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What are Some Real Estate Terms I Should Watch out for?

By Lindsay D.
Updated Jun 02, 2015
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It's the end of the semester, the change of the seasons, and the start of the summer real estate frenzy. That means that many of us will be spending a good amount of time reading real estate classified ads. Whether you prefer using the internet or your local free press, beware the real estate euphemisms. Real estate euphemisms are the words that agents, sellers, and leasers use to make their property sound more appealing than it actually is. Read on to educate yourself about the way that these terms actually translate to the real world.

  • antique, original, old fashioned: Any listing with these words should be understood to be too new to be a historical monument, but too old to ever be completely clean. Benefits often include high ceilings, crown moldings, and beautiful tile work. Disadvantages include sewer backups, drafty windows, and having to actually replace the fuse, rather than just flip the breaker. The old ice box makes a great pantry, by the way.

  • charming: In a word, this translates to inconvenient. This is the coverall word for the toilet-in-the-kitchen, walk-through-someone-else's-back-yard, crawlspace-under-the-stairs kind of place.

  • cottage, starter home: The entry-level property for prospective homeowners. Often used in conjunction with "charming," "fixer upper," and "quaint."

  • modest, cozy, intimate, compact, quaint, manageable, cute: Hobbit-sized.

  • fixer-upper, handyman's special, handyman's delight, ideal project, DIY, deferred maintenance, great potential, investment opportunity, needs some love/attention/work/TLC: Hopefully it has at least four walls, a roof and a floor, but it's better not to assume.

  • custom, unique, interesting: Sometimes, these words indicate design and convenience that surpasses anything you've imagined for yourself. Other times, they are used for something that is more appropriately described as bizarre.

  • desirable location, great view, excellent school district: Unless you have 50% of the value of the home in your checking account, don't bother following up on properties that use these phrases in their listings.

  • convenient to, close to, accessible: This translates as "can see from your front porch." Clearly, not so bad if it's a park or the ocean, but less desirable if it's a bus stop, train tracks, or the community hospital.

  • efficiency kitchen: Chop, mix, microwave, bake, cook, wash, and store without ever having to move your feet!

  • private, secluded, quiet: Commute time is only 20 minutes if you leave before 5am. Any time between 5:00am and 11:00am, plan for two hours to downtown.

  • artist community, bohemian, funky: No extra charge for the mural in the living room, but please overlook the fact that the building is not up to code.

  • development: They could be houses, apartments, or condos, but this term is usually used when said property looks so similar to those around it that you need a GPS receiver and experience with celestial navigation to find your way back out.

  • redevelopment, revitalization, urban renewal, up and coming: The construction next door doesn't start until 7am, and you'll only have to step over the transients sleeping out front for a few more years.

  • freeway close: Once you get used to it, the sound of semis whizzing past will put you right to sleep!

  • condo conversion: An apartment that has lost one closet to an upright washer/dryer combo.

  • pied-a-terre: Literally, "foot on the ground." Loosely translates to: "if you can afford this place, there's no way that all of your stuff will fit here."

  • rural: Smells like cows.

  • tucked away, getaway, hideaway: You should be good with a fishing pole or a rifle, since the nearest grocery store is roughly a 3 hour drive.

  • rustic: These places won't ever need paint--the bark protects the logs just fine from bugs and decay.

  • loft, mixed use: No walls. Great for artists and relationships where modesty is not an issue.

  • brand new, never lived in, state of the art: This is pretty straightforward, but keep in mind that some things will not work as expected with new construction; Sometimes something a little older has the benefit of being battle-tested and having survived an earthquake or two.

  • exterior fence, secure, urban, security gate: Don't bother getting to know your neighbors.

  • community facilities, shared laundry: Don't lose track of time or you'll return to find your wet clothes on the dryer and the dryer in use.

  • partially obstructed view: Provides a great view of the neighbor's trees framed by the city/valley/coastline.

  • 1/2 bath: A closet with a toilet hookup.

  • breakfast bar: It used to be a wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the place, but someone cut out the top half of the wall and replaced it with a tabletop.

  • lightly worn, gently worn, updated, contemporary: The landlord/previous owner is too cheap to replace these things, even though it's time for an upgrade. Of course, you don't really want them to, as it will raise your price 3 times the cost of the upgrades.

  • spacious: Ideal if you already own a Roomba, or if vacuuming is a hobby you've been meaning to try.

  • screened porch: These are great, since you'll have fewer mosquitoes than without the screens. As an added bonus, the screens blur the view of the cars parked on your neighbor's front lawn.
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Discussion Comments
By anon173317 — On May 06, 2011

I agree with 32485. Why do all these adjectives have to be negative? It's not like the buyer is buying the property unseen. They can judge for themselves without you putting in your two cents.

By anon173300 — On May 06, 2011

I can totally understand the frustration of the sellers' market in this economy. I, as a matter of a fact, am one myself and know I will never recover my losses.

At the same time, I believe that buyers need to know these things. I bought what was supposed to be my family's dream home.

We went through all the proper channels (hiring an RE Agent, Title co, Inspector) and bought the home and found out it had been condemned for over two years. I got told by everyone "buyer beware".

So articles like these, I wish i would have seen before the purchase and maybe saved my family total devastation. So please I say, know what you're getting into. Being a homeowner can be very rewarding.

By anon173189 — On May 06, 2011

So what is an "interior fence" anyway? Some of this article is to point, but the rest has been stretched to make fun reading.

By anon110819 — On Sep 13, 2010

These are hilarious. I just saw a listing in my neighborhood for a house that I run by every day that is a huge pile of garbage. The listing said, "charming", "turn of the century" and "bungalow". Going for $1.6 million. Classic Northern California for ya.

By anon68965 — On Mar 05, 2010

anon32485, I would say that the artificially inflated home prices/values and the lack of accountability by mortgage companies with their predatory loan practices killed our economy, not "the over use of negativity". Methinks you are a disgruntled and probably out of work realtor. Hope it was fun for you while it lasted!

By anon50805 — On Nov 01, 2009

"Mature." My house came with two "Mature" trees and within six months one of them fell over onto my house. It had rotted from the inside out and the other had the same disease and I had to pay 500 bucks to get it removed.

By anon32521 — On May 22, 2009

Wisegeek do have a printable version hyperlink? You should, articles like this need to be passed around :-)

By Diwiyana — On May 22, 2009

I very much enjoyed this "devil's dictionary" being in the midst of trying to buy another home myself. I do find myself a bit mystified on occasion by the language used in some of these ads. Why should I buy a "doll house" to live in? I'm a human! What the heck is a "bungalow"? How does it differ from a "ranch" which is evidently in the downtown area of an eensy weensy town where there are regulations against running any horses or cattle and the "huge back yard" doesn't look big enough for half of a basketball court anyhow! I laughed out loud through this whole thing. Way to go!

By Amy28 — On May 22, 2009

This article cracked me up! It is funny the twisty terms used on occasion to add a little spark to a home with issues.

I say this article is funny because it's taken to the extreme, since this is *every* word used in the real estate world. Thanks for the little bit of humor, Wisegeek!

By anon32485 — On May 22, 2009

Don't you think the market is bad enough for those of us that are trying to sell our homes, without you writing such articles? Over half of these "definitions" are way off base and have been used to describe homes I have both bought and sold that were over $1 Million, very top of the line, in great areas, etc.... It's the over use of negativity that fuels the fire and is killing our economy. Way to go with the positivity post!!

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