From curb appeal to attractive sales terms, real estate is all about looks. When you’re a seller’s agent, that means you want the property to look its best. And, when it doesn’t, you still want buyers to have the best possible perception of the house. If you’re the one who wants to buy, understand that realtors have a language all their own, some of it designed to make a house sound or seem better than it is. Whether you’re on the phone or looking at a listing in a circular or online, beware of typical realtor “code words.” You can skip more open houses and keep your expectations realistic when you’re able to decipher these 11 real estate phrases that don’t mean what you’d think:
1. “As is”
Don’t delude yourself. A listing only says “as is” when the place is uninhabitable without some serious work. A similar misleading term, charitably known as a euphemism, is the ever-popular “just needs TLC.” Such property doesn’t need anything tender or loving, but it probably could use a major overhaul at the buyer’s expense.
2. “Attention investors”
Uh oh. This phrase doesn’t mean investors should also join the bidding war on this property. Instead, it’s code for a property that in some way is difficult or unappealing to anyone who would not be purchasing it as an investment. These issues could involve anything from major renovations required to a current tenant who would be difficult to displace. In general, if you’re not an investor, this term shouts, “We don’t mean you.”
3. “Bonus room”
Who doesn’t love a bonus? But the term “bonus room” from a home buying guide or sellers agent’s mouth may just mean an unfinished space that could be turned into a room of sorts. You may have a spot just like it at your current place and be using it to store the old baby toys and maybe some brooms and mops.
This is the realtor equivalent of saying your family is “close” when you mean you have absolutely no privacy. “Charming” means tiny, cramped or even claustrophobic. When the “C” word makes an appearance, unless you’re literally shopping the tiny home market, carefully consider how living in a tiny space could impact the rest of your life. Although it doesn’t hurt to quickly learn the home’s square footage, just in case it’s actually a decent sized home.
5. “Close to nightlife”
Unless you are a college fraternity looking for a great place to settle, this term probably doesn’t translate well for you. Usually, it just means a noisy neighborhood that’s super active after hours. Or, it may mean a place literally above a bar.
6. “Custom home”
While a buyer is thinking “big contractors and skilled architects,” realtors use “custom home” as a code word for a place an amateur designed to personal specifications. You may still find high-quality construction and impressive features, but don’t assume that will be the case for a “custom home.”
7. “Desirable neighborhood”
Simple translation as per realtor code: The house is crap, but the neighborhood is wonderful. That’s only an issue if you object to paying asking price or more for a house that’s sketchy.
As you may remember from the SATs, “eclectic” means a mishmash of unrelated items. Don’t confuse it with “hip” or “fun.” Eclectic taste in music is cool, but homes for sale that earn that title tend to be odd and disorganized. Expect rooms each painted a different color, a variety of metals in the fixtures, one of a kind light switches in every room and other eccentricities that could be expensive to bring up to your standards.
This is an ambiguous term that a buyer tends to accept without further consideration. But what does it mean, really? Along with words like “high end” or “desirable,” “fantastic” means pretty much nothing — except that the realtor doesn’t want to give you specifics.
10. “Natural landscaping”
This one can be a heartbreaker. Lots of buyers are seeking genuine natural landscapes, with native plants and perhaps an unmowed patch to allow wildlife to enjoy the premises. But when a realtor uses this phrase in some areas, it merely means the lawn, if any, bears a strong resemblance to an overgrown lot or perhaps a jungle. That’s fine if you’re looking to spend the big bucks hiring a landscaper. If not, clarify this term before the first tour or open house visit.
11. “Open concept”
You’re thinking Frank Lloyd Wright or the Brady Bunch, but the open concept could be code for “your bed will become part of the living room.” Try not to take it personally. The realtor may have been using this term this way for so long it doesn’t seem dishonest in the least.
Sometimes you don’t need to solve the code
If the abundance of realtor code words makes the buying process seem exhausting, keep in mind that you will still get valuable info from a listing if you focus on other terms. In general, pay the most attention to specifics that match what you’re looking for, advises realtor Marion Franke, a real estate columnist for the Texas-based Courier of Montgomery County.
Focus on words like “granite countertop” or “in the AAA high school district” or “county water.” And any time a realtor overloads you with code words, whether they represent buyer or seller, you might want to pass them over in favor of someone more intent on connecting you with bona fide deals in plain language.