Hiding something nasty? Use legalese

So there I was, doing my dream-home daydreaming (with the help of Rightmove.co.uk) and I found myself a nice place: a shop (for coffee) with a studio space (for yoga and writing workshops) and living space upstairs. I downloaded the details.

Now, I know we’ve commented on estate agents’ unique copywriting style before, but how about this for a corker?

‘All offers, where made silent of VAT, will be deemed to be exclusive thereof.’

I think what it means is that if you don’t mention the VAT when you put in an offer, the agents will assume that you haven’t included it. So if you forget to ask about it, you could find yourself paying 20% on top of what you thought you’d agreed. In this case, £100,000. And I think it’s been made obscure deliberately.

Maybe it was to put us off reading the sentence that followed:

‘The ingoing tenant will be responsible for our client’s reasonable legal costs in connection with the transaction.’

I understand that one. It means, ‘You’re going to be paying the seller’s legal costs as well as your own.’

Is it just me, or does supposedly professional language like this make you cross?

Using weasel words to disguise what you mean is an evil way to fool people. Technically, they’re telling the truth, but by stripping all the clarity out of their writing they’re hiding its real meaning behind mock legalese.

Be upfront with the bad news

If you’ve got something to say that people probably don’t want to hear, say it at the beginning, say it clearly, and don’t shove it under the carpet hoping no one will notice. All they had to do was write:

‘The price does not include VAT. The buyer will pay the seller’s legal costs.’

That way, the buyer could decide at the start whether to go ahead, instead of finding out later that they were expected to find another £100K, then probably pulling out of the deal having wasted everyone’s time. Buying property is most people’s biggest ever single expense. Don’t we owe it to them to make everything we write as clear as possible?

So I’ll get back to Rightmove and dream about somewhere different, sold by an estate agent that gives me facts I can understand. Yes, I’m sure they’re out there; they just take some finding.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/markjarmyn/148059278