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


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