Words help ‘build’ awareness of a home’s features

#453 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 2004, Hills Newspapers

For some years now, I’ve been compiling happy words and positive thoughts to use in marketing our listings. I’m always looking for them, and when I find one new to me, I note it. I keep my collection on scraps of paper in a file, and when I am writing about a listing, I go through them all.

I like happy words, enjoy using them, because I think that home – buying, owning, living in one – is a very happy thing. Humble or rich, small or large, our own home is something to honor, enjoy and treasure. In home we have a place to go to, to be with friends and family, or to be alone, a place to keep our things, to prepare food, to rest.

And I want to celebrate all of these things, to point out in my marketing for all of our listings what is precious about home. I think the bigger concept – the melody – of any home is more important even than the materials it is made of, how many sleeping rooms or dining areas it contains, or what the decorations may be.

When I begin a flyer or ad for a house, I do start by writing the obvious facts about it, the style and age, size, features, condition and price. People want to know these. And I include details specific to that house, shady and sunny gardens, triple bath mirrors, and such. Even such things as a roomy rural mailbox and a flock of wild green parrots in the neighborhood.

Those are the easy parts to describe. But the home part, the essence and individuality of each house, is my challenge. I never use the word charming although many houses are. The word is used too much, I think, and has lost its impact. And it is often used inaccurately.

Just last week we saw a house described in the MLS by the agent as a charming bungalow. Inside the house was a flyer on which the words “beautiful” and “lovely” were added, along with a claim that the sellers “have been giving this home lots of love for over 40 years.”

We found the house empty and cold, worn and depressing. If the owners have indeed been loving it for over 40 years, it certainly isn’t evident and I don’t think it should have been said. Better by far, in my opinion, to tell the truth. Fixer houses can be fun to write about.

A listing we had last year was darling (a word I did not use on the flyer), but it needed a lot of work. For this one, I superimposed onto a photo of the house, a picture of my own grandmother.

She’s wearing a long, old-fashioned cotton house dress and her marmalade cat is rubbing cozily against her ankles. The heading: “Grandma wants a new dress — and underpinnings!” Plus this Elizabeth Coatsworth quote, “When I dream, I am always ageless.”

On another, I listed Some Big Troubles: Furnace works but is rusted, needs a new foundation, old plumbing and wiring, garage roof structure broken, run-down kitchen, surfaces stained and worn, etc. This house retained its extravagant turn-of-the-century wood floors and detailing, but the systems had been badly neglected. The heading of the flyer included the street name, Thomas: “Dear Old Thomas Is Full of Promise.” And I wrote a verse: “The age of Thomas is over eighty; He’s got some problems that are weighty; He’s looking now to change his fate; Seeks long life with a new helpmate.”

I try to capture the truth, to describe accurately the good and the difficult of each house with my words. A flyer headline I used for a tiny and basic house was “Behold the Modest Muffin.” The accompanying illustration was of a muffin in a pleated cupcake paper.

Before landing on the final wording, I considered Agreeable Little Muffin, Nonfat Muffin, Good for You, and just plain, Your Own House. Another contender for this one was “A simple house, a gentle house, a straightforward and honest house,” a take-off from a song in “The Music Man.”

For a solid and clean 1940′s house, I used its most homey feature, “The Green Shuttered Cottage on Elm Street,” and went on with “Pretty, bright, fine disposition, it’s in very good condition.”

I like birds and I like the idea of home as a nest. I’ve used these a couple of times. One flyer’s tag line was “A house is a nest for people to feather, for living and laughter, and for eggs sunny side up.” And on another for a very small cottage a block from BART, a house I described as “pocket-sized,” my heading was “Swift flight will take you home.” Next to these words, on the cover, was a bird in flight, holding in his beak a string on which was suspended a tiny sketch of the house.

If I can include “music” in my words, I do, often with rhyming. Part of a verse for an unadorned house in a private setting: “Come then, settle in, live your whole life through. My heart is happy, I offer it to you.” And for another, low-priced house, “Let the north wind blow, you’re snug inside; turn up the radio and sing.” That flyer also said, “You’re fine now, you’re home now.”

I believe in telling it like it is. I frequently feature parts of houses that some people will love, others won’t. “1956 state-of-the-art stainless steel kitchen” is an example. It seemed to me that there was no point in ignoring this fact about this house. Instead, I used it, thought that it was likely that someone who wanted that kitchen would be glad to have it lauded in print.

I used “Unconventionality,” another time, this for an unusual house, one that most people would find decidedly odd. It seemed to work. The young couple who bought the house wanted something different.

In my file of good words, quotes and poems, I have this one by Longfellow, “Often in a wooden house a golden room we find.”

I’m saving that one for just the right situation, perhaps a house with a big old, warm and friendly kitchen where everyone feels at home.

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