Looking for a new apartment or house can be tremendously fun. If you’re moving for a partner or for a new job, it can be exciting to think about the new possibilities and what you want to do in the new place.
It also has the potential to be one of the most dismaying experiences ever. Why? Real estate listings are notorious for a kind of “realtor speak,” where the descriptions don’t necessarily match reality.
If you see a house built in 1916 described as a “vintage gem,” you might have a grand staircase or a turreted room come to mind. You’ll be set up for bitter disappointment when you realize that “vintage” in real estate speak means “old” — without any connotations of “charming” or “original.”
When youdo hit a real vintage charmer, you’ll realize how truly lucky you are.
Here’s my list of “real estate speak” and what it means, decoded.
This will too small for both a bed and a dresser.
Convenient to downtown
It’s probably right in the middle of the retail or business area and possibly dangerous, or dangerous at night.
Converted two bedroom
In other words, it’s a studio or one bedroom. The “conversion” is a screen separating two halves of a studio or one bedroom.
No privacy or no trees, or both
Great for students
It’s extra teeny small — sort of like steerage. But, usually affordable.
It was probably given a fresh coat of paint and new keys were made.
There’s a hot plate in the hall or other space, and it’s not really full of kitchen amenities like a full refrigerator and stove.
Expect one long area — not hall — with rooms branching off. If there is more than one bedroom, you may have to walk through it to get to the bathroom, kitchen, living room or all three.
Expect the regular size in a buyer’s market.
Expect something really old. And the house probably has out-of-date materials such as lead paint or asbestos.
Home office possible
You can add a home office in the closet or the corner of living room. Minimalism is in, right?
15 minutes from downtown
As the crow flies, always. You’re not a crow. This does not take into account real commute times, bus/train schedules or traffic.
This probably means that the house, condo, or apartment was built right next to a freeway or highway. Which means, possibly overlooking and hearing the traffic.
There may be a hole in the floor, roof or wall — possibly all three.
Priced to sell
The house is a dreadful mess. Something is seriously wrong with it or with the seller’s finances.
The seller may be in trouble with financing or be in foreclosure.
Emerging arts district
It’s not in an arts district. It’s in a rough area that is adjacent to a real arts district.
South facing windows
Do not expect to have a view of anything other than the next building.
You will probably find new cabinet handles (if you’re lucky).
It could be several miles away. Ten miles can be measured in steps, after all!
Very convenient to shopping
Yes, convenient if you have a car and can drive five miles.
Move-in ready condition
This simply means no one is living there at present.
Everything needs to be remodeled, including the wiring and the plumbing.
You can see a postage-stamp sized view of water if you’re on a ladder looking from one window.
The original décor from the 1950s-1960s has never been updated.
Newer furnace and air conditioning
They’ve been replaced since the original, but they’re still several decades old.
Walk to ocean/river/park
Expect to walk several miles. It may also be miles from anything else.
Nothing has been cleaned nor repaired.
Very bright and sunny
There are no trees in the yard.
Lots of potential
Don’t expect any charm or attractiveness now.
It’s very small, although not as small as cozy.
Expect old and wood.
This does not mean it’s in good condition.
As you can see, some of these are euphemisms, such as “cozy” and “cute” for small. Some carry an implicit, if not explicit, warning, such as “TLC,” “as-is” and “motivated seller.” One way or another, carry this decoded list with you when you browse through real estate listings — and keep looking! You’ll eventually find what you’re looking for.