Pat Kennedy - Your Washington, DC Real Estate Connection


"Bring Your Decorator" and Other Real Estate Euphemsims

 Once I listed a house that was a total dump.  It had been inhabited by a group of wild and crazy graduate students who shared quarters with a pet goat.  The goat had actually eaten several sections of an antique oak staircase.  The place was truly awful.

And it smelled like a freakin' goat! 

I sat in front of my computer screen at the office trying to think of how to write an ad that might attract a buyer. 

There were all the euphemistic cliches:

  • This Old House!
  • Bring Your Decorator!
  • Bring Your Architect!
  • Rehab Opportunity!
  • Sweat Equity!

Nothing felt right.  Then a wise old colleague suggested that I stop trying to be subtle and just tell it ike it was, and together we wrote an ad that totally captured the house.  The ad read:

Abominable Condition:  4-level Victorian bayfront has seen too many toga parties. 

We included the price, neighborhood, address and Open House hours. 

So the next Sunday, I stuck my arrows in the ground, tied on some balloons, and people started to come by - in droves!  The most common remark was, "Wow!  This place really isn't all that terrible!"  

It's like they expect real estate agents to exaggerate!   

At the end of the day, there were several offers, and one of them worked out.

In this case, my sellers were in Dublin and less likely to see the Washington Post ad that we ran.  Had they been local, we would have had to prepare them for the ad, hoping it wouldn't hurt their feelings.

I learned an important lesson from this - often, lower expectations give you a higher chance of attracting a buyer!  Go figure!  



Comment balloon 47 commentsPatricia Kennedy • November 25 2007 02:33PM


Patricia,  Isn't it funny that we think of the sellers feelings when writing an ad?  I make sellers give me free reign on advertising.  We're paid to get a property sold.  If telling it like it is hurts the sellers feelings, it's their own darn fault.
Posted by Carol Williams, Retired Agent / Broker / Property Manager (Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals.) over 12 years ago
I saw a listing come through the local mls with something to that regard this last week.  "UGLY HOUSE... CASH INVESTORS ONLY!"  Other than no kitchen.. it really wasn't that bad.... all the demo work had been done already =)
Posted by Daniel Sundberg (Crystal Springs Real Estate) over 12 years ago
I love it! Being honest and funny can pay off big time. We have all seen the typical phrases so you were creative and it worked. Congratulations on being original.
Posted by Claes Green (24 Hour Handyman Service) over 12 years ago
Patricia, how about "charming abode for non-discretionary grad students?"Charming is in the eye of the beholder. A universal word for dump and elegance.
Posted by Gary Woltal, Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth (Keller Williams Realty) over 12 years ago


I once listed a house that was being rented by art students who displayed their extensive collection of penis inspired artwork. All the peni were depicted as people. It was hysterical. The 1st brokers was a gigantic hit. I had agents from all over town stopping by. It sold too.

Posted by Susan Peters, The Better it Looks the Better it Sells (Dove Realty Inc.) over 12 years ago

Patricia, don't you just love trying to put perfume on a pig?? 

Listings like these are the ultimate marketing challenge, and handling them requires extreme diplomacy.

Posted by Eric Kodner, CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 - (Madeline Island Realty) over 12 years ago
I love "Needs TLC" and "Handyman Special" - those are both really typical here in Austin.  It sounds like you set an expectation that made each buyer conjure up horrible images, and the house was better than imagined for each of them.  Good job!
Posted by Jason Crouch, Broker - Austin Texas Real Estate (512-796-7653) (Austin Texas Homes, LLC) over 12 years ago
I think humor is something we do not use enough in our business!  How about the term : "Bring your own bulldozer"?  LOL
Posted by James Downing - Metro DC Houses Team REALTORS®, CRS, GRI, ABR,MRP, MilRes, When Looking to Buy or Sell - Make the Right Move (Real Living | At Home) over 12 years ago

This works like a charm - make it sound so horrible people come just to gawk at it! 

I had a real dump one time and advertised it as:  "Not for the faint of heart" - totally trashed.  This brought them out in droves and challanged at lot of macho contractor types.   5 days and 32 contracts later - we had an all cash offer way over asking price that settled in 2 weeks. 

Another one that I like is "Abandoned Mansion" for sale.

Great post,

Posted by Debbie Cook, Silver Spring and Takoma Park Maryland Real Estate (Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc) over 12 years ago
wow - really great ending for a story that I am sure started out with your heart in your mouth!!! Great job!
Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) over 12 years ago
Thank you, Patricia, for being honest in your advertising!  The toga description gives people a true picture!  Another laugh and learn from Pat :)
Posted by Kim Wood, Kim Wood ~ The Tech Byte (The Tech Byte) over 12 years ago
Patricia- That was one great ad! Great ad copy with a real hook! I like it! Great going! Great happy ending too! Katerina
Posted by Katerina Gasset, Get It Done For Me Virtual Services (Get It Done For Me Virtual Services ) over 12 years ago
Great idea...
Posted by Missy Caulk, Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate (Missy Caulk TEAM) over 12 years ago
Obviously you made the right choice and your honest assessment was appreciated.
Posted by Al Maxwell, Real Estate Agent (Keller Williams) over 12 years ago
I love it!  I have been told to make the negative the positive in the ads, but this is better!!
Posted by Dawn Workman, Camas Real Estate Expert, MBA, 480-540-8100 (Veracity Real Estate Group, LLC) over 12 years ago
That is very good advice about telling it like it is. It's amazing what the ads say along with our MLS remarks. You did a good job on adding some humor in that ad. Way to get it sold.
Posted by Cris Burlew, Broker ~ St Pete Beach FL Real Estate (Beach & Luxury Realty, Inc.) over 12 years ago


Did you take any pictures for the MLS?? or did you let them picture it in their heads, before they went to see it?!

Then you could have put, "Not good enough for any pictures!"

Posted by Jeannette Kohlhaas over 12 years ago

Honesty is the best policy. I rather have buyers pleasantly suprised than dissapointed.

Some of our euphemistic cliches "original condition" (needs new kitchen & bath) "Good bones" (needs to be gutted)  "wreck (really a wreck) "estate condition" (needs everything)

A broker once called one of my listings "a little dungeon" (small and dark)

Posted by Mitchell J Hall, Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn (Compass) over 12 years ago
This is following Stan Barron's philosophy of telling it like it is, with interest and humor. He's always believed in marketing to the Niche that will be interested rather than to the Everybody who won't be.
Posted by Sharon Simms, St. Petersburg FL - CRS CIPS CLHMS RSPS (Coastal Properties Group International - Christie's International) over 12 years ago
I once had an overpriced listing in the flight path of the airport.  I wanted to advertised it as located for the deaf, priced for the dumb but didn't have the guts (or some other male body parts.)
Posted by Jerry Sennes over 12 years ago

I love your style.  My first fixerup was described in the MLS comments as "Holy cow!  What a mess! ..."

The house was Under Contract within 11 days.  Realistic comments are the only way to go.

Posted by Maria "Antoinette" Scognamiglio, GRI, ASP, There's no substitute for EXPERIENCE! (Coldwell Banker Realty) over 12 years ago

Lately I've been seeing "not for faint of heart", which has simply meant teardown, at end of the day.

Thanks for posting!

Posted by Gene Dexter, Seattle Realtor (Asset Realty) over 12 years ago
Nothing like an ad that points out the worst about a property!  It draws the "right" buyers!  Great post, Patricia.
Posted by Margaret Woda, Maryland Real Estate & Military Relocation (Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc.) over 12 years ago
What a great subject to blog on!  If you can sell this, you can sell any property!
Posted by Natalie Langford, Winchester, VA Real Estate (Realty Negotiations) over 12 years ago
This is great! Reminds me of the car rental company called "rent a wreck". Refreshing candor.
Posted by Kelly Sibilsky (Licensed Through Referral Connection, LTD.) over 12 years ago
Awesome!  It'a about time we tell it like it is.  Unfortunately doesn't work well with owner occupied properties!  People get their feelings hurt too easily!
Posted by Chris Tesch, College Station, Texas Real Estate (RE/MAX Bryan-College Station) over 12 years ago
Congrats on the feature!  Katerina
Posted by Katerina Gasset, Get It Done For Me Virtual Services (Get It Done For Me Virtual Services ) over 12 years ago

That's funny!  I've never seen a description that started off as Abominable condition...that would peak my interest enough to check it out.

Posted by Krista Fuchs, Chester County Realtor - (484) 459-8025 - Home Buying and Selling (Prudential Fox & Roach) over 12 years ago

Sounds as though you made lemonade of lemons.

Posted by Bob & Carolin Benjamin, East Phoenix Arizona Homes (Benjamin Realty LLC) over 12 years ago
PATRICIA:  Congrats on the feature.  This is an important lesson that people should know.  The truth is better than trickery.  I have to say that houses that are dumps that are portrayed as move-in condition languish on the market endlessly.  Houses that are dumps that let the buyers know that in advance still can get multiple offers from people looking for a fixer-upper.  I'm glad that things worked out for you.
Posted by Adam Waldman, Realtor - Long Island (Westcott Group Real Estate Company) over 12 years ago
Humor is a great marketing tool -- we can all use more of it.  Don't we always remember the funny commercials and talk about them? 
Posted by Marsha Cleaveland, GRI, AHWD, CNE (No longer in the sales business) over 12 years ago
very good advice. under promising and over delivering is the way to go. thats great when someone shows up to an open and says, " not as bad as i thought"..great work...
Posted by Trevor Ainsworth, Burlington Vermont Real Estate (Century 21 Jack Associates) over 12 years ago
That is a riot!  If they can come in and say it's not half bad then you did your job.  Good thing the sellers got in after the fact :)
Posted by Josette Skilling (Keller Williams Capital Properties) over 12 years ago
Haha that is a great story! You definitely know what you're doing.
Posted by Collette Lee (Tower Realty) over 12 years ago

I am very happy for you Patricia. Only a brilliant real estate agent like you could've came up with a ad for that particular listing. I like what James said about "Bring your Bulldozer". Great post.

Posted by Lanre-"THE REAL ESTATE FARMER" Folayan, I don't make promises.I deliver results.SOLD HOMES (Keller Williams Select Realtors-Buy a home in Washington DC. Sell a home in Washington DC) over 12 years ago
Honesty is so often underrated and yet it makes such perfect sense. Tell it like it is and the results will truly amaze you. Also for people who follow you, they get to know that you;re being honest and so when you say "WOW" they believe "WOW".
Posted by Simon Conway (Orlando Area Real Estate Services) over 12 years ago

Patricia, congratulations on your feature!  Your broker was right; telling it like it is gets easier with every gray hair.  (I can say that, seeing as most all of mine is as gray as my beard.  LOL)

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) over 12 years ago
Patricia, I love your "tell it like it is" attitude.  People can see through the BS.
Posted by Brian Block, Northern Virginia & D.C. Real Estate (RE/MAX Allegiance, Managing Broker/Branch Vice President) over 12 years ago

This is a classic case of being upfront, honest and painting the worst picture ...  I use to have a restaurant that always got good reviews ... the atmosphere was OK but the food outstripped what the atmosphere dictated should be served in a restaurant with butcher block tables and wait-staff in shorts. 

By exceeding the customers expectations they always left more impressed than when they walked in.

Thanks for sharing

Posted by Allen C. Wright, NS, AHS, REPS (RealtyU) over 12 years ago

Carol, I've been known to be a little insensitive to sellers' feelings, though I try not to be.

Daniel, I think the public assumes we're exaggerating on the plus side, and when it's slightly better than a total dump they expect, they love it!

Claes, Humor is really important in this business.

Gary, in this case, it was grad students and their goat!  The goat was the magic here.

Susan, my youngest sister once lived in a group house that was owned by a local artist who sculpted animals doing things that may still be ilegal in the state of Virginia.  My mother could not figure out why my sister would not let her come for dinner.  Hmmm.

And Eric, you're so right about the diplomacy thing!

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 12 years ago

Jason, I always think if you're going to exaggerate, it's better to make it sound like a major dump with no redeeming qualities.

James, that is the best!  "Bring your Bulldozer" is better than anything I've ever come up with!

Debbie, "Totally trashed" is also excellent!

Barbara-Jo & Bill,  I was just afraid the sellers would log onto from their Dublin computer!

Kim, I love the "laugh and learn" thing.  Thank you!

Katerina, we should have someplace to post great headings or ads that Rainers across the country could borrow when needed!  I wonder if I'll ever be able to come up with another one like that.

Krista, please feel free to use it if you ever list a total dump!

And Bob & Caroin, it worked, and I had my doubts about it - so that definately sweetens the old lemonade!

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 12 years ago

Missy, Thank you!

Al, I'm not convinced the sellers would have appreciated it if they had actually seen the ad.  They did like the results, though.

Dawn, it works really well if you can make the buyers laugh at the same time!

Cris, I don't think I got quite that wild and crazy on the MLS, perhaps because I knew the buyers looked at it - I had them sign off. 

Jeanette, no virtual tour for this one.  Just a mug shot of the facade of the house.  

Mitchell, ok, I have to add "estate condition" to my list of favorites - that will mean the mice and roaches have all died from lead poisoning from the peeling paint dripping from the ceilings.  

Sharon, marketing to the ones who are interested it great advice, and I'll have to read some Stan Barron so I can learn to do it not by accident!  Thanks.


Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 12 years ago

Jerry, Hmmm.  That's an interesting approach.

Antoinette, Now that's a great combination of accurate and funny - a winner, in other works.

Gene, Next time, you can borrow James' "Bring Your Bulldozer" - I sure he wouldn't mind.  He's in DC, you're in Seattle!

Margaret, thanks! And my fingers are tired from typing!


Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 12 years ago

Natalie, well, any property may be taking it too far!  I have one now that really is nice, and it's sitting there waiting for James Downing to bring me an offer!

Kelly, I remember first seeing "Rent-a-Wreck" in Los Angeles, and now they're all over!  Again, lowered expectations!

Chris, yes, if these sellers had been owner occupants, it would not have worked.  Of course, the place would not have been a dump that smelled like a goat!

And Adam, It gets back to the point that Sharon made - market to the people who will want it.  If you say "renovated kitchen" and it was renovated in 1963, you won't reach the right market, but if you say "mid-century kitchen", there are bunches of mid-century fans who might show up and actually buy it.  


Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 12 years ago

Marsha, like you, I remember the ones who make me laugh.

Trevor, once I accompanied a new agent to a listing appointment, and he was really, really over-promising!  And I waited until we left to say anything, and he looked at me like I was nuts.  He could hang the moon, but he promised to hang the moon and the stars - but only that once!

Josette, this is one where they were expecting to find goat poop, and it had been cleared out! 

Collette, thank you, and I'm glad I helped to make you laugh.

Wow! Lanre! What a nice compliment, thank you - and James thanks you, too!





Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 12 years ago

Hey Mike in Tuscon!  How did you know the guy was gray?  He actually had snow white hair!  And he was very, very wise.  And I was really lucky to have worked with him.  He made my book!

Brian, you have clearly figured out that people can see right through BS.  Your Bull-O-Meter on a scale of one to ten is somewhere around minus ten!  Glad you're back from your holiday!

Allen, right now, I'm wishing your old restaurant was somewhere near 16th & Webster Streets in Washington, DC!  Maybe my local pizza delivery guys will exceed my expectations! 

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 12 years ago

One home I showed said it was "perfect for entertaining" and they had it listed as a 3 bedroom. 2500 sqft, well one bedroom that was counted was a panty with a secret closet, the second was 10 x 10 and was really a bedroom, but it was wall to wall mirrors including ceiling. And the 3rd, well it didn't exist!

Like your home it was inhabited by college students and ALL WALLS were ripped out to make it one large house with one bedroom for ???? The Kitchen and one bath were the only thing that stayed original.

The second bathroom that was connected to what was once the master bedroom was in the living room and was now only a shower! You see the they need to take a shower after leaving the 16 x 16 hottub that was now in the middle of the sunken living room.

Behind the hottub were 4 refrigerators for beer and two keg fridges. From the outside this home looked like any other ranch home, but inside was far from that!

Posted by Respect Realty LLC, Brokers - Oregon / SW Washington Real Estate (Respect Realty LLC) over 12 years ago