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  1. Property
February 11, 2016

Lost in translation: the (incredibly dull) language of estate agents

By Spear's

Agents are terrified of offending their clients – time for some ‘extreme ball cultivation’, says Nick Crayson

I have to start with a homage to the very late Roy Brooks, whose irreverent and unvarnished property advertisements in the Sunday Times and Observer attracted a cult following in the 1960s. He took delight in telling the truth in contrast to a trade that is well known for its bland euphemisms and vastly over-optimistic clichés.

Modern day property descriptions are mostly a boring, homogenous mush of sycophantic adjectives, using a very limited vocabulary and often elementary grade grammar. Brooks used to get away with the most outrageous, but poignantly truthful descriptions, and they really lit up the industry. Here is just one excerpt:

‘A dreadful working-class terrace house of sinister aspect in one of the meaner streets at the bitter end of Cheyne Walk. Time and decay have not softened the hideous aspect of this type of this typical example of Victorian speculative building. The master bedroom has its door torn off at the hinges, several windows have been broken, what is left of the paintwork is in a nasty, dirty shade of green and the wallpaper hangs dankly down in shreds – otherwise there’s probably not much wrong.’

What a stark contrast to the usual ‘a stunningly fantastic three-bedroom penthouse exquisitely refurbished to exacting standards situated on the fifth floor of a masterpiece of a modern apartment building, boasting bright and spacious interiors throughout and a wonderful terrace with amazing views’ – or something equally vacuous.

I am afraid that the property descriptions of today are littered with this kind of tosh. With strict legal guidelines on property mis-description, it is quite unbelievable that agents get away with it.

In the day of property portals and their delivery method of a photograph and brief description, there to catch the eye of buyers and entice them to click further – it is amazing how achingly similar most descriptions have become. Not only is there a total lack of imagination, but a huge propensity to aggrandise even the smallest detail.

Experience has shown me that people are more than happy to buy something that needs work. Describing something as a ‘complete wreck’ can reap dividends, as my agency discovered last year. We were selling a house that most certainly needed a major overhaul and the vendor was happy with our description – we had 120 buyer enquiries in a single day.

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Being authentic shows integrity and adds credibility, and buyers appreciate it. It says something about the service they will receive throughout the buying process.

I started my own agency with a view to disrupting the industry by being as transparent as possible – and we worked extremely hard from the very start to change the language. My aim is still to win the trust of clients to allow me to advertise their properties in a fun and exciting way – not just for my amusement – but because I truly feel that it would help in the sale. In addition, buying and selling should be a fun experience. Bland descriptions dull the senses and remove the joy. Words are triggers. Humour touches people and induces emotions – and that’s the key.

Agents are too terrified of offending their clients and, as a whole, there is a need for some extreme ball cultivation. Otherwise the ‘décor of the rooms, some of which inelegantly hangs from the walls, is revolting’, becomes ‘refurbished to exacting standards’ and ‘the pock-marked basement floor, indicates a thriving community of woodworm’, becomes an ‘outstanding living and entertaining space’.

To be continued – I haven’t even got on to the grammar yet.

Nick Crayson is founder and managing director at Crayson

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