It's all about location, location … locution?

There have been a couple articles circling lately about the value of words in real estate listings. Quick, which of the following words will help sell your home?

  • motivated seller
  • good value
  • clean
  • quiet
  • new paint

If you guessed all of the above, keep reading. Bottom line: words matter and none of these will help your home sell faster or for more money. Real-estate listings, not unlike personal ads, are crafted to minimize blemishes and maximize perceived selling points.

Deciphering home marketing-speak shouldn’t be complicated, but sometimes we need a decoder ring to help us read between the lines.

Articles in the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post give us a few …

Dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t use an overabundance of exclamation points (note buyers: they can show a sign of desperation and an openness to a lower offer).
  • Do use descriptive words about price and location. Last year’s top words were: “flow,” “embassy-style,” “enormous” and “lazy.” Supposedly these words connote a lifestyle of to-the-manner-born comfort, mint juleps on porches and drawing-room cocktails.
  • Don’t make a plea of “must see!” This is received about as enthusiastically as a dinner-time telemarketing call.
  • If you can’t find anything better to say than “new paint,” perhaps it’s best to say nothing at all.
  • Sellers would be best served by a listing with “just the facts, ma’am.”


  • Homes where the seller was “motivated” took 15 percent longer to sell
  • Houses listed as “handyman specials” flew off the market in half the average time.
  • Words that denoted “curb appeal” or general attractiveness helped a property sell faster than those that spoke of “value” and “price.”
  • Homes described as “beautiful” moved 15 percent faster and for 5 percent more in price than the benchmark.
  • “Good-value” homes sold for 5 percent less than average.

and unusual descriptions … that worked!:

  • “FAMISHED FOR A FABULOUS FLATFRONT ON A FAMOUS BLOCK? Come feast your eyes on this femme fatale! Even the finicky will find her fetching while fledgling families and canine fanciers will contrive to fraternize.”
  • … “pixie perfect, proudly self-possessed and peerlessly positioned for easy access to senate, judiciary.” [HUH?]

Economist Chad Syverson, co-author of a working paper that was the basis for a chapter in Freakonomics, sums it up the best … “the way an ad is written won’t change a dumpy-looking house.”

Our San Francisco blog has a few examples of real listings we put through the decoder ring.

Decoder ring picture credit: Heather McKinnon, The Seattle Times


  • Ms.Betty

    I have Commercial Ocean Front Acreage for sale, all I hear about is houses– what about land???

  • Josh Lee

    I’d really like to read the LATimes article, but the link doesn’t work anymore. When was that article written?

  • Cynthia

    The LA Times archives articles after a certain period of time, and you have to buy them. It was published, Dec. 10, 2006 and titled Locution, Locution, Locution. Here is a link to the archived article:


  • Josh Lee


    Thanks for the link, but in order to avoid paying that fee to read it online, I tried going to my local library and going through the microfilm to read it. But, I couldn’t find it. Dec. 10 was a saturday, and the LATimes usually doles out its real estate advice on sunday in its RE section. But, I couldn’t find the article either in the Dec 11 edition.

  • Josh Lee

    Thanks Cynthia,

    I finally found the article, although I accidentally disabled the library’s microfilm machine in the process.

    The LA Times article was interesting, although pretty different from the Washington Post article. (Although, now, I’m interested in reading the ads the WaPo article refered to but that will be too much trobule after just finding the LA Times article). If anything, the LA Times article was a lot like the Freaknomics section about real estate although they had different best words to use in an ad.

    Its strange that the LA Times didn’t refer to Levitt’s work, but then I have to wonder if Levitt has received an undue amount of attention for his work. From the LA Times article, it seems somebody else already the same insights Levitt had had about real estate agents but years earlier.

  • Laurence Tamkin

    I was curious if anyone knows if there is any data regarding whether a seller offering a higher buyer’s agent commission than is typically being offered in the area by other sellers, or an agent “bonus” of some kind, results in a higher priced and/or quicker sale.

    Home building companies do this all the time and it seems to work for them.