Dos and Don’ts of Great Classified Ads

Better ads can sometimes mean the difference between the success and failure of a real estate business.

The Big Book of Real Estate Ads aims to take the agony out of preparing classified ads. It includes ad ideas for a range of properties, from fixer-uppers to time shares. Published by Dearborn Real Estate Education.

The excerpt below was taken from Chapter 1: Understanding Classified Advertising. You can purchase a copy on Dearborn’s Web site or by calling 800/554-4384.


Classified real estate ads differ from other forms of advertising in that they are actually sought out by prospective buyers. They are not thrust upon the reader without permission.

When the market is less favorable to sellers, responses to mediocre ads will dwindle, while responses to poor ads may all but disappear. In this kind of market an ad has to compete with other ads to generate responses, and competition means it is important for an ad to noticeably stand out among its competitors. A better ad can sometimes mean the difference between the success and failure of a real estate business.

Anatomy of an Ad

In advertising, we use the acronym AIDA. We want the ad to catch the reader’s attention, create an interest, then a desire to know more about the property, and action, which is the telephone call or visit to your office, project, or open house.

The ad heading is what gets a reader’s attention. To develop a heading, ask yourself what features of a house are likely to be of greatest importance to the type of buyers who will purchase the property. As an example, if you want to appeal to a larger family, the fact that a property has four bedrooms should be emphasized in the heading.

Your ad body should state a limited amount of information — just enough so that the reader will want to know more about the property. When designing your ad, keep in mind that potential buyers normally respond to ads that are within a specific price range or are priced slightly higher than they wish to pay.

Dos and Don’ts

Here are some general guidelines for preparing classified ads.

Do …

  • Be honest in your ad.
  • Differentiate your ads from those of other firms. When there are multiple columns of ads, you want your ad to stand out and grab the reader’s attention. An ad that isn’t read is a wasted opportunity.
  • See the property prior to writing the ads. By viewing the property, the ad writer will gain a perspective of the benefits offered that would not be fully understood from a few photos and a basic description of the property.
  • Highlight the most desirable and sought after feature of the property in the heading. If such a distinguishing feature doesn’t exist, use an attention-getting heading.
  • Place greater emphasis on advertising properties when you have similar property listings available (substitute properties). In this way, the ad will attract buyers for more than just the property advertised.
  • Advertise in various price ranges with a focus on a variety of property types. This will bring responses that can potentially be substituted for other properties. A few ads could actually cover your entire inventory.
  • Change your ads so a property does not appear shopworn. Ads are most effective the first time they run.
  • Always include your firm’s name and Internet address in your ads.
  • Include the number of bedrooms and baths, as well as locations of the properties (if not mentioned in the ad heading). Buyers want to know these kinds of basics.
  • Include the price or indicate the price range.
  • Use curiosity to gain readers’ responses. The ad should make readers want to know more.
  • Track ad response. You want to know what type of ads and type of properties advertised are bringing better or less than average responses.

Don’t …

  • Include information about an owner or an owner’s motivation to sell without express permission from the owner. Such permission should be in writing.
  • Include any indication that an owner might accept less than the advertised price without express permission of the owner. Permission should be in writing.
  • Set advertising limits per property or stop advertising a property because you’re not getting responses. Ads from one property can create sales of other properties. Also, you agreed to use your best efforts to locate a buyer. Discontinuing advertising may constitute a breach of your fiduciary duty to the owner.
  • Use abbreviations in ads or terms that the majority or readers may not understand.
  • Place ads for the purpose of pleasing owners or salespeople. The focus of your advertising must be on anticipated sales.
  • Repeat in the ad heading what is in the newspaper category heading. (If the newspaper has a Middleton ad column heading you would not head the ad “Middleton.”)
  • Give laundry lists of properties without descriptions. The exception would be multiple units available in a desirable development. Such an ad would show that you have a large inventory to select from.
  • Advertise the obvious. In most markets people would expect a half-million-dollar home to have a large kitchen, a living room, a dining area, and an attached garage. You should advertise features that add zing such as “a private home office,” “solarium,” or “English rose garden.”
  • Advertise the unimportant. Most readers are not influenced because you advertised the lot as “.237 acres.”
  • Include words that won’t benefit the ad. For example, if a solarium is unheated, words such as “unheated” or “could be easily heated” don’t benefit the ad. On the other hand, “window-wrapped” solarium creates a positive image and benefits the ad.
  • Say too much. Paint a picture with details to be filled in by the readers’ imagination.

Have Fun!

You will discover that the more ads you prepare or modify, the easier the ad preparation process becomes. Chances are you will also discover that ad writing can be fun.

Blog Contributor

This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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