Mary Beth Hurtado wields a kind of linguistic artistry to describe a house she’s trying to sell.
The good words: Classic. Stunning. Backyard paradise. Turnkey. Newly renovated. Redeemed to perfection. The bad: Handyman special. Motivated seller. Tiny. Basement.
“Basement sounds like a dirty old stone basement,” said the 20-year real estate agent for ReMax in Bryn Mawr, Pa. “You want to say it has a lower level. It takes a long time to write these descriptions for me. It takes hours because you have to say it exactly right for each house.”
Certain words and phrases — and even the number of exclamation points in a property listing!!!!! — can help improve the value of a property and reduce its time on the market, academics found through an analysis of more than 700,000 homes listed and sold over a decade in the Charlotte, N.C., area.
The researchers, Sean Brunson and Richard J. Buttimer Jr., of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Steve Swidler, the Hanson/KPMG professor of business and finance at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., suspected their conclusions would apply to most real estate markets.
The terms adorable, awesome, gorgeous, historic, and luxurious were helpful in boosting property value, they found. The bigger the house, the more frequently it was described as beautiful.
Adorable, in particular, could add more than $43,000 to the value of what is often a small, hard-to-sell property, according to the study, “An Adorable Housing Paper: The Informational Content of Agent Remarks.”
Yet the research found that almost 40% of homes described as “adorable” also were characterized as “large,” the latter of which was found to reduce its value by $2,601.79.
Adorable still increased by 5% the chance a house would sell, according to the study. The use of awesome raised it 1.02% and gorgeous, 1.44%.
‘Historic’ adds days on market
The research found that though historic and luxurious were typically considered attractive descriptors, they seemed to have a harder time selling. It took “historic” homes about 18 days longer to get off the market, and eight extra days for homes touted as “luxurious.”
“It’s not unique to Charlotte, the quantitative numbers that you see,” Swidler said Monday, adding that he and his colleagues studied the market in Charlotte after a real estate association there offered them a trove of data, the largest to date for such a study. “They’re obviously specific to our data set, but if we went to Philadelphia, for example, I’m pretty certain the kinds of words you saw in Charlotte are going to show in Philadelphia.”
The descriptor of adorable, Swidler said, was a relatively infrequent term in property descriptions, appearing in just around 1% of entries in the Multiple Listing Service, an expansive real estate online search platform.
“It is relegated mostly to smaller-sized homes,” he said. “If you were in a home that was 300,000 square feet or larger, it’s unlikely that adorable would be used. The words that you use have to have real meaning. I don’t think you can call a large house ‘cute’ or ‘adorable.’ It doesn’t make sense.”
The use of investment, motivated, distressed, and reduced would slash the value of a property anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000, according to the study. For listings that included the words motivated or reduced, it took about a respective 29 and 44 extra days to sell.
Homes described as “large” and “spacious” saw their property values fall by a respective $2,601.79 and $7,351.26, according to the study, which attributed the decrease to a buyer “believing the Realtor is trying to conceal the lack of space by claiming the house or a room show bigger than they are.”
The team conducted the study around what it called the “hedonic modeling of house prices,” or the analysis of factors that contribute to the price of a property, including square footage; the number of bedrooms and bathrooms; location; and the area’s school district.
It did not indicate how important the description of a property was relative to other elements, such as photos of the house or the safety of the neighborhood.
“Using a superior data set with over 700,000 observations, we document the set of most frequently used descriptive terms and show that context is important,” according to the study, which said the size of the data set offset the chance of coming to erroneous conclusions.
The data collected by the team spanned the 2008 financial crisis and crash of the real estate housing bubble. Swidler said he and his colleagues had not studied whether certain descriptive terms could have even marginally helped some houses sell.
“Would adorable have helped you during a real downturn?” he said. “The answer is I don’t know, but maybe we should look at it.”
The authors clarified that they did not conduct a “full-blown textual analysis that examines readability of sentiment or structure,” calling it “likely excessive.”
The power of punctuation
“MLS property descriptions tend to be relatively short (250 words or fewer) and frequently informal,” according to the study. “They might contain abbreviations (e.g., “SS appl” for stainless steel appliances).”
Even punctuation could prove fruitful!!
“One exclamation mark appears to generate extra excitement about the property and raise its value $6,649.62,” according to the study. “However, two exclamation marks raise the home’s value $4,295.19 and the more exclamation marks used, the less the added value.”
An overzealous real estate agent prone to “overuse (abuse) of exclamation marks” need not worry, the study said, finding that excessive punctuation — as many as five exclamation points — “has virtually no effect on buyer enthusiasm for the property.”
As she sells houses on the Main Line, Hurtado is careful with her use of punctuation. Just one exclamation point is sufficient, she said, “if it’s something really amazing.”
“Use nice words,” she said. “Use powerful, selling words. I think your words should be the exclamation point.”