Category Archives: Online Fun for Homebuyers

I Say, Shall We Borrow Some British Real Estate Ad Language?

country lifeThe busy-ness of the holiday season, not to mention the emphasis on shopping, must be taking a toll on me: I’ve been indulging in the guilty pastime of perusing old issues of Country Life magazine, in search of my dream manor house.

(You too can play this game! Just allot yourself an imaginary budget — I’ve recently raised mine to £1.5 million, trying to ignore the exchange rate completely — and then see what it buys you. The next step is to ignore the likely upkeep costs.)

Anyway, as I’m shopping, I can’t help but notice that advertisements for properties in England tend to use much different language than we use here in the U.S. of A. Below are some examples. Feel free integrate them into your marketing efforts as you see fit:

  • “ideal for family occupation”
  • “elegant and commodious”
  • “Located in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with abundant footpaths and bridleways”
  • “undulating farmland”
  • “excellent pheasant and partridge shoot”
  • “in the same Family ownership for nearly 200 years.”

A little adaptation may be in order, of course. For example, I don’t have any farmland, but my driveway exhibits a respectable degree of undulation. And we saw some wild turkeys walking down our street just last week! Too bad there’s just no way to make “in the same Family ownership for nearly four years!” sound as impressive.

Cheerio, then.

San Fran Home Sells for $1.405 Million Over Asking?!

Paper house attached to yellow blank price tag on blue backgroundSeriously. You read that right. That bid brought the total price of the recently sold two-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home on Gough Street to $3.4 million

I wonder whether there’s some other bidder out there who offered a mere $1.309 million over asking, and is now kicking himself for not having gone just a little higher? (Though what’s “little” in this context is relative, with every .1 million signifying a cool $100 thousand.)

While the article discussing this house on Curbed didn’t mention it, a price hike like this is a sure sign that a bidding war took place. (Either that, or some seriously misguided buyer thought a bidding war was inevitable or had money to burn.)

How, you might ask, did the buyer decide to go quite that high? Real estate bids are traditionally confidential. This isn’t like an auction, where everyone gets to hear the other offers and then raise their own bid by a bit.

But the buyers’ agents are allowed to, and traditionally do, ask the seller’s agent how many people have indicated that they plan to submit a bid. If it’s only one or two, the savvy buyer will probably bid something over asking, but not go crazy.

In the Bay Area, however, with a tech boom and a housing shortage, it’s not uncommon to hear of ten or more prospective buyers bidding on the same house. When up against that sort of competition, with only one chance to make your offer stand out, your best bet is to put an eye-popping dollar figure on it.

If you’re new to the real estate world, let this serve as an introduction to the fact that home list prices mean almost nothing until you understand what’s happening in the market where the house is located. Wouldn’t you think that a two-bedroom home listed for over $2 million wouldn’t require anyone to bid a penny more? But that’s the Bay Area market. Yours may differ! See Nolo’s article, “Home List Price: What Is a House Worth?” for a deeper discussion of this issue.

Need a Real Estate Theme in Your Holiday Movie Viewing?

holiday lightsLook no farther than White Reindeer.” An indie hit described as a “dark comedy,” the movie features a lonely, pretty real estate agent (“Suzanne”) grieving after the death of her husband. No ordinary death, this one — he was murdered in their home while she was out buying the Christmas tree, in a robbery gone awry, which as she likely knows, makes it a stigmatized property and hard to sell.

Suzanne is falling apart: Christmas was her favorite holiday, and she’s getting nothing but further grief from family and friends. She forms an unlikely connection with the stripper with whom her husband was having an affair. She takes up drinking, cocaine, excessive online shopping (to a degree that will make any home seller resent having paid their agent a 5% commission), and other practices that you hope your real estate agent stays far away from.

The important question is, of course, whether you will learn anything about real estate from this movie? Well, the fact that the agent is pretty is already a lesson — studies have shown that houses sell for more if the selling agent is physically attractive. Beyond that, I don’t know — I’ll have to see it. Or you can see it first and tell me about it.

Friday Real Estate Fun: Ideal House Features

kittyOne of the fun parts of shopping for a home is dreaming about all the great features you’d like to find there — and then maybe being surprised by a few that you didn’t expect or know existed. With that in mind, check out “27 Things That Definitely Belong in Your Dream Home.”

Me, I like the hidden room — it evokes childhood reading about castles full of secret passageways and oubliettes.

Of course, homebuyers will have to listen to the voice of practicality all too soon, and I’m not just talking about affordability. Look at how many commenters pointed out what the neighborhood cats are likely to do with the sandbox! For more on practical matters, see the “Choosing a House” section of Nolo’s website.


Friday Real Estate Fun: “If You Lived Here”

HousesFor anyone who loves real estate, it’s good to stop and reflect once in a while on how the concept, shape, and style of what we call a “house” varies across cultures and time periods. And the book, “If You Lived Here: Houses of the World” contains artful images of just that variety. (Yes, it’s a children’s book, but one that adults can enjoy, too.)

By artist Giles Laroche, the book contains cut-paper collages showing everything from cave dwellings to yurts to Dutch floating houses to Venetian palaces. It’s accompanied by concise text explaining what the house is made of, where such houses are found, and what it’s like to live in one.

My favorite text comes with the cave-dwelling entry, noting that if you lived in one, “you would be among the 45 million troglodytes (cave dwellers) living in the world today.” (Gotta remember to use the word “troglodyte” more often.)

Perfect gift for a real estate agent who’s got kids, perhaps? Or a way to keep your little ones busy in the car while you visit your 25th open house? Then again, Laroche’s inviting picture of the Airstream trailer might make you forget your house-hunting plans altogether.

That Drone May Shoot Your House — In a Good Way

earthI was feeling like all real estate news had turned into an endless loop of the same material (c’mon, how many times have we seen that St. Joseph statue story already?) when I came across this item from Paul Hagey and Inman News: “Drones are ready for real estate.”

That’s right, tiny unmanned, remote-controlled helicopters are becoming affordable, and photographers are figuring out how to stabilize them for high-quality pictures and even video,  allowing prospective buyers to see views of your property that you’ve never experienced yourself.

You’ve got to admit, this is cool stuff. Even cooler when you read the part about how not even a normal plane or helicopter can get low enough — in the 300-feet-over-your-house range  —  to take photos with of similarly impressive detail and depth of field.

Of course, not every property will look good from the air. Last time I looked at my house on Google maps, it looked like a square of gray (that being the roof) set against a lot of other gray (those being the neighbors’ roofs and the cement of nearby roads) plus the occasional dot of green (uh oh, I really should prune back that jasmine vine). But the nearby high school swimming pool looks really great.

So if you’ve got a house with a pool, you may want to be an early adopter of this drone method of real estate advertising. The same goes if you’ve got a luxury property that looks more shapely from the air than my little square of gray. Or if you’ve just got a really stunning roof.

Cupid Loves Homeowners?!

As all the news media scramble to find Valentine’s Day hooks for their stories today (I’ve seen a lot of headlines on “heart health”), kudos to Trulia for putting together a whole survey on how the singletons of the world rate the importance of homeownership in making their hearts throb.

Be sure not to stall on the first line, puzzling over who those 5% of unmarried adults who actually WANT to date someone who lives with their parents are.

More revealingly, 36% of women and 19% of men would prefer dating a homeowner to a renter. It’s not a majority, but a healthy proportion of the population — perhaps looking for financial stability and ability to commit? (Little do they know, the true fireworks will start shooting when they get a load of the mortgage interest deduction.)

While women prefer to date someone who lives in a suburban home, men have their eyes on dates with an apartment in the city. Uh oh, here we go with the Venus and Mars stuff again. But wait: The survey also found that when it comes time to actually choose a home to “fall in love” with, men and women agree that the master bathroom, followed by a walk-in closet, are the most potentially enticing features. (Sellers, take note.) ((Architects, too, but please leave some space for the other rooms.))



How Do You Market One of the Greenest Homes in the World?

“You’ve only got one house renovation like this in your lifetime,” says owner David Gottfried of the 1915 Craftsman bungalow in Oakland that he and his wife Sara turned into an environmentally conscious gem. The renovation earned multiple awards and literally broke records, getting more “Build It Green” points than any previous home, and becoming (for a while) the highest rated LEED home in the United States.

The upgrades included things like redoing the kitchen and bathrooms with recycled glass tile and concrete counters; adding rainwater- and graywater-capture systems to irrigate the yard and use in the half-bath toilet; adding solar panels and a solar hot water heater; replacing the windows with double-paned glass and adding insulation; adding radiant heating and energy-efficient appliances; relandscaping with vegetables and native, drought-tolerant plants; and much more. Throughout the renovation, the Gottfrieds reused wood and hardware from within the house and from other sources.

Gottfried’s attention to detail is such that he went so far as to take each radiant heating unit (which come in white, white, and white) to an auto body shop and have it repainted to match the intended color of the room — and the rooms are, of course, painted with no VOC paint. (If you look closely, there’s a brown-painted radiant heating unit on the wall to the far right of the bed there.)

But now that Gottfried’s family needs more space, it’s time to sell the house. And that means having to somehow convey to buyers all the valuable work that went into it. “It has presented a challenge,” says Gottfried. One unusual step they took was to create a list of the home’s “Green Features,” to be passed out to visitors. But with 31 items on the list, buyers might not absorb it all, or realize what they were actually looking at while walking through, room by room.

So Gottfried came up with an additional idea — one I’ve never seen used anywhere else — to place small, elegantly fashioned signs in each room, explaining its particular green features.

To the left is the sign in the bathroom, for example, listing features like the recycled content steel bathtub, Energy Star exhaust fan, dual flush toilet, and so on.

Gottfried had also previously created a website for the home, “DAVID GOTTFRIED GREEN HOME,” which now mentions that it’s for sale. And of course, the selling agent has made sure to mention the LEED certification and other green features in the marketing materials.

Even if your home isn’t one of the greenest in the country, consider, when you sell, whether you can use some of these strategies to explain what’s special about the house — or what buyers might not notice without it being brought to their attention.

Few Real Estate Agents Write “Just Right” Marketing Prose

Have you noticed how agent-speak, as seen in real estate ads, tends to be either over the top or underwhelming?

More often the former, of course. Just looking at today’s local real estate section, it’s easy to pull out grand, sweeping, and did I mention grand, statements like:

“Spectacular views & magical sunsets!””Enjoy the spacious sun drenched living room with views!” and”Truly an entertainer’s delight and magical at night!”(Does it say somewhere in the real estate agents’ handbook that you must use lots of exclamation points and the word “magical?”)

Oh, and here’s my favorite: “This gracious, four-bedroom, two bath . . . Tudor emotes a bygone era.”

I’ll give the agent a small gold star for ditching the exclamation points, but what’s with “emotes?” Sounds like the house has taken up method acting. I’m guessing she meant to say “evokes.” Or maybe she just got tired of the same old words and decided to get, uh, creative.

Now, for the underwhelming bits of prose — the ad language that makes you go, “That’s supposed to appeal to me why, exactly?”

Again from today’s paper, we’ve got, “Shows very well.”

Okay, now that’s something an agent might say to another agent, but if I were a prospective buyer, I’d wonder what it says about the house after the staging is gone. It’s like saying that someone looks really good with makeup on.

Or this one: “Grass covered back yard!” Whoa. Better put that one on your must-see list.

And my fave from this list, which isn’t an ad for a house, but for a mortgage broker, which contains the following customer testimonial:

“Buying a house is stressful, but working with Sue was one of the most positive and least stress-inducing aspects of the process.” Hmm. So how stress inducing was working with her, exactly? They should’ve stopped at “most positive.”

Just for a last bit of fun, here’s an ad from an agent who tried to do something a little different: “SWEET STARTER SEEKS SINCERE BUYER. Me: Mature 2BR stucco near shops and San Francisco expres bus. You: Looking for affordable cottage in desirable area.”

At least he left out any mention of magical sunsets.

P.S. Choosing a selling agent? Read their ads first. Some of the larger brokerages have a marketing person handling all the writing, which can add a layer of professionalism and quality control. In any case, when it comes to your house, ask to read the copy before it goes to press.