22 things I never write in my property descriptions
Whether you've read my work in Inman, attended a webinar, or taken my course on writing property descriptions, you probably know something about what I do when writing property descriptions.
I tell you to always include the kitchen. I tell you to start with the WOW factor. I tell you to be sure and proofread.
To me, these are givens, and they make the property description consistently more useful and more effective. They're good for you and good for the potential buyer.
However, there are many things that I never write in my property descriptions, and in many ways, they're even more important. That's because they can constitute violations of fair housing. They can be offputting to potential buyers. They can, in fact, create what I would consider a potentially hostile situation for potential buyers.
How can a property description be hostile?
I've written about this before for Inman, and let me tell you, the hostility it generated was significant. People sent my very innocent and well-meaning little article to political blogs and I was trolled and attacked for weeks by people who called me every name in the book. It was pretty alarming and gross, not gonna lie, and par for the course for women writing in any area of journalism today.
I'm doubling down, however, and saying that yes, I think that there are a few people who put things in property descriptions to indicate to buyers the types of people they'd like to see in their neighborhood. There's no other way that I can explain some of the outright, repeated fair housing violations that I see in some of the property descriptions and the fact that it's some of the same agents who put those items into all of their descriptions.
On the other hand, the vast majority of the things I'm going to talk about here are NOT purposeful and are NOT fair housing violations. However, I know that different MLSs have different rules and their AI have different levels of sensitivity.
Thus, for example, one MLS I write for will not allow me to put "pet-friendly" on a listing if there are any restrictions whatsoever on the number, size or breed of pets while most MLSs will only question "pet-friendly" if it's applied to a neighborhood where pets are banned altogether.
Thus, I don't write "pet-friendly" unless it's for a single-family home in a non-HOA community where there's no possible question. And in that case, there's usually no need.
Here's another, somewhat more serious example. One MLS I write for does not allow the word "black" in any context whatsoever, so I cannot indicate that there are black appliances. Instead, I give the manufacturer's name for the appliance suite, which may be "slate" or "dark stainless steel," or I use the French word for black, "noir," in the context of a "noir appliance suite." This sounds upscale and helps to circumvent the AI trigger.
The most serious and egregious things I see are phrases related to families and religion. Many real estate agents find it ridiculous to say that it's problematic to talk constantly about family rooms, but as a divorced woman buying a house, I can assure you it doesn't seem ridiculous to me nor to the 26 percent of home buyers last year who were single.
It goes without saying that talking about the home's proximity to houses of worship or, worse yet, to specific churches or denominations is absolutely out of the question and a clear fair housing violation. I do not understand why brokers are allowing their agents to do it and I don't understand why MLSs are not doing a better job of cracking down on it. It has implications for race, culture, and a host of other discriminatory assumptions and protected classes.
Finally, I look out for language that makes assumptions about the gender or sexuality of the potential buyer. I don't use "his and hers," for example, because some couples are both men, some are both women, some are gender-neutral and some lucky, lucky people have two closets or two sinks and do whatever they want with them.
Again, this is not about being offended. Let me say that louder for the folks in the back row: THIS IS NOT ABOUT BEING OFFENDED! It's about making your marketing effective for everyone so that you broaden the appeal of your listing to everyone.
You want every single person who reads that property description to feel the love and feel welcome in that neighborhood and in that home. You don't want them to be afraid to set up a showing because they're afraid that they won't be wanted in that community, on that block, or next door to that neighbor.
All of that said, here are the words and phrases I avoid:
Avoid these phrases about the neighborhood or community
The buyer should be making this evaluation, not you. Instead, you can point to award-winning schools or highly rated schools, simply indicate the relevant school district, or include a phrase like “Buyer should contact XYZ School District for specific information related to school assignments.”
Safe neighborhood/quiet neighborhood
You should not be making this type of evaluation, which is often used as coded language related to race or other demographic information.
While the neighbors might be nice to the current owners, you have no way of knowing what they will be like to the new owners. This is not something anyone should be predicting or promising.
For those with disabilities or mobility issues, walking distance to the mailbox and back may be impossible, much less to the local parks or shopping centers. Instead, use Google Maps to plot out the actual distance e.g. “Close to Dooley Field (0.5 mi), downtown shopping district (1.0 mi) and Trader Joe’s (0.7 mi).”
Near churches/houses of worship
Do not write this or substitute coded language related to it.
These phrases should not be used in relation to the home or property itself.
Besides the assumption that the owner of the home should be a man, this phrase has some unfortunate racial connotations. This is true whether it means that to you personally or not. In place of this, the vast majority of builders and developers use primary or owner’s. If you are marketing the property toward investors or marketing a rental, use primary.
Great family home/family neighborhood
Again, there are many types of homeowners and there is no need to limit your potential buyer pool. The home is a great home. The neighborhood is great. It’s not only for families.
Great family room/playroom for the kids
A bonus room or flex space is good for so much more than this. It could be a great work-from-home office, media room, gathering space, or simply what it is: a bonus room or flex space.
Private backyard for playtime with the kids
A fenced backyard is not just for children. It’s for outdoor entertaining. It’s for al fresco seating, grilling, and dining. It’s for outdoor living.
She-shed and man-cave
I love college football. I don’t need a she-shed (or a man-cave) to watch it in. Gendered spaces are the purview of the homeowner and their decorator. You don’t need to define spaces in this way. Maybe it’s set up as a workshop or a hobby space or a home office or a media room. Say that instead.
There are many restrictions on this phrase, especially in rentals, condominium communities, co-ops, and HOA neighborhoods. Instead, outline the restrictions, if any.
Avoid these phrases that relate to the current owner or a specific type of potential buyer.
Anyone can repair a home or can hire a professional to do so. It doesn’t make sense to give the impression that a home buyer needs to be skilled in order to buy.
This used to be the all-purpose designation for a certain type of rural home that required a certain amount of “roughing it” from the potential buyer. However, more and more, people are looking for lifestyles at least partially off the grid for homesteading and privacy. Don’t limit your buyer pool with artificial impediments.
The opposite might be this tidy home that’s heavy on wallpaper and old-fashioned finishes. However, it might be the perfect choice for a young cottagecore enthusiast. Again, don’t limit your buyer pool unnecessarily.
Perfect for …
This phrase should not be used at all, in my view. The home is perfect for anyone who can qualify for the mortgage or pay cash. It’s perfect for everyone. That’s literally the point of fair housing.
Closets, baths, sinks, vanities: They are dual, not his/her.
Phrases related to race, gender identity, sexuality, nationality, cultural identity
Leave out words or phrases related to any of these
I don’t care why you follow these recommendations. I don’t care about your politics or who you voted for (or whether or not you voted). I don’t care whether you think these “politically correct” changes to the way things used to be are necessary. I really don’t. Unlike the people who lost their minds last time I wrote about this, I don’t try to shut down people I disagree with, or who disagree with me.
What I care about is your ability to sell houses and make your marketing as effective as possible. And, to be honest, I care about that buyer — lesbian, gay, transgender, bi, straight, male, female, other, old, young, black, white, Asian-American, Latinx, Arab-American, Native American, some combination, religious, atheist, agnostic, single, married, living with someone, in a wheelchair, running marathons, weekend warriors, never DIY’d in their life — whoever they are, ideally, I want them to read that property description and say, “That’s my house.”
If you’ve never read something and felt left out or overlooked or actively discriminated against, that’s pretty great. I want every buyer in your market to have that same experience.
I’m not perfect. I’m learning all the time. But I’m trying.
That’s the least I can do.