Real estate has a language all of its own, and there are unique expressions and phrases used quite often, especially when looking at property listings. Here’s Cara Ameer’s “Rosetta Stone” guide to reading between the lines on several commonly used listing phrases and why you should nix these cliches.

This article was last updated Oct. 3, 2022.

Real estate has a language all of its own, and there are unique expressions and phrases used quite often, especially when looking at property listings.

It can be challenging to decipher what the listing agent really means when describing a property or a seller’s situation.

Although the real estate agent uses this language day in and day out, they often forget when writing these descriptors that the homebuying and selling public has only a vague idea what the industry is talking about.

Words, depending on how used and in what context are open to interpretation. So what are agents really trying to say when marketing their listings?

Here’s my “Rosetta Stone” guide to reading between the lines on several commonly used listing phrases and why you should nix these cliches:

1. All about the view: The house, not so much. The focus is more on the exterior versus the interior elements. The inside of the house is going to underwhelm and might even deter a buyer. It could be dated or have a very awkward layout that is difficult to overcome.

2. All original details: This could mean anything from features like vintage hardwood floors, glass doorknobs and wood moldings or a very dated interior with yellow metal cabinets or avocado appliances — you get the idea.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the condition of these elements is salvageable or useable.

3. Cozy/charming/quaint: Think small — very small — dollhouse-like with lots of stuff. The bedroom feels like a closet.

And the closet? Well, it would scarcely fit anyone’s shoes by today’s standards. There’s barely room to move in the kitchen, and three people in the living room makes it a party.

4. Hidden gem/hidden potential: A diamond in the rough that is considered an opportunity for the right buyer. Make lemons out of lemonade. It could be dated, old, awkward or have other challenges that require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

The property is usually situated in a highly desirable location that makes it worth the effort for the right buyer candidate.

5. Investor special: Really, really, really rough condition. Cash or a rehab loan is likely the only way to purchase.

6. Lives large: May appear small in size on paper, square-footage wise, but once you physically walk through the property, it feels much more spacious.

7. Location, location, location: One of the most overused phrases in real estate. It usually means a highly desirable area; however, the context of where the property is within that area is another story.

Just minutes or around the corner from shops, restaurants and cafes could mean they are in the property’s backyard or literally across the street.

Easy access to public transportation or highways could mean the sound of locomotives dancing in one’s head each night or the roar of the rush hour as a soundtrack, not a sound byte, to the home’s everyday living vibe.

8. Lovingly maintained: Often referring to a long-time owner who could be older. The home is very neat and clean, but might not be the most updated; think carpet and tile and white or bisque appliances versus stainless steel with kitchen updated circa 1990.

It is apparent that the house holds memories as it is dotted with family photos through the years.

9. Low maintenance/turnkey: Usually means the property has a small yard, as in “barely a patch of grass.”

10. Model perfect/move-in ready: Exactly what it says: turnkey, neutral, updated and stylish, this property has it all — upgraded appliances, beautiful ceiling fans and light fixtures in every room, designer window treatments and is nicely furnished.

No work needed. Of course, if it is really wow-worthy, the buyers might decide that their existing furniture would not do the house justice, and they might want the seller’s furniture and accessories included.

The hitch with model perfect or move-in ready is that that the seller is going to command and expect top dollar.

11. Mr. or Mrs. Clean lives here: The expression cleanliness is next to godliness is a shining example in this home. Someone can eat off the floor, and there is not a speck of dust anywhere.

Nothing looks used or lived in. There is no clutter in the cabinets or closets — the clothes all hang perfectly straight in lockstep organization. The garage is cleaner than most houses are on the inside.

The home could be dated, but the buyer doesn’t notice because of the pristine condition, hence the million-dollar question buyer and agent are often left to ponder –“Does someone actually live here?”

12. Motivated seller/bring offers/offers wanted: This can signal a seller’s flexibility in price and/or timing. It might mean the seller hasn’t received any offers, or it could mean they are ready to unload the property.

They also could be telling their agent they don’t necessarily want to reduce the price but want to encourage offers.

In the world of real estate, this phrase is overused and overplayed, and if the language lingers too long, it can lose its muster.

It is typically more effective if added for a short period of time. Agents need to be careful with using the word “motivated” to describe a seller’s status, as the level of motivation means different things to different people.

Which is why a buyer often asks upon seeing this: “Exactly how motivated are they?”

Sellers run the risk of being called on the carpet if they are put to the test with a low offer and an unrealistic buyer. 

13. Pride of ownership: Everything is “just so.” The seller has maintained the home very well — the lawn is green, there are beautiful flowers and landscaping, and they painted the exterior with paint that lasts forever.

It is obvious they have spent a lot of time on upkeep and maintenance. The air conditioner, water heater and roof have all been replaced. Instead of 30-year architectural shingles, they opted to have 50-year architectural shingles.

Every mechanical component of the home has the higher-quality item inside, regardless if it was needed or not. They even have a whole house generator.

Everything shines on the inside as well as outside. The home might not be the most updated, chic and stylish property on the block, but deferred maintenance is rarely a concern, and the buyers can focus their budget on doing the fun stuff, like changing countertops, appliances and paint colors.

14. Priced to sell: This usually means not much room in negotiations; this sends a signal to agents and their buyers: Don’t come in with a low offer.

The seller’s view is they didn’t overprice the home, so have in essence already done a price reduction, thus saving the negotiating room on the front end.

In the real world, this is not so practical.

15. Room to roam: Not typically talking about a farm or ranch property, but rather a larger-than-normal lot in a neighborhood that has plenty of room to enjoy from playsets and treehouses to an outdoor living space and a garden.

16. Serious buyers only: Codespeak for “no Sunday shoppers or open house enthusiasts.” Agents, please do not include this property as part of an “area tour” for a buyer who is in town to get a feel for the area.

Sellers are likely getting weary from having their wheels spun with showing after showing with no offers, and to put it politely, they have let their agent know they are growing tired of the process.

17. Sold as is: This is a short way of saying that the seller does not want to do any repairs, so please don’t ask, and don’t use the inspection to renegotiate on the price, either.

The reasons for not wanting to deal with repairs varies; they could be handling the sale of a relative’s home, they don’t want to get into all the back-and-forth and drama of repair negotiations and just keep it simple.

They have likely priced the home to reflect the fact that repairs will be needed, so prepare accordingly.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the seller is hiding something, and the nature of repairs could be anything from lots of little “fix-its” to major items.

Buyers, bring the home inspector along before pulling the trigger.

18. Tenant occupied/24-hour notice to show/excuse the mess: The house is going to be tough to show, and it is likely not going to show well. There probably will not be a lockbox, and they might let you in as you tiptoe through piles of clutter and moving boxes.

Doors to bedrooms will be shut, making things feel that much more unwelcoming. Forget trying to see the garage –if there is one, you won’t be able to get in it.

19. TLC or handyman special: Yes, this property really needs work, and a lot of it! Not for the faint of heart. Hire a demolition crew, bring in the dumpster and get a contractor.

Unless you have the Property Brothers or Chip and Joanna Gaines by your side, you could be in over your head.

Although the number of phrases and descriptors that can have hidden meanings are endless; consider this your “lost in translation” guide to the major ones when looking at properties.

20. Great neighborhood, neighbors, schools: Anything people-related and not housing-related can land you in hot water with fair housing.

There are many dated phrases in listing descriptions (such as “Master Bedroom”) that are now offensive or frowned upon. Switch to “Primary Suite or Bedroom.” Make sure to have experienced agents or your broker help proof your descriptions to avoid potential pitfalls.

21. Good bones: Often, agents will use this term to gloss over the fact that the property is in need of serious repairs. This can be a turn-off and even misleading.

As-is” can always help clarify if the seller is unable to research, unwilling, or just doesn’t know about how serious the home’s damage is and that the buyers will be responsible for figuring out if they can handle the project.

22. Vacation-living: This popular term is overused in 55+ and gated communities. “Resort-Style” is also a common alternative.

Provide resources, ask the community to provide true measurements for you to have on hand to provide clients. They will be impressed with your transparency, and you will be able to focus on what is most important in their homebuying experience.

Armed with this cheat sheet, you will be able to help decipher what you might be in for before you see it.

Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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