Home Listings: 10 Terms That Can Kill a Sale

Sorry Shakespeare, but a rose by any other name isn't always a rose. We live in an era where spin rules and sellers drool, and sometimes the language we use in listings actually hurts our chances of a quick sale.

Buyers in today's market look at dozens more homes than ever before (because they can) and expect a bargain (because they'll get it). And they never ever want a house that isn't in tip-top condition. As such, how your home is described in the listing seriously matters -- and there are words that should simply be banned from your verbiage unless you want to have that "for sale" sign parked on the front lawn for a couple more months.

Those words are:

1. Needs TLC.

"Tender Loving Care" means work. Work means money. Spending money to fix a house makes that house less of a bargain. Buyers want perfect. In the same vein, avoid "fixer-upper," "bring your hammer," and "needs sweat equity," adds Jim Remley, author of the best-selling book "Selling Your Home in Any Market."

If your house needs repairs, make them before you list it. Or at the very least, don't advertise the fact that the new buyer faces a future of spending money on your house. There's one exception here, and that's if you are selling what's tantamount to a teardown and your market target is developers. If that's the case, just say so.

2. Cute and cozy.

These have become buzzwords for small and crowded. Avoid the issue altogether and just state what the square footage is. And add "room to expand," should that be the case. Teddy bears are cute; homes should be described by their style -- traditional, Mediterranean, Cape Cod, whatever. A truthful but "Just the facts, ma'am" attitude will get you past most of your home's flaws.

3. Recent paint job.

Really? Did you really just go all the way down to the hardware store and buy a bucket of $12.99 paint? If the only improvement you have to boast about is slapping up some paint over the kids' handprints, maybe it's not worth mentioning. If you want to convey that you've recently put some pride of ownership into the place, we like "new deck" (a weekend project involving your brother-in-law) or even "new landscaping" (put down some sod in the bare spots and plant some annuals) -- both inexpensive improvement projects that suggest you spent more money than you really did.

4. Short sale.

News flash here: The word is out that banks are a pain to deal with and that short sales take forever. So why advertise the fact that the bank is going to have to sign off on whatever deal you strike with a buyer? Sure, the buyer is going to learn about this hitch soon enough, but what's the upside to the seller for telling the world up-front? Wait until the buyer has seen the house. He may love the place and decide it's worth the hassle, or come up a little in price if you aren't that underwater.

Saying a house is bank-owned, says Remley, chases away a lot of potential buyers. Banks don't have to disclose a home's problems and the closing process can drag on and on -- all the while, the market sinks lower and lower. Some people think they are getting a better deal, but bank-owned homes aren't slam-dunk bargains.

5. Seller anxious.

Of course you are. Every seller is. In fact, even writing the two words together is considered a redundancy in today's housing market. Saying you are an anxious seller conveys the wrong impression to prospective buyers. If you are an owner who "wants to see all offers," we're with you. Even low offers are an opportunity to negotiate. But "seller anxious" makes us want to reach for the Xanax or at very least get you in touch with a good therapist.

6. Seller motivated.

Since pretty much only crazy people or people who have to sell are listing their homes right now, this is a form of "seller anxious." Truth is, by telling your prospective buyers that you need to sell your house, you are handing over your best -- maybe only -- negotiating tool. You and your agent should not provide prospective buyers with any ammunition; they come already loaded for bear. Make your listing about the house, not you. What are its best features? Is it a family home in a great school district? A bedroom community convenient to the freeways and downtown? A loft waiting for the right work-at-home writer or artist? Paint a lifestyle picture.

7. Priced right!

Mr. Buyer will be the judge of that. If you think it's priced "right" and your prospective buyers disagree, who do you think will win? Bingo. By the way, getting no offers means you aren't priced right. Let your price speak for itself. Instead, we again prefer "owner wants to see all offers."

8. Won't last!

We understand that you probably still believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but do you really believe that in this economy -- in which homes stay on the market for an average of 292 days -- that yours is going to fly into the arms of the first buyer who sees it? Get real. Trying to pressure a buyer today to move quickly is like blowing smoke down the chimney. It won't happen. If you really want it to sell fast, price it as low as you can without gagging.

9. Den could be used as extra bedroom.

A bedroom is a room with a closet. If your den doesn't have a closet, it's not a bedroom. It's a common mistake made by rookie agents and unknowing sellers. But now you know. In general, don't promise things that aren't. Don't promise walk-in closets that aren't either. And for that matter, don't say the house has an ocean view if you need a ladder on the roof to see it. Overstatements lead to buyer disappointment.

10. Fabulous unpermitted addition.

There is nothing fabulous about having a room that was built without a permit. In most states, it means that you run the risk of an inspector ordering you to tear it down. "Unpermitted" means it was never inspected to check whether it was done to code or by a licensed professional. On the other hand, if you did work with a permit, be sure to note that. The permit process can be expensive and time-consuming; it shows you cared enough to do things on the up-and-up. On the other hand, "unpermitted" says "I'm somebody who cheats! Let's make a deal!"

Listings aren't the place to disclose either the flaws of your home or your character.

Also see:
Why Selling Your House Furnished Can Cost You

Case-Shiller Index: 3 Reasons to Blow It Off

The 10 Fastest-Selling Housing Markets

More on AOL Real Estate:
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I have never had a bank-owned home or short sale where they wouldn't allow a buyer's inspection. I've had then disallow turning the utilities back on, but no one has ever had a problem with an inspection contingency. Up here, they don't cost $1,000. They cost from $300 to $400 and they can be extensive. I would tell a buyer not to buy a home unless they had an inspection. They're standard practice up here. In addition to that, some cities require a seller, whether a person or a bank, to get what's called a Truth-In-Housing inspection before a house is put on the market.

One more thing: I've never heard the term 'unpermited.' I know what it means, but that's something a buyer's inspector will catch (he'll check!). This just goes to show that real estate can differ greatly from state to state.

August 13 2011 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a very useful article and right on point. Having purchased several homes over the last couple of decades myself, using 'relative' terms to describe a home listing just muddles the water. Comfy and cozy to the seller certainly may not be comfy and cozy to me. Good points.

August 12 2011 at 3:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All houses need TLC, in today's market, many want to change the house they buy into something they themselves design. Keep you pricing close to what the county/city appraises your property and you should do fine. No one can argue it's worth. One hay have an independent appraisal done, To some buyers, it looks more professional if you do. An independent view from someone else. The owners and the maybe buyer will see what some one else thinks it is worth. From there, it is either a deal or over priced.

August 12 2011 at 2:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It6's a buyer's market out there. I have bought several houses over the years. Have the house inspected, have termite and bugs work done and warrantied. Have no outstanding debts. Curb appeal is a must. When entering a house to look at, not what smells you smell right off the bat. Mildew, pets cigarette smoke, pot smoke, drug smells, dog or cat smells. Dirty wet diaper smells. Any of those, well, your house is over priced no matter what you are asking for it. I like freshly painted places, I don't like loud or strange colors. I also do a police check, to see what has happened at house in past, along with a zoning violation check. I also want to know if it was owner occupied or had been a rental house in all it's life. One can't always tell if the owner loved the house or just did a cover up. I would rather buy a house, that the yard shows a lot of foot traffic. This shows that the neighborhood has children and the house I am looking at was popular. Usually if the house had children visitors, it was a respectable family that lived there. They were raising children, not yards. If was a drug House, prostitution or flop house, No One needs a seedy house, no one really in their right mind would want it. Check with the water providers, they can tell you if the house uses an un normal amount of water. This can let you know if there is a leak, or that the house was used for more than just living in. I've seen houses that were used as day care for both children and adults. Believe you me, You have to replace all the carpets and really clean the floors. The kitchen appliances can tell you a lot. If expensive and a few years old, Owner occupied, if cheap and new tenant house.

August 12 2011 at 2:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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August 12 2011 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Owner wants to see all offers" - isn't it illegal anyway for an agent to withhold an offer from a seller?

August 10 2011 at 3:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Although I agree with some of the information in this article, I disagree with the advice of avoiding material facts up-front. This article has a lot of misleading information that MUST be disclosed in Arizona, and SHOULD be disclosed anyway. If buyers don't know all the information up front...they will walk away from the deal later. I'd rather have a buyer "pass" sooner than later. As an agent representing my seller's best interest...most would agree it's better NOT to waste time with someone who's going to "walk away" after they have their home inspection or feel misled. As a buyer's agent, I expect all known material information to be disclosed. It's not fair to a buyer when avoiding the "Short Sale" or "REO" terms up front either...since they may need some extra patience when buying this type of home. Getting a contract is only the first step. Actually closing escrow is the only step that matters. Full disclosure is the only way to conduct business in an honest fashion.

August 10 2011 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In my MLS services, as an agent, I must disclose a short sale. And yes, it does deter buyers and agents alike. To bad the banks don't work better with us to make this process move along quicker.

August 10 2011 at 10:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Avoid cliche's like Needs TLC . THey are vague and useless .BE direct . My opinion is get an appraisal and pay for it yourself . Get it inspected yourself . Know what you are doing . Don't be blind at any point in the process. educate yourself .
Your buyer will get an inspection anyway and the bank won't lend if it doesn't appraise at or at least near the sale price . An appraiser will tell you what other homes in the area have been selling for. It may be shocking and it may seem unfair but appraised values are the holy gospel for bankers .
Deal with hard cold facts the way the banks do now. Be business like don't take the deal personally . Be professional with your agent and your buyer . It isn't personal . It's business . Buyers have heavy closing costs to consider after your asking price too. That's the way I would do it in this market anyway.

August 10 2011 at 2:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Home Owners Association... which I believe is the English translation of the German word "Gestapo."

August 10 2011 at 2:21 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to steve31tx's comment

I agree with you 100 %.

August 12 2011 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply