How to Write a Compelling and Inclusive ListingBy Emma McAleavy
October 1, 2020
Note from Stephanie:
We often get questions about how to write a great listing, so we’re excited to share some ideas and wisdom with you. Whether you are brand new to Listings Project or you are a seasoned long-time lister, we hope that this advice will help you find the right person to share your space with
Writing a standout headline
A strong headline grabs your attention and gives you enough information to know if a space might be right for you. Our Community Manager, Mahayla Laurence, recommends “picking one thing that is really lovely about the space.” It could be that your apartment is sun-drenched, or spacious or perhaps you have an amazing DVD collection that should be trumpeted in your headline. Your furry friend, if you have one, might deserve a place in your headline, too.
It helps to include the basics in your headline, like neighborhood and number of bedrooms. One of Mahayla’s favorite recent headlines was, “Cozy Furnished Bedroom in Heart of Crown Heights 2BR (Utilities Included, Flexible on Rate).” It gives you a real sense of what you’ll find in the listing.
But don’t be afraid to be creative, quirky and candid with your headlines, too. This can be a great place to share your personality and the personality of your space. Community manager Jordan Delzell’s favorite listing of all time had a headline that read, “Windowless Room in Wonderful Communal Home :).”
The trick is finding a happy medium; you want to make it detailed enough that it really conveys what it is you're offering, but you don’t want to get so long and wordy that you lose your potential tenant before they’ve even read your listing.
Describing your space
The more details you include in your description, the easier it will be to find your ideal tenant, roommate or studio mate. We often ask listers to bulk up their listings if they are too short.
Some basic questions you’ll want to make sure you answer in your description include: what is the layout of the space? Are there any amenities or special features? Is it furnished? Are their hardwood floors, a backyard, skylights? What is the neighborhood like? Are there grocery stores or cafes nearby? Is it near transportation? Are utilities included in the rent? Are pets allowed?
If your space is ADA compliant or accessible to someone with a physical disability, be sure to mention that in your description. Also, keep in mind that we ask listers to refrain from using the word “safe” in their listings as it has a history of being used in a coded and discriminatory way in the real estate industry.
You can also go beyond the physical features of the space and its surroundings. Jordan shared, “I just love listings that describe the community of the building and the relationships between people.” For example, if the landlords live upstairs and are helpful and warm, you can mention that. If there is a strong community among the people who live in your building, that would be worth mentioning too.
One of our favorite recent listings reads, "The building itself has a real communal vibe with friendly neighbors who are always willing to share kitchen gadgets, gardening tips, and conversation while passing in the hallway."
If you don’t know the other people in your building, you can always share about your favorite neighborhood parks or coffee shops, too.
Finally, it helps to convey something of your personal experience with your space. “In my experience living in New York, none of my spaces have been ideal, but I’ve always found something special about them,” Community Manager Jordan Delzell said, “you can own the quirks of your space, and why you like them and find them special.”
The “about you” section is an opportunity to give listers a sense of your personality, passions, causes, obsessions and idiosyncrasies. You can share how you like to use the space and how you spend your time outside of the space. You can do this even if you are a landlord or someone who is turning over a beloved apartment to new tenants.
“It’s so special to see a listing posted by landlords where they describe themselves and their hobbies and their personal history,” Jordan said. “That’s not something that is commonly shared by landlords on other real estate sites.”
Whatever your relationship to the space is, make sure that it is clear to listers. Are you a tenant looking for roommates? A landlord? Keep in mind that we don’t allow third parties to facilitate real estate transactions on our site, so you should have a direct relationship with the space if you are posting a listing with us.
“The best listings are the ones that really focus on why you are a great person to live with or communicate with,” Jordan said. That windowless room listing that Jordan liked so much did this particularly well. The listing was posted by a group of nine (!) people living together in Greenpoint. “We are here to reimagine what’s possible, and to try things,” the listers wrote. “How can we subvert and unlearn oppressive power dynamics to create a liberated world through the vehicles of our relationships? We believe connection is key to liberation and we want to do it with you.”
These listers clearly put a great deal of thought into the kind of community they were building and what they were looking for in a roommate.
“We are excited to spend time together cooking and eating communal meals, having goofy improv music jams, starting a backyard garden, dance parties in the living room, holding space for each other’s hearts, meditating, etc etc,” the group of nine listers shared.
If you are looking for a roommate or a studio mate, we encourage you to put some thought into who you’d like to share space with, too. If you have strong preferences about tidiness, routine, having guests over, or how shared space is used, it’s always helpful to state those.
Just be sure that when you describe your ideal roommate or studio mate, you do so in an inclusive way. In general we do not allow listings that state a strong preference for a specific identity. We do make exceptions if you are part of a marginalized group and your preference is for individuals who share the same identity for the purpose of safety and/or support. Regardless of your personal identity, this can be a place to state that your listing is safe and welcoming for LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals.
Some of our listers use this space to mention their preferred gender pronouns as well. “Anytime someone shares their pronouns it automatically opens up a space of ‘Okay, you are someone who is aware of their body in space, and what gender identity could potentially mean,’” Mahayala said. “It’s really nice to know that there is space and attention given to that.”
The rental requirements section is where you can drill down into the details of what you’d need from someone who wants to rent your space. What kind of documentation do you require? Are you asking for references? Are their fees associated with moving in? Keep in mind that we don’t allow listings with brokers fees on our site. And remember that, in accordance with the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, in New York City landlords can only ask for one months rent as a deposit.
Although we allow background checks, we ask listers to reconsider using them. Vetting tenants based on their arrest and conviction records may lead to discrimination and the perpetuation of systemic racism and bias. If a background check is required, we ask that you apply the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s background check guidelines.
You can also use this space to let listers know when you are available to show the space, and what your timeline is for finding a new tenant.
Taking pictures of your space
The importance of pictures of your space cannot be overstated. No matter how strong your descriptions are, if your pictures are blurry, confusing or taken in poor lighting, it will be hard for listers to imagine themselves in your space.
Jordan advises listers to include as many pictures as possible with a wide variety of angles and perspectives for each room. You should photograph your space during the day in natural light. And don’t worry, you should be just fine taking pictures with your phone. Your pictures don’t have to be professional quality as long as they are clear and well-lit.
You should also make sure that your pictures are current. It’s best not to use pictures of an empty space if the space is furnished. But, don’t worry too much about deep cleaning your space before you photograph it. Stephanie says she particularly loves photos that show the real use of the space. “I love seeing your pets or the amazing way you stack all your canned goods in your tiny kitchen, or your reflection in the mirror,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see the humanness in these images and listings. It is what makes Listings Project special.”
However you choose to showcase your space through images, don’t be afraid to share your personality and idiosyncrasies. Also don’t forget to let us know if you are comfortable with us sharing your pictures on our Instagram account, too. We love to showcase some of our favorite listings in this way.
Emma McAleavy, Listings Project's Content Editor, works to bring the stories of our community to life. Emma’s writing has also appeared in The New York Times, Outside Magazine, and Architectural Digest. You can follow her on twitter @emmamcaleavy.
Emma McAleavy | January 28, 2021