What Home Sale Listings Say, What They Mean

With real estate listings, every day is opposite day! The words are stretched so far from the truth that you could break it with a pebble. To help you navigate this real estate mire, the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents released a tongue-slightly-in-cheek report on Home Buying Euphemisms and Lingo, based on its members actual experiences. So here’s what you might read in the listing, and what they really mean:


A small office with or without a portable closet. All bedrooms should have a window to the outside but sometimes that important detail gets missed.

“Cozy, cute as a button, Larger than it looks!”

Matchbox size.

“Damp basement in the spring”

In one case there was three feet of water, literally rushing through the basement. The listing agent explained to us that this was an unusually wet spring and it would dry out quickly when the warm weather arrived.

“Desirable neighborhood”

Busy thoroughfare near a freeway entrance.

“Easy access to everywhere”

Backing up to an expressway.

“Finishing touches needed”

Bring your own lighting, hardware, paint, wood trim, and carpet.

“Fixer upper”

Homes that haven’t been lived in for 20 years. In a “fixer upper” with “great potential,” built in the 1700’s, the door fell off the hinges when we unlocked it, there was no staircase to the second floor. It was not a pretty sight!


Family Room Over the Garage, also referred to as a “bonus room.”

“Galley kitchen”

A hallway with cupboards and appliances that two people can’t fit in at the same time.

“Gorgeous colonial style home with great potential”

The “potential” referred to the fact that there was a large crack through the middle of the foundation, from the Loma Prieta earthquake.

“Grandma’s house!”

Hasn’t been updated since she moved in and the purple shag carpet smells like her.

“Less than a mile from the beach as the seagull flies”

This meant that to get to the beach by car or foot people need to get onto the highway and head North for more than two miles, and then take the causeway and cross the bridge that takes you to the beach.

“Light and bright”

Everything was white. White ceramic tile for flooring and bright white paint everywhere. It looked like a hospital.

“Light, airy basement”

You could actually see daylight through the cracks in the foundation.

“Lots of living space”

This was true only if you include living in the garage and on the patio or on the decks and in the utility room.

“Lots of possibilities”

A dump.

“Lovely wooded back yard”

A half acre of grass with four scrawny trees.

“Low maintenance front yard”

The front yard is paved over with concrete.

“Mature landscaping”

A 40 year-old cottonwood tree needs to be cut down before it falls on the house.

“Mechanic’s dream”

A dump, but with a big garage!

“Meticulously maintained and cared for”

Property never updated.

“Move-in ready”


“Neutral colors or relocation beige”

Everything is light brown, including the tile floors.

“Newer furnace and AC”

In one case they were 25 years old each (and also confirmed by a home inspector). When the listing agent was asked why she was stating they were newer she stated: “Because each one of them had received a new part within the last year.”

“Period home”

A 1700’s home in original condition with a summer kitchen in the basement.

“Quaint cottage”

A wood frame house from the 50’s and less that 600 sq. ft.

“Recently updated”

The seller bought a foreclosure and painted the interior.

“Relo addendums”

This means the seller is taking a job-related relocation and there is a relocation company involved on the seller’s side. Often relocation companies will want to negotiate verbally until terms are agreed on and they often will have non-standard provisions in their contracts.

“Renovated kitchen”

New knobs on the old cabinets.

“Required seller documentation”

Often means the seller is in a foreclosure, short sale, or relocation situation and there will be non-standard contract provisions.

“Retro decor”

Original avocado paisley vinyl floors.

“Seller motivated, bring all offers”

Often means the seller is motivated enough to add an extra sentence in the listing, but not motivated enough to lower the price to where it needs to be to interest home buyers.

“Short sale or “subject to short sale””

Often means big trouble. The term refers to a situation where the home is worth less than the outstanding loans on the property, and the only way for the seller to sell it is to get the lender to accept less than the full amount owed. (The lender comes up “short”)

There are some markets where the chance of success buying these is less than 20% and in most markets the timing is often quite drawn out. You need to make sure you have an experienced company representing you on one of these situations.

2008 Report on Home Buying Euphemisms and Lingo [NAEBA] (PDF)
(Photo: Great Beyond)

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