Decoding Realtor-Speak

[Note to Readers: The views expressed here are solely those of Ross Kaplan, and do not represent Edina Realty, Berkshire Hathaway (“Berkshire”), or any other entity referenced. Edina Realty is a subsidiary of Berkshire.]

There’s usually not much mystery about which homes fall into the “fixer upper” category.

Either the pictures give it away — MLS now allows unlimited home photos online — or the lack of pictures do: show me a “For Sale” home with only or two exterior photos, and no interior photos, and I’ll show you a home with little to brag about.

Either that, or the listing agent (representing the Seller) is guilty of gross marketing malpractice.

Of course, an asking price that seems suspiciously low is also a major “tell.”

Not Conceding Too Much

All that said, listing agents may nevertheless be loathe to put too fine a point on a home’s challenging condition.

At least in my experience, here are the “Top Ten” terms and phrases agents use instead of “fixer upper”:

Ten. “Just needs your decorating touches.”

Nine. “Handyman Special” (“Handywoman Special??”).

Eight. “Great bones.”

Seven. “Just needs a little TLC.”

Six. Any pitch with the word “Investors” in it. Example: “Attention investors!,” “Investor’s Dream!,” etc.

Five. “Terrific remodeling opportunity.”

Four. “Great opportunity to build sweat equity.”

Three. Any pitch with the word “opportunity” (or synonyms like “possibility”) in it.

Two. “As is.”

One (Tie). “Cash only” and “FHA Rehab 203k” (a type of loan) in “Seller’s Terms” on MLS.

Code Words

Frequently (but not always), “As Is” is Seller code for, “we know the home is in poor condition, and we’re not going to fix anything (because it’s baked into the price).”

Note, though, estate sellers often sell “As Is,” even when the home is perfectly fine.

That’s because: a) they don’t know that for sure, because they never lived in it; and b) they’re not willing or able to address any problems the Buyer identifies — presumably, during their inspection.

Meanwhile, “Cash only” is Realtor-speak for, “the home is in such bad repair, no lender will take it as collateral (for a mortgage).”

Finally, “FHA Rehab 203k in “Seller’s Terms” on MLS is a sure tell that the home’s condition is challenging (and the Seller knows it).

Conspicuous Omission

Note one conspicuous omission from this list: “Grandma’s (or Grandpa’s) house.”

While such homes are invariably (very) dated, everything is still in working order — often, surprisingly so.

To underscore that feature — and sometimes, to appease the long-time owners 🙂 — Realtors often market such homes using phrases like, “pride of ownership,” “meticulously cared for,” etc.

See also, “Real Estate Euphemisms — New & Improved“; “Does it “Just Need Cosmetics??”; “Real Estate Marketing 101: When to Acknowledge a Home Needs Updating ” & When Not To“; and “Grandma’s House” vs. “Grandpa’s House”.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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