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A New Dictionary of Realtor-Speak

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How to decode real-estate listings.

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If a real-estate listing describes a house as "lovingly maintained," it means:

a) Kindly overlook the worn shag carpeting
b) The appliances are 30 years out of date
c) Most of the walls are painted dusty rose

The answer is: any or all of the above, but the roof is sound and everything works.

Real estate agents are masters of the fine art of euphemism. And, given the enormous backlog of listings of homes available throughout the US, learning their language can save you a lot of time and car mileage.

Moreover, the language of real estate is changing to accommodate new market realities. Okay, even that sentence is a euphemism. Translation: They're ready and eager to make a deal.

Some euphemisms, like that "lovingly maintained," may actually point you toward the perfect buy. Many potential buyers suffer immediate mental paralysis at the sight of shag carpeting. If you can visualize bamboo flooring in its place, you might save more than enough on the house price than it costs to install it.

Other euphemisms, however, mean something much, much worse. Here are a few to consider:

Words That Mean "Dinky"

Big-city realtors, especially those who work in New York, have more synonyms for "dinky" than Eskimos have for snow.

They include: "Charming." "Cozy." "Great starter home." "Perfect pied-a-terre." "Bedroom large enough for a queen-size bed!"

When any of these words or phrases is used to describe a suburban home, it means it's cramped for space. When used in a big-city listing, it means you can stand in the center of the apartment and touch all four walls.

Sometimes, odd phrases are used to suggest the existence of space that isn't, in fact, there. "Potential for second bedroom" means there's a dining alcove or a windowless corner that might be screened off in a pinch.

The words "home office" and "bonus room" nearly always describe a windowless space too small or too oddly placed to be screened off into a makeshift bedroom.

Other tip-offs: If no information is provided on square footage, or a clear picture of each major room is not provided, it's dinky.

If the size of the space is a critical factor in your search, you can cross off all of the above.

Things That Must Not Be Named

Even more disturbing than a euphemism is an unmentionable.

A real-estate ad is full of seeming blather that actually is useful information. Or, at least, it's useful if it's absent.

"Sought-after neighborhood." "Quiet, tree-lined residential street." "Family friendly."

None of those phrases seem very revealing, but their absence might mean "sandwiched between two gas stations," "view of major highway," or worse.

In this case, your best friend is the Street View function in Google (GOOG) Maps.
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