Talk Ain't Cheap: 9 Listing Keywords That Could Cost You

First impressions matter. When it comes to for-sale listings, the first thing most buyers see is a home’s description. But not all listing descriptions are created equal.
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Based on an analysis of 24,000 home sales in “Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate,” co-authors Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries reveal listings with certain keywords send negative signals about a home’s quality and features. These listings tend to sell for less than expected.

“If you’re not careful, picking the wrong adjective could cost you time, money, and in some cases, lots of both,” they explain.

Check out the nine most dangerous listing descriptors below.

1. Fixer

The word “fixer” implies “fixer-upper.” While a fixer-upper may not seem out of place among lower-priced homes, most buyers expect mid- and high-priced homes to be move-in ready. The numbers back this up. Among the 24,000 home sales analyzed, listings in the mid-price range with the word “fixer” sold for 11.1 percent less on average than expected.

2. TLC

“TLC” falls in the same camp as “fixer.” However in this case, both low- and high-priced homes took a hit when they were described as needing tender loving care. Listings in the bottom tier that mentioned “TLC” sold for 4.2 percent less, and homes in the top tier mentioning “TLC” sold for 8.7 percent less on average than expected.

3. Cosmetic

While you may think you’re putting a positive spin on “needs work” by saying a home needs “a few cosmetic updates,” a buyer likely doesn’t want to hear this. On average, high-priced listings with the word “cosmetic” sold for 7.5 percent less than expected.

4. Investment

While someone looking to buy an investment property might like to see the word “investment,” for the majority of home buyers it signals a home has seen better days. Low-priced listings described as an “investment” sold for 6.6 percent less on average than expected.

5. Investor

Like “investment,” “investor” is a great word for attracting someone who is looking to flip or rent out a property. But for home buyers, it can imply a home is rundown and cheap. For high-priced homes, this might make buyers think there is room to negotiate. And data shows top-tier listings with the word “investor” sold for 6.6 percent less on average than expected.

6. Potential

You might see a home described as “having potential,” but this signals it isn’t a finished product. You don’t want to communicate this to buyers looking for a move-in ready home. In fact, lower-priced homes with “potential” in the listing description sold for 4.3 percent less on average than expected.

7. Bargain

As soon as we hear “bargain,” we’re unfortunately wired to think the opposite. If you think your home is a great deal, a good rule of thumb is to let the price speak for itself. Mid-priced homes described as a bargain sold for 3.5 percent less on average than expected.

8. Opportunity

While high-priced homes may be described as an “opportunity to live on the water” or an “opportunity to live like royalty,” the context isn’t typically so positive in listing descriptions for low-priced homes. In this case, you might expect to see “house-flipping opportunity” or “investment opportunity,” which can have negative connotations for buyers. Listings in this price tier with the word “opportunity” sold for 2 percent less on average than expected.

9. Nice

Like “opportunity,” the word “nice” typically has a positive meaning in listings for high-priced homes — “nice view” or “nice wine cellar,” for example. But for low- and mid-priced homes, “nice” is highly subjective, especially if it’s used generally to say “a nice home.” The buyer is left to interpret what “nice” means. Likely because of this ambiguity, low- and mid-priced listings with the word “nice” sold for about 1 percent less on average than expected.

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