Part One: Decide What You Want To Say & Choose the Right Tone

About the Series: Real estate agents spend more time writing than ever before, with email dominating modes of communication with clients, banks, other agents and more. Beyond email, agents need writing skills to prepare compelling website text, client handouts and other marketing material. All of this makes writing key to real estate business development in any type of market. Based on the principles of a new book, Before Hitting Send: Power Writing Skills for Real Estate Agents, this series of three articles provides practical how-to writing tips with examples and exercises from scenarios agents face daily.

When a new buyer meets you at your office for an afternoon of viewing properties, do you hop in the car and drive haphazardly, hoping to run across a suitable home for sale? No. First you invest the time to think about your client’s needs and what you want to accomplish. You map out a schedule and plan the most efficient route. The same should be true with your writing: know in advance where you want to take your reader.

To effectively map out the “route” of your message, use the “Four Questions to Get You Started” listed below. The answers will help clarify what you want to say and how you want to say it. You should also decide on the tone you want to convey.

Question 1: Why Am I Writing This Email or Letter? What Is the Situation or Problem That Makes It Necessary to Write This Message?

This question immediately focuses you on the purpose of the communication. You cannot write effectively until you have a clear idea of what you want to say. You can then begin to structure and organize the message.

Keep in mind that there might be multiple agendas behind a message, some straightforward, some more subtle. For example, if you speak to a FSBO and that FSBO asks you to send him market comps for his area, your message will have two purposes. On its surface, the purpose of the message will be to convey the requested comps, but your ultimate goal will be to convince this person to list with you. Your awareness of this purpose is essential in allowing you to craft the best message possible.

Consequently, you may want to distill Question 1 even further to ask, “What is my immediate purpose in writing this message?” and “What is my ultimate goal in writing this message?”

Question 2: What Do I Need to Say? What Does My Reader Need to Know Right Now?

Answering this question practically drafts the message for you. Remember that you must provide the reader with everything she needs to know in order to achieve your objective in sending the message.

Question 3: Who Is Going to Read It?

Before starting to write, it is important to consider: a) your relationship to the reader; b) your reader’s real estate knowledge; c) what you know about the reader and his or her needs; and d) how you expect the reader to react to the message.

Are you writing to a long-time client who is a sophisticated real estate investor? Or are you writing to a first-time buyer you just met at an open house yesterday? Will the reader respond negatively to your message? Or is the message transmitting good or neutral news? The answers to these questions will impact what you write and how you write it.

Question 4: What Action Do I Want My Reader to Take? How Do I Want My Reader to Feel about My Message?

We write messages with a variety of intentions. Sometimes we write simply to convey information, or to respond to a specific request for information. Other times, we write to press the reader into action. These intentions must also impact what you write, and how you write it.

What Tone Do You Want to Convey?

When writing a message, you do more than simply convey information. You also provide a sense of how you feel about the reader, about yourself, and about the subject addressed in your message. Just as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice affect a verbal message, tone impacts a written message. Successful agents select language that conveys a tone appropriate for the intended recipient and that furthers the results desired with a particular message.

Sometimes agents know their tone sounds inflammatory, but they’re unable to think of a more gentle way to phrase what they want to say. Here are some examples of words that can inflame, with a softer approach as an alternative:

Not important, unimportant Minor
Seller will take no action. Seller must decline to act.
The CC&Rs are outrageous. The CC&Rs concern me.
The open house was a waste of time. The Open House produced disappointing results.
Unacceptable Unsuitable
You never returned my call. I haven’t been able to reach you.
Your idea didn’t work. I had some difficulties implementing your idea.
Your marketing plan won’t work. Your marketing plan has drawbacks.
Your price range is unworkable. Your price range poses some challenges.
Your voicemail message confused me. I wasn’t sure how to interpret your voicemail message.

It’s easy to maintain a positive tone when conveying an inherently positive message. But what about when you have to convey a negative point? One way to control tone in these instances is by selecting positive words instead of negative words. Readers prefer to see what can happen as opposed to what can’t happen. They prefer to see what is true as opposed to what isn’t true. They prefer to see what can be done as opposed to what’s wrong. Consider the following:

EXAMPLE 1 (Before): 
Please note that I will not return any calls until after 3:00pm today.

EXAMPLE 1 (After): 
Please note that I will return all calls after 3:00pm today.

As Example 1 illustrates, even a negative message (that you’ll be unreachable for a period of time) can be transformed into a positive message (you’ll be in touch after 3:00 p.m. today).

EXAMPLE 2 (Before):
We can’t proceed until your client’s deposit check clears.

EXAMPLE 2 (After):
As soon as your client’s deposit check clears, we can proceed.

In the revision to Example 2, the writer tells her reader what can happen instead of what can’t happen.

EXAMPLE 3 (Before):
The letter of intent is riddled with errors.

EXAMPLE 3 (After):
The letter of intent still requires some revision.

In the revision to Example 3, the writer tells his reader what needs to be done, as opposed to what’s wrong.

Formal Tone V. Informal Tone
It’s important to choose a level of formality in your writing that is appropriate for the content of your message and for your reader, but many agents have trouble striking the proper balance between professionalism and sounding stodgy or stiff. The good news is that there are tools you can implement to control how formal or informal a message reads. One of the most effective tools is the careful use of personalized language.

Personalized language can dramatically change the tone of your communication, making it less formal and more warm and personable. Try incorporating these words into your writing to achieve this: I, me, my, mine, we, us, ours, you, your, yours, he, she, they, him, her, them, it, his, hers, its, their, theirs.

EXAMPLE 4 (Before):
Please forward any questions to Assistant Transaction Coordinator Tabitha Nelson at

EXAMPLE 4 (After):
If you have any questions, please contact my assistant at

Did you notice how cold and formal Example 4 sounds? The revision warms up the sentence with the use of personalized language.

EXAMPLE 5 (Before):
The team understands the importance of consistency and follow-through and as such, Donna Markham Realty, Inc. deeply regrets the miscommunication that resulted in no one staffing the model units of the Allview Condominiums project last weekend.

EXAMPLE 5 (After):
Our team understands the importance of consistency and follow-through and as such, we deeply regret the miscommunication that resulted in no one staffing the model units of your condominium project last weekend.

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About the Author

Michelle Lind

K. Michelle Lind, CEO of Arizona REALTORS®, is also an attorney, State Bar of Arizona board certified real estate specialist, and the author of Arizona Real Estate: A Professional’s Guide to Law and Practice. Please note that this article is of a general nature and may not be up-to-date or revised for accuracy as statutory or case law changes following the date of first publication. Further, this article reflects only the opinion of the author, is not intended as definitive legal advice and you should not act upon it without seeking independent legal counsel.