A real estate ad dictionary

I did one of these for Craigslist ads some time back and had a lot of fun. Real estate advertising has one of the highest concentrations of known bullshit outside politics or corporate annual reports.

First, I put together as many as I could think of, from my own experience and by viewing about twelve current ads in my area. At that point, running low on damns to give, I deployed my secret weapon: my friends. That makes this part yours, so all of you please take your bows: Nick, Shawn, Mike, Candice, Chris, Jenn, Ragnar, Sonia, Ryan, Jane, Thomas, Susan, Laura, Patti, Keith, Marilyn, Tracy W, Jeff, Deb, Dobbie, Marcy, John, Dennis, Echoe, Linda, Tracy B, Buddy, April, Liz, Paul, Cindy, David, Mrs. K, Sharon, Russell, GDJ, Junko.

Here is our guide to cutting through all the bullshit in real estate ads:

  • “Amazing:” feature exists
  • “A must see:” devoid of obvious external damage
  • “Antique bathroom:” 1920s plumbing, enjoy
  • “A stone’s throw away:” provided you are equipped with a trebuchet, onager, or other ancient artillery device
  • “Back on market!” problem property where the deal fell through for reasons that say a lot about the sellers and their listing agent
  • “Bank owned:” abandon all hope of expeditious purchase
  • “Better than new:” ‘old’
  • “Blank canvas:” they took listing agent’s advice and painted white over the Crazy Cat Lady theme
  • “Boasts:” ‘has;’ we realize houses do not have the power of speech
  • “Bonus room:” ‘room’
  • “Boutique:” we ran out of adjectives and hoped you wouldn’t ask what we meant
  • “Bring your imagination:” and your wallet, because the seller refuses to fix this hovel
  • “Bucolic:” has an unpruned bush
  • “Cathedral ceiling:” bulbs changed by free rappel from beam, or surplus fire ladder
  • “Character:” wear and tear
  • “Charming:” weird and too small, or has hideous wallpaper
  • “Chef’s kitchen:” we’re confident you won’t know that this term has an actual meaning
  • “Classic:” last remodeled during the administration of a president no living person even remembers
  • “Close to bus line:” noisy
  • “Close to school:” enjoy frequent Vitamin Water bottles and Capri Sun bags tossed in your yard
  • “Contemporary:” starkly butt-ugly
  • “Convenient to:” somewhere roughly near
  • “Country living:” hope you don’t rely on the bus
  • “Cozy:” dinky
  • “Craftsman style:” fake Craftsman, wooden box with badly installed trim
  • “Creative touches:” inexplicable mistakes
  • “Cute:” too small
  • “Deferred maintenance:” abject neglect
  • “Desirable:” undesirable
  • “Don’t miss!” ‘exists’
  • “Endless possibilities:” endless liabilities
  • “Epic:” listing agent is under 30
  • “Expansive:” not exactly dinky
  • “Family friendly neighborhood:” usually has the peace and quiet of a grade school playground at recess
  • “Fixer-upper:” needs to be dozed flat and rebuilt
  • “Formal:” likely to sit unused
  • “For sale by owner:” for sale by cheapskate, or by control freak (often both)
  • “Fully updated bathroom:” had the disgusting tile grout redone
  • “Fully updated kitchen:” seller bought new, cheap appliances at listing agent’s insistence, to raise price
  • “Gem:” property for sale
  • “Gigantic ___:” feature is slightly above average size
  • “Good bones:” bad looks
  • “Good neighborhood:” has only “model” minorities, and not too many of those
  • “Gorgeous:” much like other reasonable houses have
  • “Gourmet kitchen:” ‘kitchen’
  • “Gracious:” overdecorated
  • “Granite and stainless steel:” if you can’t cook, at least you’ll feel snazzier failing at teh cooking
  • “Great investment:” not worth what we’re asking
  • “Great neighborhood:” no cars up on cement blocks
  • “Handyman’s dream:” homeowner’s nightmare
  • “Hardwood:” there is some wood in the laminate if you look closely and expand your definition of ‘wood!’
  • “Highly motivated seller:” this is the last step before insurance arson
  • “His and hers closets:” hers and hers closets
  • “Huge ___:” feature exists in average size
  • “Hurry, this won’t last long!” I want to create artificial demand, authentic demand being in short supply
  • “Ikea kitchen:” Euro-phone booth with everything folding out or hanging from ceiling
  • “Imagination:” ‘exasperation’
  • “Includes home warranty:” has visible issues that will make you uneasy
  • “Incredibly:” ‘somewhat’
  • “Instant equity:” will be generated by the five figures in immediate necessary repairs
  • “Large ___:” feature exists in some form
  • “Light and bright:” summer sweatbox with little shade, costs a mint to run A/C
  • “Lived-in look:” For Sale By Hoarder
  • “Location, location, location:” dump in otherwise decent location
  • “Low-maintenance lawn:” dirt, rocks, and weeds
  • “Lush natural vegetation:” bring machete, or if you can afford it, bush hog or even a herd of goats
  • “Make it your own:” paint job done by baboons, carpet reflects their influence and diet
  • “Many original features:” which barely work
  • “Mid-century modern:” all the flaws of mid-century, with a few semi-modern weaknesses thrown in
  • “Mother-in-law suite:” room for your adult kids who keep screwing up and having to move home
  • “Motivated seller:” seller has to be somewhere else by a specific date, or has already moved out and just saw the first bill for absentee homeowner’s insurance, or is fifty grand underwater and running out of money
  • “Move-in ready:” all problems are the sort no inspector will find
  • “Much bigger than it appears:” so small you’ll need a magnifying glass to spot the feature in question
  • “Multipurpose room:” space for the whole family to fight over
  • “Needs your touch:” ‘dump’
  • “Needs TLC:” money pit
  • “New carpeting:” cheapest available carpeting replaced incredibly nasty old stuff
  • “Old world charm:” old school electric wiring
  • “Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:” and when you see it, you’ll see why once is a mercy
  • “One-of-a-kind:” ‘weird’
  • “Open concept:” room for children to throw things, and you can always see them doing so
  • “Open house:” listing agent is hoping to salvage some new leads from this dog deal
  • “Original:” looking beat-up
  • “Owned by handyman:” owned by bookkeeper who fancies himself The Great Renovator, and didn’t know what he was doing
  • “Peekaboo view:” sight of mountain or water obtained by standing on footstool in guest can, while leaning at odd angle and bracing against wall, on about three days per year if you’re lucky
  • “Perfect for the right owner:” perfect for about five potential people out of three hundred million, rest should run far and fast
  • “Photos don’t do it justice:” listing agent saves money on photographers by doing it herself, badly
  • “Possibilities:” ‘missing things’
  • “Potential:” none of the sane choices can work
  • “Priced to sell:” sellers are desperate; crush their souls with your offer
  • “Quaint:” ‘weird’
  • “Quirky decor:” sellers refused listing agent’s tearful pleas to paint over Early Crazy Cat Lady scheme
  • “Radiates:” could be said to have a little bit of
  • “Reduced:” seller has come down to Earth
  • “Remodeled:” owner took a stab at fixing flaws, with middling success
  • “Renovated from the studs out:” no longer smells of Sudafed, anhydrous ammonia, and burnt Drano, plus all cans are gone
  • “Secluded:” at least one side has some foliage that obstructs snoopy neighbors part of the year; far from anything
  • “Shady yard:” don’t even think about a nice lawn
  • “Short sale:” paperwork ass pain
  • “Spacious:” not quite average size
  • “Spacious lot with fruit trees:” messy back yard with ants, varmints, jays, magpies, raccoons, opossums, and hantavirus
  • “Starter home:” free-standing two-bedroom one-bath apartment equivalent
  • “Stop the car!” so that people offended by over-the-top verbiage can have a cookie toss before going inside
  • “Storage shed:” one of those cheap metal Home Depot sheds, still has dents where assembling homeowner kicked it in sheer frustration while issuing creative curses
  • “Stunning:” ‘for sale’
  • “Unique:” no one would make this mistake twice
  • “Unusual:” whose idea was this, and were they at least prosecuted by the taste police?
  • “Updated:” in general, cheap new-looking stuff put in to raise the price
  • “$___ in upgrades:” we raised the potential price by $___ x 120%
  • “Vaulted ceilings:” lots of unlivable space to heat and cool, perfect for spider webs
  • “Vintage:” inconvenient and old
  • “View:” if you squint just right at certain times of day
  • “Well cared for:” sellers finally surrendered, hired a landscape company and cleaners
  • “Wildlife:” feral teenagers
  • “Will go fast!” I want to create artificial demand

Thank you all.


4 thoughts on “A real estate ad dictionary”

  1. EPIC!

    Jonathan, you have (yet again) outdone yourself. I would love to share this with everyone I know — plus *both* of my wonderful real estate agents. In other words, the one I am listing our childhood home with, as well the the one who is helping us purchase an amazing home.

    The description? “Spectacular view from this custom log home, milled from native timber on-site, creatively executed, handcrafted detail throughout including stone fireplace with insert, exposed log beams and split staircase. Open floor plan w/ wrap-around porch and balcony off master. Established Koi pond, huge 3+ bay shop/barn, finished guest quarters and ample storage. Endless possibilities for horses, gardens and private country living.”

    Yes, there are things I haven’t been sharing because we feel we will jinx ourselves otherwise! If all continues to go well, we anticipate the sale will close June 29th. EPIC housewarming party in late August/September TBA!


    1. Feel free to share at will, OSG, and thanks for the wonderful kind words. Best of success with your real estate journeying, and let me know when you might have a spare half day to meet up!


  2. I have been a Real Estate Broker for over 20 years and this is the absolute best Real Estate advertising dictionary, I will be sharing this with my clients. One of my most memorable real estate ads was for a home in Capitol hill where they were gushing about the FUR floors, while trying to obtain specifics about the floors the listing agent accused me of being kinky and hung up. (Fox, beaver, mink, chinchilla, or rabbit?)

    Liked by 1 person

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