CRE 101

How Professional Writers Would Write Your Property Descriptions

January 21, 2022

Back in the day, CRE property descriptions took a back seat in selling CRE because most deals happened in person. But now, the search for the perfect CRE investment has gone digital. One study showed 59% of investors started their property search online. Even among commercial buyers working with brokers, more than half still did their own internet-based exploration.

That’s a profound shift for brokers to consider. Why? Because now the property description you post on a CRE marketplace is the first encounter a buyer has with the asset you’ve been tasked to sell (and often the first impression of your firm). If it doesn’t catch an investor’s attention and motivate them to take action, they’ll move on to the next opportunity. And you’ll have to explain why there’s no activity on the listing.

The ideal solution would be to hire the best writers in the business to create all of your property descriptions. But that’s not feasible. What you can do is steal their most successful tactics to improve your own. With a few helpful tips, you’ll write with military efficiency and craft conversion copy like an advertising legend.

BLUF like the military

BLUF is an acronym that stands for “bottom line up front.” It’s a communication protocol—first popularized in the military—that places the most important information at the beginning of a message. A BLUFed description hooks buyers with a property’s most impressive details before they skip to the next listing.

BLUF was created by the military to make communications, especially those in time-sensitive missions, more efficient. To BLUF something, like an email, means to place the most critical details at the very top. Then secondary, or explanatory details, are included after that.

BLUF works for property descriptions because:

  • It helps investors quickly decide if the property is worth further investigation
  • It creates excitement about an investment’s most interesting features
  • It takes advantage of the serial position effect; people comprehend and remember the first items on a list better than the rest

How to BLUF a property description

To BLUF a property description, use the first two sentences or bullet points to get attention, show value, and expose unique features.

Let’s say you’re selling this property:

screenshot of a fictitious property listing

An investor can find all the information they need. But some of the best stuff is buried in the middle.

The most interesting feature is that this building is an adaptive reuse property that used to be a historic mill. The income and potential tax and grant opportunities are the real value.

A BLUFed description might begin: “Beautiful adaptive reuse textile mill on the historic registry. Tax allowances and potential grants could make renovations $0. Property is nearly fully leased and is located in a quickly growing area of Anytown.”

The idea is to get the most important and interesting information into your potential buyers’ long-term memories. What you choose to add in that opening statement depends on who you believe is your most likely buyer.

Speak to an audience of one

David Ogilvy revolutionized advertising in the 1960s and ‘70s by considering the ideal buyer of a product and then creating ads for that specific person. Property descriptions that follow Ogilvy’s playbook attract higher-quality leads than their generic counterparts that try to appeal to everyone.

In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, the adman said that copy can’t speak to everyone if you hope it to convert readers into customers. “Don’t address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium,” he wrote. “When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”

For a property description, writing to an audience of one attracts higher-quality leads that are interested in the exact attributes of the property.

How to write a property description for an audience of one

First, try and picture who the ideal investor is for the asset. Then highlight the features and explain the benefits that would appeal to that type of buyer.

Here’s an example. You’re tasked with selling a class A, modern mid-rise office building. You know environmentally friendly properties are in short supply and bring a premium in this market. So your property description might lean heavily on that story of energy efficiency. You could lead the introduction like this.

“LEED Silver certified, 36-unit office building with updated, Energystar appliances and smart environmental controls. Offers 30% reduction in operational costs and is eligible for local power company rebates.”

If that same building is in an up-and-coming area that mostly offers older buildings, you might want to attract a buyer looking to place high-quality tenants. Then your “story” focuses on those features and benefits.

“Rare class A office building in the heart of up-and-coming Brentworth. Brand-new space with a beautiful entryway, spacious executive suites, and a full-function kitchen/common area with stainless steel appliances.”

It’s important to make the top of your descriptions enticing for the ideal buyer of a property. But it’s also important to make sure the information is clear and full of detail.

Always be specific

“Vagueness is noise,” says William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, one of the most referenced writing handbooks in print. Eugene Hammond, another acclaimed writing teacher and author, said that the value of writing “depends upon the quality of its details. Specificity is truly a goal of writing.”

Why did both Zinsser and Hammond care about specificity? Because vagueness is at best boring and at worst annoying. It’s easy to skip right past a line that says, “the water leak was large.” But if the same line said the leak “dumped enough water to fill 100 Olympic-sized pools onto Main Street,” you’re bound to take notice.

How to make property descriptions more specific

A property description doesn’t have to be poetic. But if you’re trying to entice a buyer to learn more, it should have plenty of details that are coupled with the benefit they provide.

Here’s a before-and-after comparison for an office building listing:

Before: “Office building with good value-add potential.
This description does speak to a specific type of investor, but it’s vague. What makes it “good”?

After: “45-door office building in the heart of growing Hillsboro listed under market cap rate offers plenty of value-add potential with a few exterior improvements.
In this version, we’re more specific about why this property has value-add potential. An investor reading this description will be better prepared to compare it to other options.

Make it MECE

Investors need to distill a lot of information about a property quickly. Famed McKinsey consultant Barbara Minto created a writing framework called MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) that will help make that possible. Using MECE, a property description will provide all the information a buyer needs without duplication that’ll slow them down.

Minto’s writing method includes two rules. First, communication should be organized into distinct sections that don’t overlap—each section being mutually exclusive. This keeps the reader from having to wade through redundant information and helps them scan to find what’s important to them.

Second, a MECE document has to cover a topic completely, making all the sections collectively exhaustive. That means an investor will find all the information they need to decide if the next step is appropriate. A high level of transparency also fosters trust in the deal and the broker who’s managing it.

How to MECE a property description

A MECEed property description will provide enough information for an investor to complete a basic level of due diligence. Some of the information categories that belong in a description include:

  • Size – square footage, number of rentable spaces, lot size, parking lot
  • Property type – residential, industrial, mixed-use, etc.
  • Property class – A, B, or C
  • Submarket – walking score, demographics, mass transit
  • Capital improvements to the property - upgrades or refurbishes
  • Legal – zoning, tax credits, historical status
  • Tenant info – lease duration, NNN, type of tenants, credit score
  • Basic financials – NOI, cap rate

Group each type of information together. If an investor is most interested in the financials, they can scan the property description and find what they need quickly. And if some information could be placed in multiple categories, make sure it’s not duplicated. For example, you could mention historic tax credits in the financials section or in the capital improvements group.

Once you’ve added it in all the details, place the most interesting information up top so your MECEed property description is also BLUFed.

Edit sober

“Write drunk and edit sober” is a popular axiom among professional writers (mistakenly attributed to Ernest Hemingway). It could be taken literally, but in practice, it means that it’s OK to have fun creating the first draft but editing requires the focus of a clear head. It’s good advice for brokers. A property description should have some personality to it, but errors put both the deal and your reputation at risk.

Having a little fun with property descriptions can attract attention in a sea of otherwise bland listings. A few descriptive adjectives bring data to life. Plus, CRE is still a relationship business, so it can’t hurt to show off a little personality.

However, editing should be done with focus. Mistakes erode trust, especially in CRE, where investors don’t have the same consumer protections as residential buyers.

And the cost of mistakes extends beyond the one deal. Product descriptions, and listings in general, are often the first impressions an investor has of your firm. If there are misspellings and errors in the description, it could decrease the chance of that investor hiring you in the future.

How to edit your property descriptions sober

There are some tricks professional writers use to spot errors in their copy:

  • Read descriptions out loud to make sure each sentence sounds conversational and clear
  • Read descriptions backward to let your brain focus on the individual words
  • Have a colleague review each description
  • Use a tool like Grammarly to auto-check for errors

Skim through a dozen property descriptions, and you’ll likely find a few errors. That means your mistake-free listing is already ahead of the game. But to really turn your description into a lead-generation machine, make sure to tell each investor what they need to do next.

Include a call to action

A call to action (CTA) is a prompt that encourages readers to take a specific action. Marketers use CTAs to move prospects along the path to purchase (think: buy now, subscribe and save, or talk to us). A CTA works the same way in product descriptions by clearly telling an interested buyer how to take the next step and what they’ll get out of it if they do.

Product descriptions, and CRE listings in general, aren’t just static informational documents. They’re motivational texts that should guide buyers down the path toward purchasing a property. A call to action is the words in your description that clearly tell them what to do next and transform them from casual readers to active leads.

How to write a call to action for your property description

A CTA should include both an imperative (call, click, download) and a benefit (learn more, tour the site, meet with an experienced broker).

Here are a few examples:

  • Email us for an exclusive viewing
  • Watch this 3-D building tour
  • Click here to submit an offer

Ideally, your call to action should stand out. On biproxi, for example, every listing includes two CTA buttons: “Contact broker” and “Make an offer.”

Some buyers will need more information like a site tour or a detailed profit and expense statement. So having a second call to action in the description like “call for the full site inspection report” can be helpful.

Coupled with a compelling, comprehensive property description, this straightforward instruction will drive more leads from listings to letters of intent.

Make property descriptions your calling card

Jeff Bezos is credited with saying, “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” With so many investors and buyers now searching online before ever contacting a broker, you’re rarely in the room when your firm’s brand is created. That means each digital communication is more important than ever. And property descriptions—how you present the investments you’re entrusted to sell—are among the most important of those communications. A great description may not convince every buyer to send an LOI, but every buyer that reads it will form an opinion about your firm.

Ember Hansen
With over a decade of marketing & business development experience, Ember brings a fresh perspective on CRE to the biproxi leadership team by turning her passion for SaaS into actionable insights for brokers and investors looking leverage technology to create a more successful business.

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