These are the kind of evocative images a 
Smith & Hawken catalog featured, 
along with compelling copy. 

Three very different men taught me about advertising and selling.

The first was Joe McKertich. He owned an advertising agency and hired me when I was fresh out of college. It was way back in 1964, so think Peggy Olson. But instead of Don Draper, Joe was a paunchy, balding teetotaler who worked long days and expected me to do the same.

But he was an excellent teacher.

From Joe I learned the importance of mistake-free printed matter. Part of my job was to ensure every word in the catalogs and ads we produced was spelled correctly, spacing was consistent, and every number was correct. Tedious!

Guy number two 

My next copywriting teacher was Paul Hawken.

I knew Paul when he was president of Erewhon Natural Foods in Boston in 1970, before he went to California with another friend, Ty Smith, and started the company called Smith & Hawken. These guys revolutionized American gardening with their mail-order catalog, originally written entirely by Paul, a really savvy entrepreneur.

The Smith & Hawken catalog pre-dated and was more genuine than the J. Peterman catalog that premiered a few years later. Paul's catalogs transported you to a dreamy world where you tended your heirloom flowers growing in glazed pots, using your hand-crafted tools and wearing your French farmer's hat. Until then, gardening was a hobby for penny-pinching oldsters and unwashed hippies.

Paul's catalogs made gardening stylish, classy, hip, fun! His company was grossing $50 million annually by the early 1990s. He cashed out, and after a number of post-Hawken owners, it was bought by Scotts the chemical gardening people, who ran the company into the ground. But that's another story.

Like homeownership, boat ownership is a dream for many 
people, and the same selling techniques apply. 
Capture the imagination, be honest, and be specific.  

Selling yachts

The third person who taught me about selling was Kevin Rush.

Kevin was the owner of a yacht brokerage company where I worked as a yacht broker eight years ago. The most important thing Kevin taught me was to ignore the negatives. If a client touring a boat wondered aloud why some cushions were missing, or remarked that the galley was small, the best response was no response. Any comment from me would reinforce the fact that the boat had liabilities.

At first, I thought Kevin was hard of hearing, but I came to realize that his selling technique was a practiced one, and an effective one.

Advertising and real estate

Are you wondering what these men in my life have to do with selling your home?

Let's say you have fabulous curb appeal. You've decluttered and cleaned every square inch. You've staged your rooms beautifully. Your property is well-maintained and priced right.

But unless buyers know about your home, you're sunk. Whether you list with a licensed real estate agency, or decide to sell your home FSBO, advertising is essential if you want buyers to come and see for themselves. Advertising is what drives almost every American business.

And if you are selling your home, you are in a business.

You may think that an MLS listing is all formula, but just like a Facebook page or a LinkedIn profile, there's plenty you can do to make your listing more interesting. You can turn it into a strong selling tool instead of just a list of specifications.

Of course, photos of your home are what catch buyers' attention. Today, I'm concentrating on just the words you use to sell your home, because that's what buyers look at next.  

Be correct

Work with your Realtor to make sure your specs are correct in your listing. Your online data and your printed material need to be accurate.

Is the square footage right? The age of the home? The types of flooring? The number of baths, the size of the garage, the school district. Humans make mistakes, and Realtors are human. Double-check the info because this is how buyers judge your home before they decide whether to visit it.

Don't get sloppy about grammar, punctuation, consistency of style and spelling. Your advertising should look professional. By showing respect for your potential buyer in this way, you earn respect from your potential buyer.

That's the way Joe would have wanted it. (May he rest in peace.)

Be specific

When Paul Hawken wrote about a shovel, he didn't tell you that it had a wooden handle. He told you it had a kiln-dried ash handle from trees grown in Sweden specifically for shovel handles, and that it was attached using a method that had been perfected over the centuries by farmers.
Yours truly as New York City 
copywriter in the '

If your home has a new heating system, give the date, the manufacturer, and the capacity. If you installed new carpeting, specify Dupont Stainmaster or whatever. If your home is near restaurants and shops, name the big businesses and the number of restaurants.

And this is important: Even if the brand name and the measurements aren't actually impressive or top of the line, the fact that you are citing them indicates transparency and even pride. Advertising is bragging. But you can't brag unless you're specific.

Photos are a subtle way of bragging. The tantalizing photos in a Smith and Hawken catalog did their job of seducing mail-order customers. Taking great photos of your home on the market is very important. It's best to go with a professional real estate photographer. 

Being specific is one way to interest buyers in your property without reverting to annoying "fluff" phrases such as, "Just bring your rocking chairs and enjoy the view." A smarter way to merchandise your porch would be with specifics: "Enjoy a 4-season view from the 12 x 40-foot front porch."

Be positive 

My boating boss Kevin knew that every boat had some things that a buyer didn't love. Your house will have some things that a buyer wishes he could change. Focus on the best qualities, and you'll encourage him to do the same.

If you are working with a Realtor, make sure she knows exactly what's special and unique about your property -- that the fireplace works, that the utilities are very low, that the windows are extra-thick, that the roof is brand new...all that nitty-gritty stuff.

When giving your listing agent the facts, never call attention to unfinished projects, problem areas, or any shortcomings. Ethically, professionally, and legally, your listing agent is required to reveal shortcomings. Instead, make her job easier by letting her know all the things you love about your home, things that some home buyers may not think about, such as proximity to parks, a quiet neighborhood, or floor plan that is especially accommodating.

These are the qualities a buyer needs to focus on so that he's comfortable with the trade-offs, those things that are less than perfect in his mind.

Don't think you are being deceptive by being positive. Anyone buying a home will need a home inspection, just the way people buying boats through me bought a marine survey of the vessel. There are no secrets.

Get the look, get the book

Staging your home to sell it is the beginning of the selling process. Getting the word out is the next step. Listen to the lessons I learned from my teachers and you'll have better success with advertising your home on the market.

If you are selling your home, whether you have staged it already or not, my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, will teach you new tricks and techniques to make it inviting to buyers.