Why grammar doesn’t really matter

“I really don’t like jargon, but I keep using it, and I hate it when I do”. That’s what an estate agent said to me yesterday, and I suspect he is not alone.

The trouble is, when trying to banish an industry word or phrase from your vocabulary without having a suitable replacement, it leaves a big hole in your sentence and you struggling to fill it. You need to practice to effect a change and, to achieve something entirely new, one has to break with convention.

As an example of sticking with convention, my partner is currently studying classic languages – Latin and Ancient Greek – and loves to give me the story behind words: why they are spelt like they are, why grammar is the way it is, and where the root of it all comes from. Although I’m a writer, I am absolutely and totally uninterested.

This isn’t because I’m a bad writer, or a bad person, or don’t know how to spell. It also doesn’t mean my use of punctuation is wholly inappropriate or that my sentences don’t make sense. It’s simply that I don’t like being bound by convention when writing text. So, by grammar, what I’m talking about is a conventional usage of words that go where you’d most expect them to go, and in a way most people will have already heard. In short, I’m always on the lookout for a new or unusual way of expression, or an unpredictable-but-sexy turn of phrase.

This, of course, is one of the biggest challenges for estate agents, developers and property people: how not to sound like carbon copies of each other, when they’re all ultimately doing the same thing. This is the current biggest conversation I have with new and existing clients: they’re sick of saying the same old thing, and they really don’t want to sound like the other guy.

Right now, the worst culprit is the phrase: “we’re different”. It’s what almost every new client I speak to wants to say. And it’s a meaningless pair of words without serious qualification. What they usually mean is that they call people back, or they’re friendly, or they accompany all viewings. Well, alas, that’s not different anymore.

Yes, it’s different from the 1980s reputation of estate agents and a few sloppy companies who are left operating like sharks, but otherwise, estate agency has done a fairly good job of getting its act together and providing a decent level of customer service. Which of course makes it even more challenging when trying to say something new. If most estate agents are good, how do you stand out from the crowd?

That’s where the conversations start to get really interesting.