Brainstorming ideas for the all important listing flyer

#280 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 1999, Hills Newspapers

I’ve been driving myself crazy his week trying to come up with a flyer for a new listing. In every spare moment, I think about it. Sometimes what seems like a great idea occurs to me just as I’m falling asleep, and I rouse myself enough to write it down in the dark.

The thing about ideas is that they are limitless. They come from the blue, sometimes not at all, occasionally many in a row. The idea I’m searching for could be just about anything; found anywhere. There is no catalog or dictionary or list of any kind that I can scroll through until I latch onto the right one.

That’s the frustrating part. I often wish I had a list of good ideas, or if not that, at least a list of great words. In fact, I’ve thought of assembling positive, happy words into one place so that, instead of reading through the dictionary skipping over negative words, I could look on my custom list.

The property I’m working on now is an old wooden house with old architectural details: leaded glass built-ins and plate rails, hardwood floors and two rounded and slightly tapering columns at the entrance to the living room. No trick there; I’ll list these features on my flyer along with the number of bedrooms and other rooms, the address, of course, and the price.

But the most outstanding thing about this property is, I think, the extra space in the large finished basement of the house. It seems to me that the reason the buyer will want to buy this house is for that good space.

The basement doesn’t feel “basementy”. It’s wholly above-ground and has plentiful windows that provide natural light to its several rooms. While there is no interior stair to the main house, the downstairs has its own heat and a full bath, and one pleasant room looks out to the back garden.

These spaces could be used for a number of things, and therein lies my puzzle. I’d like to provide an image that will get every potential buyer to immediately realize what his own use of this space would be. My first thought was “work at home,” but because the zoning is not commercial, I don’t want to imply that a tax preparer, for instance, could open his business there.

Art studio? These rooms would work splendidly for a silk-screening operation or for quilters, weavers with looms, maybe even ceramicists. Model railroad buffs could effect an impressive layout there; home theater enthusiasts might install screen and ample seating.

Lots of people have stuff to store. We met a man not long ago whose hobby is going to flea markets and buying things he knows he’ll never use. He collects for awhile, then gets rid of it all, and begins again. With this set-up, he could stash a lot for a long time before having to clean out.

Maybe what I need for my flyer is a photo of boxes and miscellaneous belongings. A photo of a yard sale might work or (I can see it now) labeled cartons stacked to the roof of a moving van.

Big, clean, dry, light, extra space. That’s what I want to show. What illustration can I use? One afternoon this week I spent several hours going through old books I have. I thought I might find a picture I could use, something from the same era as the house, and I did find some possibilities. For instance, line drawings of two teenage boys engaged in wood crafting projects. The boys are wearing knee socks, vests and ties. One leans over a sawhorse cutting a board with a hand saw; the other hammers some sort of box together with nails.

But these images aren’t “grabbers.” I’m looking for something else, something more universal and up-to-date. I’d like buyers to look at the flyer and to think, “I know what I can use that space for!” And so, I’m back to big space, wondering what would say that in a picture. What’s big? Tractors are big. So are dump trucks and locomotives.

Giraffes are tall. The hippopotamus is large. And so is an elephant. An elephant – I like this – everyone thinks “large” when seeing an elephant. I could say, next to the picture, “Put it in the basement!” Or maybe no words about size will be needed at all.

Back to my old books where I find a terrific drawing of an elephant which I photocopy, cut out, and lay on a blank piece of paper. Now I can fool around with the words and figure where to put the artist’s sketch of the house exterior.

“Need space for something big?” I use as my heading. I make a dotted line around the elephant, indicating that he might be cut out from the page. I add the words, “Try it out.”

The elephant cutout is big and I like. The house sketch will need to be smaller which means that the elephant will obviously not fit inside. So maybe I’ll put the sketch and a floor plan on the back of the page. Or maybe — here’s an idea — the house will be large and the elephant tiny. Will he still convey my large thought? I think so.

Resolution is fun. Of course, I may still think of something entirely different for this house. Ideas just fly in from nowhere.

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