character in a fantastic location.”
  • “This recently renovated tri-level townhome lives like a single-family, without the maintenance.”

When writing your opening statement, here are some popular features that, if your home possesses them, you should definitely include:

  • Parking (especially in city listings)
  • Double garage (or larger)
  • Private backyard or outdoor space
  • Mountain view
  • Lakefront property
  • Near transit access
  • Renovated kitchen
  • Mother-in-law suite (or other passive income potential)
  • Flexible/room to expand
  • Lush landscaping

Detail a listing description

The description text makes up the bulk of your word count, and it’s where you should review all of the home’s main features: beds, baths, square footage, lot size, location, upgrades, etc. But don’t just rattle off a list of all the features. Use compelling, creative language to highlight details that make your home special. Your description should pique buyers’ interest enough that they want to schedule a tour, and as the owner, you are in the unique position of being able to tell a story about what is special about the property.

Offer special promotions

If you’re trying to sell your home quickly and want to incentivize buyers, you can add a special promotion to your listing description. Some of the most compelling buyer concessions include:

  • Home warranty: For just a few hundred dollars, you can purchase a one-year home warranty for your buyer. It’s a nice little value-add that buyers appreciate, as it offers piece of mind for their purchase.
  • Credits toward closing costs: In buyers markets, where sellers are competing for offers from a small pool of buyers, offering to pay for some or all of a buyer’s closing costs can be very appealing.
  • Seller financing: Seller financing is when you act as the bank for your buyer for a period of time, often until they can get approved for a conventional bank loan. While you’ll have to assume the risk of the buyer defaulting, it can open up your home to a bigger pool of potential buyers.
  • Flexible close date: If you’re able to accommodate either a quick close or a longer close, mention that in your description. It can be very attractive to buyers with a rigid time table.

Include a call to action

A call to action is a closing line in your description that tells buyers what you want them to do next: “Don’t miss out on this captivating home. Schedule a private tour today!” Or, “This home isn’t going to last — schedule your showing before it’s gone.”

Writing creative real estate listing descriptions

Using the listing words proven to attract buyers

Using the right words in your home description can mean more money in your pocket. That was one of the findings of the book “Zillow Talk: Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate,” written by Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff and Chief Economist Stan Humphries. It highlights some of the listing words that can attract buyers.

  • “Luxurious:” According to the book, homes with a median estimated value in the bottom third of their market that were described as “luxurious” beat their expected sales price by an impressive 8.2 percent.
  • “Captivating:” Also from the book, homes with a median estimated value in the top third of their market that were described as “captivating” beat their sales price by 6.5 percent.
  • Other words: There are plenty of other real estate marketing words that Zillow found valuable, including “stainless” (as in appliances), “granite,” “basketball” (as in a court), “landscaped,” “pergola,” “remodel,” “tile,” “upgraded” and “updated.” More descriptive words that were also winners were “impeccable,” “beautiful” and “gentle” (as in rolling hills).

Need some inspiration for creative real estate listing descriptions? Here are just a few examples found on Zillow:

  • For a listing in downtown Portland: “From the remodeled open layout to the unique landscaped roof deck with skyline views, this home is truly captivating.”
  • For a listing in Cleveland suburbs: “Step into your newly upgraded luxurious chef’s kitchen, outfitted with stainless steel appliances, new granite countertops, and slate tile floors.”
  • For a listing in Brooklyn: “No stone was left unturned during the recent remodel, which includes updated hardwood flooring throughout and a brand-new subway tile backsplash.”
  • For a top-tier home: “Brush up on your game on your own private basketball court, then cool off underneath the pergola in your scenic and secluded backyard.”

Features to include in your listing description

Zillow researchers found that mentioning certain keywords in your listing makes an impact on both how much you can sell your home for and how quickly it will sell. Here are a few of the home features that got sellers the most bang for their buck and helped them sell faster:

  • Listings descriptions with “barn doors” sold for 13.4 percent more, and 57 days faster.
  • Homes with “shaker cabinets” sold for 9.6 percent more than expected, 45 days faster.
  • Another popular kitchen feature, “farmhouse sink” helped homes sell for 8 percent more.
  • “Subway tile” garnered almost 7 percent more, and 63 days faster.
  • The term “quartz” helped homes sell for 6 percent more, compared to “granite” at 4 percent.

Tips for real estate photo editing

If you have the know-how (and the subscription!) Photoshop is a great tool for editing your real estate photos. But, even if you’re not Photoshop-savvy, there are a few online tools that make editing photos a breeze, like Photoshop ExpressPixlr, or GIMP. Use them to make a few simple enhancements. 

  • Use HDR: HDR is a method of shooting multiple images at once, then combining them in editing for better lighting and corrected vertical lines (more on that later).
  • Swap a gray sky for a blue sky: Did your exterior shots on a cloudy day? No problem. You can easily swap the sky for blue.
  • General editing: Crop, brighten, and fix blemishes to make your home look its best. 

Include these shots: Photographing real estate 101

Consider this your listing photography checklist, and don’t stop shooting until you have a great real estate photo for each of these spaces.

Must-have photographs

Master bedroom
Living room

Nice-to-have photographs

Patio or deck
Pool or hot tub

Real estate shots that sell

Popular local features: If you’re working with an agent, ask for their opinion on which features to highlight for your own local market (according to an analysis of listing keywords, you’ll find mudrooms in Vermont, southern exposure in Alaska, and storm cellars in Oklahoma).
Features that justify higher prices: Certain home features highlighted on Zillow have helped sellers earn more than their asking prices or shorten the length of time homes sit on the market. A few examples include steam showers, professional appliances, and solar panels.
Views: Highlight any notable views from the home. Water, mountain, or cityscape vistas from windows are always popular.
Architectural details: If your home is of a particular style, showcase its notable details, such as wainscoting, exposed beams, or intricate tile work.
Recently updated spaces: If you’ve recently done renovation work on the home, show it off!

Bonus shots

An exterior shot from the curb, showing off the curb appeal
An exterior shot at night, with lights glowing from the interior
A dusk shot on a clear night
An exterior shot with the front door open, for a welcoming scene
Drone footage or aerial views
3D Home tours and video walkthroughs — adding a video walkthrough can double both the number of shopping views and frequency that the home is saved on Zillow

Avoid real estate photography mistakes

Now that we’ve talked about what to do for great real estate photos, let’s cover the pitfalls you should avoid.

Common real estate photography errors

  • The photographer’s reflection in a mirror or window
  • Pets in the shot
  • Ceiling fans running
  • Television on
  • Fingerprints on surfaces
  • Raised toilet seat lids
  • Cars or other distractions captured through windows
  • Unsightly items in exterior shots, like electrical wires, dumpsters, or parked cars
  • Including images of tiny rooms — leave out closets, laundry rooms, and powder rooms unless they have a unique selling point
  • Including images of structural issues or unfinished rooms — if it’s mid-remodel, don’t include it in the photos
  • Vertical line distortion — this common mistake happens when you shoot images with your camera tilted up or down, making vertical lines bow in or diverge, and should be fixed in post-shoot editing
  • Using a cell phone to take pictures
  • Using a fish-eye lens, which can portray an unrealistic sense of size

What equipment is needed to become a real estate photographer?

Whether you’re just taking photos of your own house to sell it, or if you’re interested in dabbling in the field of professional real estate photography, here is the equipment you need to produce high-quality, high-resolution real estate images.

  • A professional camera: You’ll need a full frame digital SLR camera, with a large sensor for a wider field of view and highest quality.
  • A wide-angle lens: A wide-angle lens lets you capture more of each room, with full detail and depth.
  • A tilt-shift lens: A professional tilt-shift lens can help you avoid the vertical line distortion that’s an easy giveaway that photos were done by an amateur.
  • A tripod: When your camera is secured on a tripod, you can capture crisp images with a slower shutter speed, which allows for more natural light.
  • More than one flash: You’ll want to be equipped with supplemental lighting for larger rooms.
  • Light stand: A professional light stand allows you to light a room effectively.

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