writing for real estate

Posted by & filed under Travel Writing.

Perhaps you’re worried you’re not qualified to write about real estate. Admittedly, if you were writing for an audience made up exclusively of real estate agents, you might need some special expertise to lend you credibility.

But, as I’ve mentioned, plenty of “consumer” publications buy real estate-related travel articles, and most of the time they are written by folks just like you.

However, you should keep these eight guidelines in mind —

1. Consult the Writer’s Guidelines and learn from past real estate-related articles printed in the publication you’re targeting.

For instance, if you were writing a real estate article for International Living, you’d want to make sure it focused not only on a destination outside the United States, but on one where readers would find good property values.

In other words, while Costa Rica is, indeed, outside the US, as far as IL is concerned it’s old news and it’s too expensive. By contrast, articles with these headlines have appeared recently:

** An over-supply in the housing market means bargains galore in increasingly international Melbourne

** Your dream home on the beach for 10 cents on the dollar — why the world is falling in love with Cape Town

Taking a similar tack, The New York Times published a piece about investing in waterfront property in Nova Scotia in its Escapes section under the headline:

** Havens: Bargains Across the Border

Though clearly geared to an audience more interested in travel than investing, Conde Nast Traveler’s article about Nicaragua nevertheless includes a strong real estate theme with plenty of information about current property offerings and prices. I found it under the headline:

** Nicaragua’s New Wave: Okay, it’s a little rough around the edges. But it has a world-class lake, twenty-five volcanoes, miles of empty beaches. . . . And Americans, it seems, are buying up the place. Jason Wilson reports on the pleasures (and perils) of a frontier

Real estate might be either the primary focus of your travel article or simply one aspect of it.

In either case, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the publication you’re targeting so you know how to best structure your piece and pitch it to the editor.

(NOTE: Consider, too, the livability of the destination you’re writing about. Just because a locale is affordable — and might make a terrific vacation destination — that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an attractive place to live. I spent two years working as a Peace Corps volunteer on a remote island between Madagascar and Mozambique.

It’s beautiful there (turquoise waters, talcum beaches, flowers by the bucketful). Property is cheap. People are friendly. But for a myriad of reasons, it isn’t a place I recommend expatriates settle.)

2. Get to the “promise” of your article early.

This is true no matter what sort of “special-interest” travel article you’re writing, but it’s particularly important with real estate-focused articles.

Make sure you’ve clearly defined the appeal of this place for your audience. What, fundamentally, does it have to recommend it?

In the International Living examples I listed above, that “promise” is stated directly in the headlines. Again:

** An over-supply in the housing market means bargains galore in increasingly international Melbourne

** Your dream home on the beach for 10 cents on the dollar — why the world is falling in love with Cape Town

In The New York Times piece about Nova Scotia, the writer gets to it quickly, in the second paragraph. It reads: “Mr. Johnson was quickly captivated by the miles of empty coastline, brimming with heron and eagles. The word condominium didn’t exist in the weathered hamlets, where fishermen discussed lobster catches instead of celebrities. What’s more, the prices were a fraction of what the couple had seen in Massachusetts, in part because of the favorable exchange rate.”

In the Conde Nast Traveler article about Nicaragua, the second paragraph begins: “It’s amazing what one can buy in the new Nicaragua, Snider tells me. Anything is possible, he says, so long as you can pay cash.”

3. Paint a picture of this place you’re writing about.

Again, this is something all good travel writers do, no matter what special focus their articles might take.

I’ve talked about it in past e-letter articles so I won’t belabor the point here. But I mention it again because it’s particularly important in this context.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Certainly you’d want to know what a place looks and feels like if you were considering a short vacation there.

Think how much more critical that information becomes if you’re considering the destination as a place to live or to invest your money.

4. Use quotes — talk to residents and real estate agents.

You might or might not include quotes in a straightforward travel piece. It would depend on how you approached your article. But with a real estate story, I encourage you to include them.

You need to make it clear that you aren’t making unfounded assertions about a destination. You need to back up your claims with some proof. And one of the best ways to do that is to quote people on the ground.

Talk with locals who already live or own there. Ask them why they chose this place. Ask them to describe it for you. Ask them what, in particular, they like about it — and what frustrates them.

And talk, too, with real estate agents. Ask them how the place has changed in recent months or years. Ask them to describe for you the property market.

Ask them to tell you where they think potential residents or investors will find the best deals. Ask them what makes this place different… and special.

The quotes you gather will not only lend credibility to the case you’re making, they’ll also bring to your story the kind of “local color” editors love.

5. Employ specific examples.

You absolutely cannot write a strong real estate article if you don’t have concrete examples to back up the argument you’re making.

You have to actually get inside some properties to see what your money buys you.

If you’ve “promised” your readers up front that they can own a beachfront retreat for less than $50,000… well, then, you better deliver some examples of just that.

6. Make smart use of comparisons.

The best real estate writers bring to their articles perspective and judgment.

They’ve traveled extensively enough and written about real estate enough to know when they see a really good deal.

But even if you don’t have a long list of real estate clips to your credit, that doesn’t mean you can’t help your reader put into context the “promise” your article makes him.

Compare the property prices you’re finding in the destination you’re writing about to those in the States. Or, if you’re writing about a stateside locale, then compare it to another, better-known one.

If you’d like to draw for you reader some comparison to other, perhaps similar destinations — but you haven’t visited those other places — ask somebody who has.

Check listings online. Email a real estate agent in that other place. Ask a real estate agent in the country you’re focusing on how the prices compare. Chances are, he’ll know.

In that Nova Scotia piece, for example, the writer recounts his conversation with a local real estate agent: “He said that many buyers were leapfrogging Massachusetts or Maine to get oceanfront property for one-fifth the price.

7. Do some real estate homework before you go and gather research on the ground, too.

You’ll have the best luck gathering the real estate information you need if you start your research ahead of time. Begin by finding at least one real estate agent online and getting in touch before your trip.

Explain that you’re a freelance writer, you’re doing a real estate-focused article, and you’re hoping he might meet with you when you’re in town and perhaps take you to see a few examples of properties on offer.

During your trip, pick up as many sample listings as you can. Don’t walk by a real estate office without sticking your head inside, introducing yourself, and grabbing a listing sheet.

And check the classified listings in the local papers, too. Particularly in places where there’s a growing expatriate population, you may find price-inflation.

There ends up being a two-tier pricing system — a lower price for locals than for foreigners, who are perceived to have deep pockets.

So to get a sense for the “local” market, check the ads. (If they’re in a language you don’t speak, grab a bar-tender or the desk clerk at your hotel and ask for help in translating.)

8. Take note of the practical (but often boring) stuff.

When you’re writing about real estate (particularly foreign real estate) you will have to gather some practical information you’d never bother about were you writing a more “traditional” travel piece.

For example, you’ll want to find out —

** Can foreigners own property? If so, how?

** Is buying a complicated process? Roughly speaking, how does it work?

** Is financing available? If so, on what terms?

** What sort of tax burden can new owners expect?

And, depending on the scope of your article and what the editors want, you may need to include some “lifestyle” details, too —

** What’s the cost of living?

** What are some examples of prices for items you’d typically buy like milk and bread?

** What does it cost to visit a doctor — and what’s the medical care like?