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Decoding Real Estate Listings

Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to Curbed Chicago's tipline.

Some listings are straightforward, while others read like coded messages packed full of abbreviations and real estate clichés. Either way, if you're going to spend any amount of time browsing rental or for-sale listings, it's a good idea to brush up on the standard lexicon.

Most listings have a few basic components: Price, address, Photos (up to 25), property type (condo, townhouse, single-family), and a brief description of the property. After the photos price and the square footage (if it's provided) are probably the first numbers you should be interested in, and price per square foot, which is like the "unit price" in the grocery store, is what will tell you the relative value of the home. Unless the square footage has been inflated (and we'll get to that later), there's no juking those numbers. The property description is the where Realtors let their writing skills shine, and it's also where, with a bit of extrapolating and unpacking, you can figure out what they're really trying to sell you.

·"Diamond in the Rough": The home might be all right, but it's probably located in a war zone. We've seen several agents misuse this phrase to describe a fixer-upper in fancy neighborhoods, as well.

·"Motivated Seller": Nothing reeks of desperation like the word "motivated" in a real estate listing. Translation: Willing to negotiate. The more exclamation points, the lower they're willing to go.

·"TLC" ("fixer-upper," "bring your contractor!"): As innocuous as it sounds, this should raise some serious red flags. In many cases, "TLC" translates to a place requiring a complete gut-rehab.

·"Investment Opportunity": Much like "TLC," this usually indicates that the home is not in great condition.

·"Mint" ("pristine"): A term usually reserved for rare baseball cards or collectors-edition cars, this is Realtor-speak for "excellent condition."

·"Unique," "quirky": When the listing describes a place as 'unique,' it often means that the previous owner's style was so wacky that you'll need to gut the place.

·"Cozy": You'll never see the words "tiny," "cramped" or "miniature" in a real estate listing. Instead, Realtors substitute the word "cozy," which sounds much more agreeable.
·Curbed University Archive