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Realities of Real Estate: Listing Do’s and Don’ts

When you first list your house for sale, there are several steps early on in the process that can have a drastic effect on whether you make a great first impression or stumble coming out of the gate.

One of the most important is how your listing looks in the Multiple List System or MLS. The manner in which an agent portrays your property in the MLS will not only impact buyers, it also sets the tone for how other agents will perceive the quality and value of a home. As we all know, you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.

So, here are some of the major Do’s and Don’ts, when it comes to showcasing your property in the MLS.

-Have great pictures: If your listing doesn’t have excellent pictures, the rest of it won’t matter. We’re a visual society, and if the first couple of pictures in your listing aren’t real attention getters, buyers and agents will just move on to the next one. There are three considerations when it comes to pictures – quality, quantity and how they are ordered.

Quality: When we look through the MLS, it never ceases to amaze us at how bad some of the pictures are. Some agents are known for taking good pictures; others just don’t have a handle on the finer points of subject selection, lighting, composition and retouching. Given the importance of pictures, make sure your agent knows what they’re doing or have them hire a professional photographer.

Quantity: In the MLS, you can have up to 30 pictures, yet time and time again, we’ll see listings with far less than 30. There’s really no excuse not maximizing this opportunity to sell a house. We realize that there are only so many shots you can take of a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow, but with a little imagination, it’s easy to come up with 30 good ones by also showing more of the lot and surrounding community.

Order: Once you’ve got 30 great pictures, how they’re ordered in the MLS is important. Although the MLS will take 30 shots, many other websites will only use the first eight. As a result, be sure those first eight are top quality and tell the whole story. Buyers want to see the front, the back, the kitchen, the master bedroom and the family room. All those bases must be covered in the first eight pictures.

-Use motivating remarks: The MLS allows agents up to 400 characters in the remarks section of a listing. That’s only a half dozen sentences, and since this is where you’re trying to make the sale, it’s critical to be concise and compelling.

But, like pictures, we see a lot of listings where the remarks aren’t much more than a regurgitation of the home’s description. There are other places in a listing that will tell buyers and agents how many bedrooms, baths and garage spaces the house has. The remarks section of a listing is where an agent needs to drive home what make this house different from the competition and why it’s worth the asking price.

In advertising, writing convincing copy is key to a great ad. Since the listing is the primary advertisement for a house, that copy must be first class. On every listing, we routinely spend hours making sure those 400 characters are used as efficiently and effective as possible; it’s that important.

-Provide complete information: There is a tremendous amount of property information that can be included with a listing, everything from the lot’s landscaping to the type of toilets. Depending on the style of house, not every bit of information will be relevant in promoting a sale, but more information is usually better than less.

The attention to detail in a listing is necessary to avoid overlooking a feature that might be essential for certain buyers. Plus, the sheer volume of property features will help enhance the perception of value for both buyers and agents. Before your listing goes live, have the agent print out the full listing detail for your review. This will help insure that nothing was missed.

-Don’t overpromise: With just about everything in life, it’s best to under promise and over deliver. The same philosophy holds true with selling real estate. Nevertheless, in their zeal to beat the competition, some listing agents are guilty of stretching the truth a wee bit.

How a house is described isn’t always black and white. What constitutes property attributes such as “good condition,” “privacy” or the most abused of them all, “water view,” can be a matter of interpretation. We understand that water view can look good in a listing and help justify your price. But, if a buyer gets to the property, and they need to lean out a third floor window to get a glimpse of the mud flats up some creek, the feeling of betrayal and disappointment will blow any chance for a sale.

Without a doubt, you want a buyer to walk into a house and say, “this is even better that what the listing showed.” That doesn’t mean you want to shortchange yourself in the listing. Just don’t go over the top in emphasizing the selling points.

-Don’t misrepresent: Like any profession, there are always the schemers who try to substitute simple hard work with a less than honest effort to manipulate the process. In real estate, there are those agents who, by their own device or in cooperation with sellers, pollute the MLS with information that is either a misrepresentation or outright false.

For example, there are ways that an agent can modify a listing to conceal how long a property has actually been on the market, or they can try to hide other pertinent information, like past pricing. Regardless, it’s usually easy for an experienced agent to spot this transgression, and it can be anonymously reported to the multiple list system. They will automatically correct the data and take punitive action against the agent where appropriate.

Consequently, don’t even think about trying to game the system. You will get caught and it’ll destroy the credibility necessary to produce a successful sale.

-Don’t expect miracles: A property listing is your most important and visible piece of advertising. Once an agent puts that listing in the MLS, it is frequently auto populated to literally hundreds of thousands of websites.

However, as with any advertising, there are limitations to how persuasive a listing can be, and how effectively it can target specific buyers. Even if you had Ansel Adams take pictures of your house, and Hemmingway write the remarks, an overpriced dump isn’t going to sell. Additionally, while it’s always good to tweak a listing and constantly look for improvements, don’t expect that a little wordsmithing or a few new pictures will make a dramatic difference.

If your listing is dead in the water, what normally needs changing is the price.

In sum, pay careful attention to how your agent puts a listing together. It’s the foundation for every other effort put forward to sell a house, so it must be done well.

Moreover, a high quality and well thought out listing is a good indicator that you’ve got an agent who’s on top of their game and won’t drop the ball as you navigate through the other aspects of home selling, such as contract negotiations, inspections and ultimately settlement.

Bob and Donna McWilliams are practicing real estate agents in Maryland with more than 25 years of combined experience. Their email address is