Quick, which ad grabs your attention first: "3 BR Cape Cod, 2 1/2 bath, FP"? Or "Cozy, charming Cape Cod with fireplace provides perfect hideaway for you and your sweetheart"?
If you're like most people, you'll head straight for the second, more descriptive ad.
There's a lesson to be learned here: To be successful, real estate advertising must do more than just list a house's features in a dull, abbreviated manner, says Jack Miller, president of The Miller Group, a Baltimore-based advertising agency which represents several local builders. It should try to capture the reader's emotions.
"You want to aim at the heart, not at the head," he says. "Unless the person falls in love with the house first, you can give them all the reasons in the world why they should buy it, but they're not going to do it."
To evoke an emotional response from your readers, describe the benefits that your house will provide them. And try to involve the readers by getting them to picture themselves in the house.
Instead of saying that a house has an enclosed porch, for example, you might write, "Spend quiet evenings in your enclosed porch overlooking the changing of the seasons," suggests Dennis Creps, a broker and national expert on real estate advertising who conducts frequent seminars on the subject. An appeal to "Sit in front of a crackling fire on a cold winter night" might catch a reader's fancy more than the more abbreviated "FP."
"Real estate is very visual in most cases, so the better the picture of the house you convey, the more likely someone is to call," says Mr. Creps.
Don't feel the need to include every detail about your house. When Joan Solomon, office manager for the Pikesville branch of Prudential Preferred Properties, put her Phoenix house up for sale last year, she described its stone exterior, its wraparound porch, and the cascading stream on its property -- and not much else. The house sold in four weeks to a buyer who had read the ad.
"Sometimes you just need to say a few very enticing items rather than giving every detail," Ms. Solomon said.
To figure out what to play up in the ad, think about your home's most positive features, recommends Howard Bomstein, president of The Bomstein Agency, a Washington-based advertising agency which represents Ryland Homes. If it's located in a great neighborhood for children, you might start your ad by saying "It's a child's world." If light floods your living room every afternoon, begin by saying, "Let the Sunshine In."
"Every property has a selling feature, and you want to focus on that feature," Mr. Bomstein says.
Here are some other tips for spicing up your ads, according to Realtors and advertising mavens:
* Create eye-catching headlines. Ideally, a headline should both provoke the reader's curiosity and play up one of the house's benefits, according to Mr. Creps.
For example, "Splendid Seclusion" tells readers that a house will provide them with privacy, and also sets their imagination's wheels turning since it says little about what the house looks like or where it is, says Mr. Creps. And "Oasis For The Successful" performs much the same function.
On the other hand, phrases like "Good Starter Home," "Must Sell," and "Reduced" are too old-hat to attract anyone's attention, says Joan Solomon, the Prudential Realtor. "I think what people need to stay away from is the same old boring stuff," she says. "Too often people use common phrases that don't catch anyone's attention."
The worst headline Mr. Creps has ever seen? "Back On The Market." "I see it all the time, and usually the house is back on the market because the buyer didn't qualify," he says. "But when the reader sees it, he thinks there is something wrong with the house."
* Include the price in the ad. If you leave out any financial information, you might attract many unqualified buyers, says Joan Solomon. You also run the risk of alienating buyers who might assume they can't afford it, says Dennis Creps.
On the other hand, if your house is one of the most expensive properties in the community, you might want to avoid including the price. "There's an idea, with those houses, that if you have to ask, you can't afford it," says Mr. Creps.
* Don't puff up your ads. It's easy to try to make a rundown property sound great by exaggerating a bit in the ad. But if you portray a piece of property in a way that it isn't, you risk hurting your credibility, say Realtors and advertising experts.
One way around this dilemma: fixing up the property before you put it on the market. "You always want to make your house look 110 percent, so invest the time and money to really spiff it up," says Jack Miller of The Miller Group.
Focusing on its affordability is another method of dealing with an unattractive house, says Howard Bomstein. You might create a financing package that would entice buyers, such as a low down-payment plan.
Then there's the tactic of head-on confrontation with the issue. "Fix-Up" ads typically elicit great response rates, according to Dennis Creps. And he's heard of quick sales from courageous agents and sellers who have dared to title their properties "El Dumpo."
* Steer clear of unlawful discriminatory language. To comply with the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or familial status (families with children), stay away from terms that might convey a discriminatory preference. Words like "exclusive" and "restricted," as well as phrases like "Jewish neighborhood," "Hispanic residence," or "adult building" should all be avoided.
* Personalize the ad. Saying "Had great parties in the family room," or "Fantastic vegetable garden in the backyard" gives readers extra information about your home that might boost their interest in it, says Phyllis Brotman, head of Image Dynamics, a Baltimore advertising agency. * Take time writing the ad. These days, a good ad can make the difference between selling your house quickly and not selling it at all. So invest an hour or two in penning an ad that sparkles, says Joan Solomon.
"Someone who wouldn't ordinarily have considered your house might call you if your ad catches their attention," she says.
HOW TO ADVERTISE YOUR HOME
Dennis Creps, right, is a broker and national expert on real estate advertising who conducts frequent seminars on the subject.
Instead of mentioning that your house has an "FP," or fireplace, Mr. Creps suggests homeowners tell potential buyers how they can "sit in front of a crackling fire on a cold winter night."
Mr. Creps offered the following examples as good and bad ads for the same property.