Show, Don’t Tell
Punctuation matters. When my friend Confidence Stimpson recently noted on Facebook that “every time someone adds an apostrophe in creating a plural, a puppy dies”, I couldn’t help thinking that the pages of StreetEasy, the New York Times, and Avenue Magazine must be littered with tiny bodies! In addition to the tragic addition of commas and apostrophes where they were never meant to be, and the painful lack of subject/object correlation (does it just seem more elegant to say “My broker showed the apartment to my wife and I?” Is the poor old objective pronoun “me” really so low-market that no one wants to use it any more?), there is the issue of spelling. One does not need to have been an Ivy League classics major to know that wood paneling which ascends halfway up the wall is not, in fact, “Wayne’s coating”, as one ad I saw a while back described it. Probably in even taking this argumentative tack, I am behaving with “hut-spa”, a trait I was accused of possessing in an e-mail received from an agent not so long ago.
All kidding aside, both form and content do play a significant role in making or breaking real estate advertising copy. E.B. White’s “The Elements of Style” remains in print; probably every real estate agent should buy a copy. It has saved me over the years from particularly egregious grammatical and stylistic errors, and I pay attention at this stuff. Being able to articulately, and minimally, express the salient attractions of a listing will hopefully draw prospects to see it. Past a certain point, the more you tell them, the less likely they are to come. Very little real estate advertising hews to the “less is more” philosophy.
We live in the age of Instagram, of “show, don’t tell.” Everyone likes looking at pretty photos (so you had better make sure they ARE pretty) but people are much less receptive to a lot of advertising text. In general it’s best to let the photos and floorplans speak for themselves, and keep text to a curated minimum. My particular pet peeve: brand names! I am worn out by reading in ad after ad a list of brand names: Gaggenau and Miele, Smallbone and SubZero. And even worse, stone countertop names: Bianco Marfil marble, Pearlescent quartzstone, Aegean Dawn… is anyone really making a purchasing decision based on whether their marble counter has a middle name?
My father covered the early years of World War II from Berlin for The New York Times. Like most great reporters of his day, he deployed a large vocabulary with vivid precision to capture important concepts with both brevity and depth. I try in my writing to do the same, and troubleshoot the copy our agents write whenever it seems particularly necessary. I want all of our ads and materials to be grammatically correct, concise, and informative. If our buyers want the full story on which appliances, countertops, toilets, and hardware appear in our listings, I can suggest the perfect solution. Come see them!