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December 7, 2009

So when you say "pristine" ...

"Pristine" is a favorite in real estate listings, but here's the funny thing about the word: It could mean so fresh and clean it is (or seems) new ... or it could mean "belonging to the earliest period or state." So technically, the owner of a 30-year-old house with original roof, appliances and shag carpeting could call it "pristine" without a qualm.

This got me thinking about other listing words. Like cozy. Or charming. Or fixer-upper.

What do these words mean to you? What have they turned out to mean in reality?

Buyers, what words are actually helpful to you in deciding whether to go see a home, and which ones do you wish agents would strike from their dictionaries? Or do you ignore the verbiage and just look at the photos?

Sellers, what would you tell people about your homes if you could just have a friendly chat with the potential buyers out there?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: For sale


Cozy = Tiny house
Charming = Tiny house, and also a tiny yard
fixer-upper = If they are putting that in the ad, and not saying something like "needs TLC", then I would run away from the house and never look back because it's probably about to fall over.


Words mean nothing. Pictures mean everything. Tell your realtor to skip the realtor-speak laden description and use that time to post more pictures of your home.


Wasn't there a chapter in Freakanomics which talked about just those sorts of terms and what they are code for.?

Realtor code words:

Cozy = small
Charming = old
fixer upper = it's a dump
established neighborhood = half of the old homes in the neighborhood are nice and well maintained, and the other half haven't been touched since the day they were built.
original owners = old people who think shag carpeting & 60's era kitchens are just fine.

My brother and I owned up to the word "pristine" when we put our late mother's condo on the market earlier this year. The entire unit including kitchen, baths, closets, and laundry closet were professionally repainted with eggshell white and the trim in semi-gloss white. Afterwards, we had all the carpet replaced with a good quality grade with neutral color. We had a professional cleaner come in and vacuum the carpet, wash and clean the bathrooms, kitchen, and all the windows. We sold the unit within six weeks after putting it on the market. When our listing said "in pristine condition" we were not kidding.
So if a seller wants to use the word "pristine" in their listing, then own up to the name.

When I was a buyer I learned pretty quickly that the text description for listings is worthless, missing photos normally means they're hiding something, and images can be easily cropped to avoid showing that nasty spot on the ceiling. I want to see stats and pictures, not some text that a realtor wrote in. A pet peeve of mine is reading "priced below market" or its variants in listings. I really hate that! Buzzwords and a fancy marketing presentation/tour don't make things stand out to me. Your Jedi mind-tricks don't work on me!

pristine = possible new paint or flooring with defects covered up
immaculate = seller has interior design capabilities (or used stagers) and defects are hidden or only appear during poor weather
cozy = rooms are small and compartmentalized
charming = older architecture with lower ceilings and smaller rooms
fixer-upper = probably trashed and moldy
cosmetic issues = possible water damage, needs new paint/drywall, and flooring is shot

Read the words skeptically and pay attention to the pictures. I won't even bother with listings that don't have pictures. I wonder what they're hiding.

A picture is worth a thousand words. The only words that could be usefull are the ones that are not subjective but just facts, e.g. "hardwood floors on the 1st floor" or "HVAC unit replaced in NNNN".

I'm with Julie on "original owners" - LoL! This is actually a red flag for me because usually it means that the owners just don't see any flaws in their home and won't negotiate.

My additions:
"close to commuter routes" / "easy access to..." = freeway in the back yard
"desirable " = huge HOA fees and nasty neighbors
"this deal will not last!" = desperately need my commission now (this is actually hugely funny on the homes that's been sitting on the market for 100+ days).

I only read the listing agent remarks when I need a chuckle. They are so cheesy and filled with typos, generally speaking of course. Pictures tell me almost everything I need to know ... after that, it's the basics: beds, baths, size.

During my home search, I always enjoyed the fact that the seeming majority of listings on the MLS were rife with spelling and grammatical errors.

Glad to see writing skills are tested on the Realtor exam!

These words are really meaningless. A realtor will use these words to make their listing attractive so they get a potential buyer to see the home. Many times, a realtor will not even post pictures of certain rooms of the house. They try to show what looks good, but if something is amiss, they try to hide it as much as possible. I am sure there are many people who have made numerous trips to look homes, only to find out they were mislead and very disappointed.

Here's a new one. I went to see an apartment whose listing said it had "5 rooms"... which presumably meant kitchen, living room and three bedrooms. After being shown around the apartment, I realized I'd only seen two bedrooms. Returning to the living room, I asked where the "5th" room was. The agent pointed over my head. There was a ledge with a railing, about 2' wide and 6-7' long, with a bookcase on it!!

As a Realtor, my favorites are, in order:

1) ANYTHING with an !
2) Won't last long.... love to see that on the 180 day old listing, which means they were wrong, and they haven't updated the listing!

Good ones, everybody. :-)

Hey Paul,
In the Freakeconomics book I pulled out the following:
Fantastic and/ or charming - house that does not have many specific attributes worth describing.
Spacious - are often decrepit or impractical
Great neighborhood - this house isn't very nice but the others nearby may be.
! - exclamation point is bad news as it attempts to paper over real shortcomings with false enthusiasm.
Wonderful. immaculate, charming - empty adjectives.

The 5 terms that correlated to a higher sale price - granite, state of the art, corian, maple, gourmet.

I like the use of "up-and-coming" or "hot hot hot" to describe a neighborhood. If you've been in Baltimore long enough you know that means "bad part of town with now-overpriced housing".

Of course "granite, state of the art, corian, maple, gourmet" are correlated to a higher sales price! They are signs that the kitchen has been renovated some time in the past 10 years.
When we were looking, I could overlook alot of defects but a 60's kitchen got a firm "no". As a first-time buyer, the reality of the situation is that it will be a loooong time before I've got an extra $15 K to renovate the kitchen.

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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