Storytelling and Real Estate: How to Create Listings That Sell

23 July, 2018

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People love a good story. People love stories so much that they’ll go to great lengths to create one, even when one isn’t immediately apparent. One study involving 34 college-aged students found that all but one felt compelled to create a story after they watched a short film featuring geometric shapes.

It’s not only that people often feel inclined to create a story about objects and other things in their lives. Stories can also change how people perceive specific objects or situations. For example, only one-quarter of people pass the Wasan Selection Task when they are asked to determine whether a set of cards with letters or numbers on them follow established rules. When the task is altered so that the cards tell a story, the number of people who can pass the task increases to 75 percent.


Storytelling also plays an essential role when you’re writing a house for sale description. Focusing on the story of a home or property can make people who are casually browsing listings sit up, take notice and want to look at your property as soon as possible.

The Power of Storytelling for Real Estate

Research has shown that stories can change the chemical makeup of the brain. When a story is attention-grabbing and holds people’s focus, they’re likely to release oxytocin, a hormone that increases feelings of empathy and that can make people feel more connected to others socially.

When it comes to convincing people to take action, a story is going to beat a list of facts and figures almost every time. In fact, when you use storytelling to help sell a house, people are more likely to assign a higher value to the house than they would to a property listing that contains only basic facts.

Storytelling Structure

If you’re going to use storytelling in real estate marketing, it’s important to understand what makes up a good story. Not all of them are created equal, after all. Researchers at UC Berkeley examined what type of story structure was likely to get people to take action and what structures didn’t achieve that result.

They found that stories that continued to build up tension tended to hold the audience’s attention the longest. The most effective stories have a pyramid-shaped structure. There’s the initial event that gets the action rolling. Then, the action continues to build, and tension continues to rise, commanding the audience’s attention more and more.

Once the action has built up sufficiently, something known as transportation can occur, according to the Berkeley scientists. When people experience transportation, they begin to feel the same emotions experienced by the characters in the story. They feel nervous when a character is nervous. They feel a rush of energy when a character gets into a fight. Of course, that action can’t continue to build forever, so at some point, there comes a climax. After that turning point, the action falls until the final resolution or “denouement.”

Stories that feature this pyramid structure, often known as Freytag’s Pyramid and based on the writings of Aristotle, spur people to action. When the Berkeley researchers showed people a story that had a pyramid structure, almost all of them decided to donate money to help the real-life characters featured in the tale.

In contrast, when the researchers showed people a story that had a flat structure — without any rising action — people tended to zone out and stop paying attention about halfway through. They lost interest even though the flat story had the same characters as the story with the rising action. It wasn’t clear to the viewers why they were watching the story, who the characters were or why anyone should care about their fates.

How to Create Real Estate Listings That Sell: Tips for Incorporating Stories Into Your Listings

How can you transform your real estate listings into engaging, attention-grabbing stories? Follow these tips.

Find the House’s Story

One of the first things to do when creating a house for sale description is to find the story of the house. What about the property makes it unique?

In some cases, a house’s narrative will be immediately apparent. Perhaps a celebrity owned it, in which case you could encourage potential seller’s to walk in the shoes of that celebrity. It could be the case that the house has a long history and it immediately transports people to a distant historical time.


In other instances, the story of a house might not be so apparent. If that’s the case for you, take the time to walk through the house with the current owner. Ask them questions about the property, such as what memories they have of the living room, the backyard or the kitchen. Use those memories to spin a story, such as holidays spent gathered in the living room, summers spent lounging by the pool or family pizza nights spent in the kitchen.

Avoid Abbreviations

Using abbreviations in your listings can seem like a great way to convey information efficiently. In the days when you had to pay per letter to post a real estate ad, those abbreviations made sense. But since real estate listings are pretty much almost entirely online nowadays and because they’re going to be read by normal people who might not be “in-the-know” when it comes to real estate speak, they’re more likely just going to confuse people.

For example, if someone sees an ad that reads “4BDR 3BA 2CG, BALC, BKYD, A/G P, CNR,” they’re pretty much not going to have a clue what that listing is trying to tell them. They might take the time to Google the abbreviations, but it’s more likely that they’ll just move on to the next listing.

Go Deeper

Some things about a house are immediately apparent, such as the color of its exterior. Other elements might not be so obvious but can be included in a roundup of facts about the property, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms it has or whether or not there’s a pool.


When creating your listing, dig a bit deeper, and let the reader know something about the house that’s not immediately obvious. You can focus on features of the home, such as the fire pit that people use to roast marshmallows while telling ghost stories on Halloween or the garden that lets people grow their own vegetables in the summer. Another option is to focus on the neighborhood and amenities around the house. How close to shopping and dining is the property? Can kids easily walk to school?

What about the neighbors? Do they regularly get together for summer barbecues or picnics? Do they all turn on their porch lights to welcome trick-or-treaters on Halloween? Anything you can find to paint a picture of what life is like in the house will make it more appealing to a buyer rather than you merely describing what the house is like.

Find the Conflict

People who are looking to buy a new house often have some conflict or problem they’re trying to solve. Maybe their commute to work is too long, their current home doesn’t have enough space or they’re looking for a more peaceful location away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

One way to incorporate rising action into the story of a real estate listing is to uncover just what that conflict is. Let the tension build for a while — then demonstrate how the house helps to turn things around.

For example, a person spends hours on the train getting to work each day. They’re missing out on time with their kids, and they miss home cooked meals each night. If only there were a house that was closer to the city and their job. Once they buy and move into your property, they’ll enjoy a quick, 10-minute ride to the city. They’ll get to spend more time with their family, and they won’t miss out on family dinners each night.

Bring the Home to Life


Homes are meant for living, so find a way to bring your listing to life. You want to show — not tell — with the listing. Instead of saying that there’s a pool, show people how they can use the pool or how the pool might fit into their daily lives. Instead of mentioning that the kitchen was recently renovated, highlight how people will benefit from that renovation. For example, they might have plenty of storage space for their kitchen gadgets and ample counter space for all of their cooking and baking experiments.

Choose one or two features to focus on in your listing to bring the home to life. You don’t want to make the listing too long, but you want to create enough of a story that people will be able to envision themselves calling your property home.

Trade Splash for Substance

While you’re at work bringing the home to life, it can be easy to get caught in a trap where you use meaningless words or phrases to describe the property. You can see this issue often in real estate listings. An agent might describe a living room as “cozy” or note that a swimming pool has “sparkling blue water” in it.

Those words might sound pretty, but what do they tell a person about the property? Not much, as you’d hope that any swimming pool would have water in it, and “cozy” can mean different things to different people. When writing your listing, ask yourself if a particular word or phrase adds value to the house or helps you breathe life into the property. If not, you can safely cut it out or find another way to get your point across.

Grab Attention Right Away

You only have a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention, and your real estate listing is likely to be included among many other listings — often for similar properties.

You know what they say. You only have one chance to make a first impression. The headline of your listing and the first few sentences can make or break it. The headline, in particular, is where you want to jump right into the story of the property.

For example, instead of writing “4-bedroom Colonial home for sale,” your headline can read “Own a piece of history!” Instead of “6-bedroom mansion in Hollywood,” your headline can read “Live among the stars!”

Check Your Grammar and Spelling

While the average home buyer might be willing to overlook the occasional its vs. it’s mistake or let a misspelled word or two slide, if your listing is full of typos and grammatical errors, it’s going to raise some eyebrows. Look over the listing before you publish it, or have a colleague read it over to check for misspelled words or obvious grammar issues.

Although it’s not a grammar or spelling problem, it’s also a good idea to avoid writing anything in the listing in all capital letters. It looks less than professional and can turn buyers off, even if you’ve created an otherwise thoroughly engaging and enthralling story about the property.

Use Photos to Complete the Story


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The text of your real estate listing is just one component of the storytelling process. You also want to include real estate photography to further illustrate what you’re trying to say. Often, photos can show a potential buyer much more about a house than a written story ever could. The images you include with a listing can be what gets a potential buyer to stop and scroll through rather than quickly moving on to the next house available.

As with the text you include in the listing, the type of photos you use matter. You want to capture the home at its best, such as on a sunny day, when natural light streams in through the windows. Although your client might still be living in the house while selling it, it’s important that the photos reflect a “blank slate.”

You want to ensure that as they read through the story you’ve created about the house and look at pictures of it, a potential buyer sees themselves living in each room of the property. If the photos include things like framed photos of the current owners or other personal effects, it can be difficult for the listing to tell an engaging story.

The quality of the photos matter as well. You’ll often come across listings with dark, grainy, blurry photos. Low-quality pictures of a house don’t do the property justice. In fact, they might turn off potential buyers who can’t get a good sense of the home’s quality or uniqueness while looking at fuzzy, dark pictures. Although some agents prefer to take photos for their listings themselves, it’s often better to work with a professional photography company that can capture a property in the best light and at the right angles.

Professional photos, home staging and walk-through videos can elevate your real estate listings and help you finish the story you’ve started telling. Real Estate Exposures offers real estate photography services for properties in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and DC. Contact us to learn more about how we can put the finishing touches on your real estate listing’s story, or schedule a session with us online.

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