Where’s the Storytelling in ...


MLS Listings - real estate

Every description of a home for sale seems to carry the same language.

Stunning views.

Pristine landscape.

Gorgeous custom home

Spacious master suite

Lush carpeting


Spin through enough descriptions on the MLS listings and you’ll also see that “Wow!” gets ample play.

Apparently, realtors pull from the same “Home Descriptions 101” book. It reminds me of a similar dynamic in HR when it comes to writing job descriptions.

No, the Agency is not diversifying into real estate PR. My wife and I decided the time is right to downsize, so we recently put our home on the market; hence, the interest.

Here’s the realtor’s description of our home:

An elegant statement of what a classic custom designed home should be! Quality throughout with stunning architectural details from hardwood floors, unique French doors, high ceilings, stacked moldings, chandeliers, to the expansive gourmet kitchen w/beamed ceiling, “Lacanche” French stove, white cabinets, & huge marble island to meet all of your entertaining needs. Downtown WG just a block away.


Realtors never met a noun that wouldn’t benefit from “stunning;” i.e., views, architectural details, windows, dining room … and the list goes on. I don’t believe I came across a listing that stated, “stunning two-car garage,” so there’s a sign of restraint.

I recognize no one buys a home based on the narrative. It’s walking through the home and experiencing the energy that leads to the moment of truth.

Still, logic would suggest that a more compelling narrative would increase the number of people who believe the house could be a fit and take the time for a walk through.

Applying storytelling techniques to our home ad resulted in this narrative:

When the owner returned to Willow Glen after two years in England, she teamed with an architect, Gary Slough of Los Gatos, to design a home that blends English Tudor with a French flair. To ensure that the reality matched the vision, she spent 18 months on site during construction – had her own hard hat – making the calls and refinements that simply can’t be done from a blueprint.

More than a custom house, this is a one-of-a-kind home.

The basic facts don’t tell the whole story:

  • 4,346 square feet of living space
  • 4 Bedrooms & 4 baths
  • Full carpeted finished basement
  • Separate studio at the back of the property
  • 2-car garage
  • 12,950 square-foot lot

There’s a flow to the downstairs that brings a sense of togetherness, whether you’re enjoying  your family or hosting an evening of entertaining. Architectural elements such as hardwood floors, arched French doors, high ceilings, crafted moldings and built-ins all work in harmony.

The kitchen serves as the centerpiece for the downstairs, complete with a “Lacanche”stove, high-beamed ceiling, drop-dead gorgeous chandelier, island finished with Greek marble, and a butler’s pantry (don’t necessarily need a butler to use). Two fireplaces, one in the living room and one in the family room, bookend the downstairs.

Upstairs finds a master bedroom large enough to create a parlor. The other two bedrooms offer ample space with a library nestled off the top of the stairwell. There’s even a dumb waiter for moving goods between floors.

The attention to detail comes through in so many different ways. Walking through the front door puts you in what the Europeans call a “mud room,” designed to make sure the outdoor elements, yes like mud on one’s shoes, don’t go further. A second detail, construction included doubling the traditional amount of insulation in the walls which explains how the house stays cool on warm days.

The list of unique touches goes on.

This truly is a one-of-a-kind home.

OK, maybe I got a little carried away with the “drop-dead gorgeous chandelier,” but the point is to help potential buyers understand the story behind the home with language that isn’t automatically tuned out.


  • Frithjof

    Ha! Very cool! I wonder what my realtor friends say about your post.
    I’m a digital media consultant and realtors are some of my favorite targets to pick on because their training brain-washes them with old style push-marketing.

    • hoffman

      I wonder too.

      Every industry including the communications industry falls into the trap of doing things the same way they’ve always been done.

      Perhaps, this will inspire a few realtors to dig below the surface to describe their homes.

  • John Tsantes

    I totally agree with the premise. A year ago I sold my home in San Jose for way more than the going rate because I told the buyers and their realtor how and why i remodeled my home exactly for a family such as theirs. And in fact, it was redesigned for a specific kind of buyer, for better or worse. That buyer was the first to show up as the house was going on sale and purchased the house after hearing my “story.”

    Today, we all are bombarded with so much hype, rhetoric, “expert opinion” and unwanted content, that it is creating such an atmosphere of “clutter” in our lives that I almost want to scream. Thus, when you start hearing a story that rings true or is heartfelt , you stop and listen even more. The world of media, PR and even realty, could all benefit from “storytelling from the heart.”

    • hoffman

      Thanks for weighing in John.

      I read a line from a professor in Scientific American years ago that has stayed with me: “Everyone has a natural detector for psychological realism.” I think our ability to separate real from b.s. is even more pronounced today because as you put it “we are bombarded with so much hype, rhetoric, expert opinion, and unwanted content.”

      Also encouraging to hear how things played out with your home in San Jose.

      Hopefully, our home story will also have a “happily ever after.”

  • David

    I like the sensational language of real estate speak. By not telling me the story of the house up front, I get to insert my story into the home. It’s the real estate agent’s job to sell with a story and the listing’s job to allow the reader/house buyer to insert their story into the space. It’s the same thing with staging the house. Rather than illustrate exactly how the current owner/seller uses the home, the staging needs to hint at use while allowing the buyer to be able to imagine themselves in the house–a fascinating practice for certain. Good luck with your home transition!

    • hoffman

      Thanks David.

      You’re right about the staging of the house. It’s all about the possibilities.


Leave a Reply