22 pet peeves from a real estate writer and editor
Fingers on a chalkboard. A dentist's drill. A dog that barks non-stop or a baby who won't stop crying.
We all have those sounds that spike our anxiety, making it hard to concentrate on anything else. For those who love language, the things that set your teeth on edge may be a little bit different.
Using the wrong word or mispronouncing the right one
Bad grammar and improper punctuation
Laziness, repetition, and redundancies
Cliches or jargon
Whether you're trying to put together marketing content for a website, bio, or property description or you just want to get better at written communication via email or handwritten note, refining your writing can help you express yourself more clearly and with more confidence.
The same thing applies to spoken communication. Your grammar and syntax matter, whether you're making a video for YouTube or meeting with a prospective client.
I've rounded up some of the little things I see on a day-to-day basis that undermine writing and communication, as well as some of the things I guard against in my own writing. I hope you'll find something here you can use to add clarity and precision in a variety of contexts.
Amount applies to something that's measured; number applies to something that's counted.
The amount of water. The number of ice cubes.
The amount of the down payment. The number of dollars you're putting down.
Between involves two people; among involves more than two.
Between you and I
Among all of us
The house is between the gas station and the grocery store. The condominium is situated among several similar communities.
The speaker implies. The listener infers.
Are you trying to imply that I am incorrect?
Did you infer that from his remarks?
Its is possessive. It's is a contraction for it is (the apostrophe stands in for the second letter i)
The dog chewed its bone.
It's not easy being me.
Lead is a noun that refers to a metal. Led is the past tense of lead, a verb.
That purse is heavy as lead.
She led the horse up the trail and into the barn.
Their is a possessive pronoun (e.g. their house). Remember it by thinking of heir, someone who has an inheritance.
There indicates direction (e.g. over there). Remember it by thinking of here, as in here and there.
They're is a contraction for They are (e.g. They're so silly.)
To indicates direction (He's going to the store.)
Too indicates addition (She's going, too.)
Two indicates a number (The two of them are going to the store, too.)
Your indicates possession (That is your problem, not mine.)
You're is a contraction for you are (You're a good writer.)
Based on/based off
Based off is a commonly used phrase but it is incorrect.
Based on means that something is dependent on something else.
Based on her experience and expertise, she's the best one for the job.
Based on the results of the test, you're perfectly healthy.
Based on my reading, I'd say the economy is in good shape.
Nuclear should be pronounced noo-clee-err, not noo-Q-lerr
Espresso should be pronounced ess-press-O, not ex-press-O
Overuse of exclamation points
We've all become guilty of this as we seek to make our texts and emails sound friendly, enthusiastic, and cheerful. While the impulse is a good one, exclamation points should be used very sparingly in other communication like website content, blog posts, property descriptions, or bios. When in doubt, don't use them.
Improper use of semicolons
Many people use semicolons incorrectly. There are two main ways to use them:
To separate two independent clauses that are somehow related. For example, you could write
Claire is very smart. She went to the University of Georgia.
Claire is very smart; she went to the University of Georgia.
To separate items in a sequence when the items include commas. For example:
I'm traveling to Atlanta, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; and Memphis, Tennessee.
Some people use capital letters without rhyme or reason in their writing. As a rule, only capitalize:
The first word in a sentence
The first word in a quote
Proper names of people and places
Days of the week
Months of the year
The names of the planets
Abbreviations and acronyms
Two spaces after end marks
People who learned to type on a typewriter were instructed to space twice after a period, question mark or exclamation mark at the end of a sentence. Computers automatically add space after an end point. Therefore, there's no longer any need to add two spaces manually.
Too many ellipses
For some reason, there is a growing number of people who add ellipses in place of other, more appropriate, punctuation. When they want to indicate a pause ... they just add those three little dots. Sometimes, at the end of a sentence, they might add more.....
Commas, semicolons, em dashes and other types of punctuation are more appropriate in most cases. Ellipses are primarily used to indicate that information is missing, like in a quote when you are taking out some extra words to simplify the sentence without changing the meaning. For example:
Jean said, "Shakespeare was born in the spring in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and that's why I always read Hamlet around Easter."
Jean said, "Shakespeare was born in the spring ... and that's why I always read Hamlet around Easter."
Starting a sentence with a conjunction
Many people write the way they talk, and in spoken communication we often start a sentence with a conjunction. For example:
I worked with Sally at the steel mill five years ago. But do you know what I found out yesterday? She's now a supervisor there.
If you were saying this verbally, it would sound perfectly normal. However, in written communication, it should be part of the previous sentence or it should be rephrased without the conjunction "but."
I worked with Sally at the steel mill five years ago, but do you know what I found out yesterday? She's now a supervisor there.
I worked with Sally at the steel mill five years ago. Do you know what I found out yesterday? She's now a supervisor there.
Using too many words
You know the saying "less is more," and it definitely applies to written communication. I frequently improve my own writing and that of others by simplifying prose and taking out unnecessary words. For example:
It can be really confusing to apply for a home purchase mortgage. There's so much paperwork that you need to fill out and so many records that you will have to seek out and find so that you can provide them to your lender.
This passage can be vastly improved simply by taking out some of the extra words:
Applying for a home mortgage can be confusing due to the amount of paperwork required by the lender.
Split infinitives occur when an infinitive phrase (to be, to give, to do) gets split apart by a modifier. Fortunately, this is a very simple fix; you just need to keep the infinitive together:
Instead of to quickly go, say to go quickly
Instead of to patiently wait, say to wait patiently
Instead of to frequently talk, say to talk frequently.
We all have bad communication habits, including relying on the same word or phrase repeatedly. Watch out for redundancies in your writing. Here are a couple of ways to make sure you're not saying the same thing over and over:
Use your computer's Find and Replace function to check for words that you tend to overuse and replace as needed.
Read your passage backwards starting at the end of each paragraph so that words and phrases will be taken out of context and you won't skim over a redundancy.
Be especially careful of redundancies when you're using ChatGPT or other AI language generators. They tend to rely on the same phrasing again and again, sometimes within a single paragraph.
Unclear pronoun antecedents
When you're using pronouns, it's important to make sure that it's clear who they're referring to. For example:
Melanie gave Judith a handkerchief, then she sneezed.
Did Melanie give Judith a handkerchief just in the nick of time before Judith's sneeze? Did Melanie give Judith a handkerchief then, unfortunately, need it herself? Possible rephrases could include:
Just after giving her handkerchief to Judith, Melanie sneezed.
Right after Melanie had given her a handkerchief, Judith sneezed.
A note on jargon
As a professional, whether you're a real estate agent, mortgage officer, title officer, attorney or what have you, you're probably immersed in the language of your profession. You get used to obscure terms, acronyms, abbreviations, and more, and that familiarity can bleed over into your writing and verbal communication.
When you're creating content that's designed for lead generation and client communication, you're doing yourself and the reader or listener a disservice when you communicate without thinking about your audience.
Talking about fizzbos (FSBOs) and expireds, just to take one example, doesn't mean anything to anyone except your colleagues. Even the term "listings" can throw some people since, to them, they're selling a home, not listing a property.
Similarly, long strings of acronyms and abbreviations for certifications and designations convey next to nothing to your potential client. Instead of telling them that you're Jane Smith, MRP, SRES, RENE, spell out the certifications and designations you hold and use them to provide context for the services you provide.
Communication is about clarity and connection. Whether you're filming a video or creating written content, improving and refining your use of language, even if you just choose one or two of these to work on, will go a long way toward making your message resonate.