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How to translate the language of real estate
Scripps Howard News Service

May 14, 2005

As summer approaches, many Americans look to the real estate market, planning to move to new houses while the kids are out of school.

To these folks, we offer our condolences. Buying a house is an ordeal of decision-making and nail-biting and check-writing and endless paperwork. Some homebuyers simply snap and wind up crazed on street corners, signing any passing document and handing out checks to anyone who looks like a home inspector.

Throughout the process, buyers have the sneaking suspicion that they're somehow getting scammed. Everybody's putting the best face on the transaction, but is an earthquake fault line going unmentioned? Sure, that's a low interest rate, but does a leg-breaker named Vinnie show up at your door if your payment is late?

This lack of trust begins with marketing. Real estate has its own advertising language, designed to talk up the best aspects of a property while playing down the drawbacks. Homebuyers sometimes are surprised when the truth is revealed: The "in-ground pool" turns out to be a "flooded basement."

Here, to help you suckers, er, homebuyers sort through the bushwa, is a Guide to Real Estate Language:

What They Say - What They Mean

"Cozy" - Cramped

"Compact" - Crackerbox

"Cute" - Closet

"Airy" - Drafty

"Spacious" - High heating bills

"Charming" - Old

"Grandma's Cottage" - Really old

"Historic" - Ancient

"Fixer-upper" - Dump

"Needs TLC" - Falling down

"Newly remodeled" - Propped up

"Pristine" - Paint's still wet

"Immaculate" - Recently vacuumed

"Clean" - Ugly

"Private" - Lonesome

"Very private" - Quarantined

"Great investment" - You wouldn't want to live there yourself

"Low-maintenance landscaping" - Gravel

"Expansive yard" - Endless mowing

"Park-like setting" - Trees need trimming

"Level lot" - Landfill

"View lot" - Windswept

"Corner lot" - Cars driving across lawn

"Riverfront" - Flood zone

"Quiet street" - Cemetery next door

"Elegant" - Expensive

"Exquisite" - Expensive

"Luxury" - Expensive

"Showplace" - Big and expensive

"Great buy" - You can't afford it

"Affordable" - Just kidding

"One of a kind" - Hoo-boy, you can say that again

"Owners motivated!" - Getting divorced

"Owner anxious to sell!" - Filing bankruptcy

"Owner very anxious!" - Foreclosure pending

"Vacation home" - Inaccessible nine months of the year

"Country living" - Hillbilly neighbors

"Local wildlife" - Termites

"Perfect for entertaining" - Frat house

"Gourmet kitchen" - Stove works

"Sale pending" - Not sure buyer can get loan

"Vacant" - Abandoned

"Comfortable" -Seedy

"Near shopping" - Near traffic

"Convenient" - Near bus station

"Interesting neighborhood" - Near methadone clinic

"As seen on TV" - On "Tales of the Crypt"

"Dream home" - Nightmare


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Boost."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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