Realtors: Masters of local culture and the odd moose

It's the most expensive thing you'll ever buy. And the ad you read that fires your interest was written by an amateur copywriter, who has actually never made a dime writing copy per se, but makes a cozy living selling real estate.

It’s the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy. And the ad you read that fires your interest was written by an amateur copywriter, who has actually never made a dime writing copy per se, but makes a cozy living selling real estate.

Yes, home-selling real estate copy is The Great Copy Writing Contest of The Masses, for The Masses. The product is perfectly obvious, being right there for anyone to see, and pretty well universally understood.

You can write a book about a house. But the way the agent composes 25 to 100 words to make the eventual buyer make that first phone call tests not merely the writer’s knowledge of the product, but his or her grasp of the dreams and passions of the probable buyer, and of the distinctively local cultural conceits and imperatives that drive the desire to purchase a property in this neck of the woods.

The fact that these arguably nutball conceits and imperatives are far from universal is clear as a bell from where I sit as I write this, in the northern end of the state of Vermont, in the town of Montgomery.

Vermont is the largest of the New England states, the least populated, and the last settled. That said, the inn 200 yards down the road from the house friends kindly loaned us here was built in 1803. In the 199 years since then, the population of Montgomery has reached some 300 souls. Not exactly a land rush, if you calculate the average annual rate of settler uptake.

The locals who did settle here appear to be drawn from a disproportionate representation of unrepentant 1960s hippies. Sixty-year-old guys who look way older thanks to their luxuriant, white ZZ Top beards are thick on the ground, walking dogs down the dirt road that passes through the 1883 covered bridge just up from the house, or loading our kids onto the T-bar at Jay Peak.

At the biggest supermarket in 20 miles, this place is so purely American that they’ve never heard of tadziki, and yet so American you cannot buy any kind of yogurt except fat-free yogurt, just in case you wanted to make your own fat-rich tadziki. And even if you did, there were no garlic bulbs in sight, either.

This is the heartland of a kind of America that exists at the end of the road.

Ben & Jerry’s comes from here, ’cause Ben and Jerry wanted to be this far away from everywhere else. This is a place where it just might be reasonable, at least after a couple of joints, that the president of a big international company makes no more than seven times what the guy who sweeps up makes.

You get an even finer take on this mentality when you flip through the real estate listings. (Remember them? Yes, I have a point to make!)

You have never seen so many houses boasting a location at the end of a short dead end dirt road. And here you were thinking The Bridal Path!

And every house has a porch, where after a long, hard day, imagine relaxing on the porch!

Floors are of particular interest here in northern Vermont. Listings of no more than 20 words include lush descriptions of pine floors. Cherry floors. Birch floors. Hardwood floors. Softwood floors!

Essential to a home listing is its proximity to a ski area. Skiing in Vermont is like golf in other places. Real estate agents take large portions of expensive four-colour full-page ads to show shots of themselves wearing skiis. Head shots of numerous agents show faces burned bright red by sun and wind, except for a raccoon-mask of pure white skin ’round the eyes where the ski goggles go.

Views are big, too. House ads contain insert photos of the view, so you can see what you could be seeing. Also critical is the information that almost any home bigger than a shack has the potential to be turned into a bed and breakfast! Unless, of course, it is a bed and breakfast already.

One realtor, who I consider the Ogilvy of his calling, writes This home has all those Vermont elements that one looks for (and a new roof!). 24 acres of privacy, a hot tub overlooking the skinny dip pond, a biggg country kitchen, a sugarhouse, a couple of beavers, too many deer to count and the occasional erratically wandering moose.

Like everywhere in America, American flags fly from windows, on lawns, and from those little flagpoles on older cars. And one steely-eyed Century 21 agent headlines his listings with the epithet ‘LET’S ROLL!’ – Todd Beamer. Every so often, mere advertising transcends itself and becomes…branding!

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.