Marsha, I just started my home search. I read ads for homes and I get excited about seeing the house in person. Often, I’m disappointed. The ads descriptions and the actual house are often worlds apart. For instance, what does “as is” mean? I’ve seen several houses where “as is” means a total wreck. Yet some “as is” homes are in decent condition, but the seller simply doesn’t want to do any improvements to the house. How do you decode these real estate catch phrases?


Good observation. One homeowner’s “tropical paradise” is a lush and beautiful garden and another’s overgrown jungle. Buzz words and code phrases are a long term traditional in real estate advertising. There is puffery in advertising, which is subjective and permissible, and there is false advertising, which is outright lies and is not permitted.

To be clear, there are advertising words and phrases that were historically used in real estate which are no longer permitted. People found creative ways to discriminate and violate potential buyers’ fair housing rights. You will no longer see ads that say “family-friendly,” “walk to your church” (or mosque or synagogue), or “professionals love the exclusive location.” These words or phrases were steering the property to a particular population and discouraging other buyers from even looking. Good riddance!

The code words you’re asking about are subjective property descriptors. They may be confusing, but they are not discriminatory. It’s innocuous marketing. The classic example for code words in real estate ads is the “honeymoon cottage with the peek-a-boo view of the ocean.” In truth, this is a tiny, tiny house with an ocean view when using binoculars.

These are “code words” in the sense that there is a meaning and description of the house behind the words. The buyer just has to decipher out what it is. Here is my interpretation of a few choice and classic code phrases.

“Motivated seller” means a highly motivated listing agent. “Terrific view” or “location, location” could mean the house is a wreck, especially if a description of the actual house is absent. The house is a “classic” may be saying really outdated and read “historic house” as probably old, ancient or dilapidated. “Needs work” says purchase this house and rent a bulldozer. “Model house and in top condition” says the sellers want top dollar. “Newer” roof (or water heater, furnace, etc.) means these items are not quite as old as the 1945 house. “Hidden gem,” “lots of potential,” mean the property is probably challenged. “Natural landscaping” could be a weed patch. As for “as is,” well, it’s most likely a “contractors’ special,” but there may be some exceptions, as you noted.

I know it seems confusing, but after a few weeks of looking at homes and reading   real estate agents’ ads, you’ll be speaking real estate-ese like a native.

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