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Spellbound: estate agents and words

I’ve been umming and ahhing over whether to write this post. I’ve had the idea for ages but have wondered whether it might get taken the wrong way. Hopefully not.

So, I think estate agents can’t spell. I don’t think it’s because estate agents don’t care, but I do think it has a massive impact on their business. For a start, Google hates bad spelling and grammar and it actively penalises websites in its search rankings for poorly written text.

You can see it in property descriptions, window displays, emails and even in standard letters. It’s remarkable how many spelling mistakes you can find on almost any estate agent’s website (including the About Us section) and, for someone that notices – someone like me, or someone like a potential client – it’s not exactly a selling point.

It’s the loss of potential clients that strikes me the most. For anyone who cares about attention to detail around the sale of their most valued and precious asset, an estate agent’s bold and blatant display of spelling mistakes about their own company and the properties it describes could be a real turn-off. That vendor’s most likely course of action would be to simply go elsewhere. And for estate agents wondering why they are not breaking into a certain part of their market, I would happily assert that what you write about yourselves and your properties most definitely has an impact on who does and does not call you to sell their home.

But why the phenomenon?

Although I never went to university – or had any advanced education – my spelling and grammar are very decent. On the other hand, lots of people I know with degrees and vocational qualifications can’t write for toffee. Estate agents come in all shapes and sizes, from secondary school leavers to masters graduates, but I’ve never seen any real connection between their educations and their ability to write or spell.

Being asked to write something down draws a hefty sigh from many people. It occurs as too difficult, or too time-consuming, or something they’re just not very good at. At the very least it’s something they don’t enjoy, and I suspect that may be the root of it. Whereas I love writing things down and playing with words and grammar to find that special turn of phrase that pops and sparkles, for others it’s a real chore that simply needs to be completed as quickly as possible. That means no time is ever spent working whatever brain cells or muscles get worked when one writes, which is probably why so many estate agents’ descriptions sound the same (and contain the same mistakes – “comprising of”, anyone?).

I suspect that estate agents feel their most valuable communications are verbal: talking to people in their homes; showing people around their next one; negotiating offers; chasing up the sales process. This is something they excel at; something they enjoy; something they try to keep as the main channel of discourse, but the internet and email has rudely interfered. Written communication – and even conversation – is now the norm and really highlights agents’ writing abilities.

While it’s not practical to send everyone off to English class, it is possible to reduce the mistakes in publicly visible places. I would argue that anything that goes on a website, in a shop window, on a leaflet or on a letter should be professionally written to optimise the performance of that text and ensure its help in winning instructions and clients.

In short: if you can’t spell, get a writer.



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