decoding real estate listings: a helpful glossary

If you’ve ever spent any time house-hunting, you’ve probably noticed that real estate listings have a certain lingo of their own. Often, this involves descriptions of properties that have been somewhat embellished to make even flaws quirky characteristics sound like selling points. Some of these euphemisms have become standardized, such as the “handyman’s special,” a term for a home that is falling apart in every imaginable way in minor need of repairs.

In order to help you read between the lines in an MLS listing, I offer to you this helpful example and glossary.

Example: a typical MLS listing

Charming and cozy 2 bedroom house. Enjoy summer breezes in this lovingly decorated perfect starter home, with sunny, low-maintenance yard. Modern kitchen, 1 and a half baths, partially finished basement. Homey, and ready to move in!
Location features:
• easy access to freeway
• excellent cell phone reception
• close to amenities
• friendly, mature neighborhood

Glossary of Terms:
charming: run-down
cozy: cramped
summer breezes: house is drafty, may have windows missing or holes in roof
lovingly decorated: all the carpets are magenta, and there is loud wallpaper in every room
perfect starter home: you’ll want to move out as soon as you can afford better
sunny: no trees or shade of any kind
low-maintenance yard: lawn is paved over
modern kitchen: kitchen done in the Modern style, circa 1960
1 and a half baths: the second bathroom has partially-installed fixtures, or there may be a toilet in the basement
partially finished basement: basement features water-stained shag carpet
homey: house has funky smells, possible from cat urine
Ready to move in!: home has been abandoned
easy access to freeway: next to an on-ramp
excellent cell phone reception: under a cell phone tower
close to amenities: across from a liquor and/or convenience store
friendly, mature neighborhood: may be near a strip club or adult bookstore

I hope that this information will be helpful to you in your house-hunting endeavors. If you have more terms to add to the glossary, I welcome your contributions!

This week’s Monday Mission, which I’ve chosen to accept in a roundabout way, was to write a post in the style of a real estate listing. For more listings, stop by Painted Maypole.

Thanks to maja for teaching me “low-maintenance yard” and “easy freeway access,” terms that she may have actually seen in use.

13 thoughts on “decoding real estate listings: a helpful glossary

  1. pleased to have introduced you to the joys of bay area real estate! unfortunately the house you are thinking of is off the market now :(

  2. That’s a pretty comprehensive list. Wow, why so bitter? A Realtor® is a friend you can trust, after all! They are there to help you select your Dream Home!

  3. yep, i bought this house i’m in just under 2 years ago (right before the market REALLY crapped out, natch), and there were plenty of euphemistic tidbits to be mocked later.

    how ’bout: “hip area” = college kids throwing keggers on wednesday night next door. “urban sophistication” = totally unfinished warehouse.

  4. Perfect timing for this. I’ve been spending entirely too much time on MLS lately…and I have to learn how to phrase all the “charming” points about our current home in real-estate-speak.

  5. Here in Hong Kong (where I recently have had to do some apartment hunting and moving — and where 400 square feet of space can be considered pretty good), “cosy” = TINY… i.e., possibly around 200-250 square feet. Bet your ‘cramped’ can’t beat that measurement! ;S

  6. maja-
    Ah, it’s no great surprise that the house was snatched up with all those great features!

    Great addition!

    Was that the one you wrote about?

    Glad you find it to be a useful reference.

    Mme. M-
    Quite so. How could I be bitter?

    Nothing says “home” more…

    Great additions! Either of those apply to your own lovely home?

    Aw, shucks.

    Oh, I hadn’t thought of this being helpful on the composition end. Let me know what terms you come up with!

    Wow, those sure are “cosy” sounding places…I think they deserve a whole new euphemism. How about “cute”?

  7. I was laughing so hard everyone in my cube farm heard me!
    also, how ’bout:
    “recently painted” = “we covered up the mold yesterday”
    “gourmet kitchen” = “assuming, of course, that you know how to cook”
    “lots of counter space” = “we included a new butcher block cutting board on wheels”
    “quaint” = “ugliest house on the block”
    “Mediterranean” = ‘outside hasn’t seen paint in 27 years”
    “exquisite townhouse” = “your basic condo”
    “almost new” = “pre-owned at least four times”
    “motivated seller” = “nine months in default”
    “Art Deco” = “nobody builds this crap anymore”
    “lot with full plans and permits” = “we discovered that it would be far cheaper just to buy a place”
    “Tuscan style” = “there are two sconces in the living room”
    “gated luxury estates” = “your neighbors are boring nouveau riche idiots”
    “Victorian” = “considerable termite damage”
    “master bedroom” = “in addition to this, there’s another, er, ‘room’ just big enough for a mattress”
    “for sale by owner” = “I’m hoping to dodge several serious disclosures”
    “working fireplace” = “fire marshal recently fined owner for not having a spark arrestor”
    “award-winning design” = “floor plan somewhat resembles something we saw in Better Homes and Gardens, but couldn’t afford”
    “zero down” = “agent hasn’t sold a house in three years and will do just about anything for a sale”
    “triplex” = “both my tenants are three months behind and as a consequence I can’t make the mortgage”
    “not a short sale” =”we at the bank got stuck with this pig, but you can just forget about getting a bargain – we know what it’s worth”
    “rent or lease option” = “we are so desperate for cash, we will consider any offer, even if for a few weeks’ stay”
    “quiet street” = “all of the other homes on this block are in foreclosure”

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