MONEY buying a home

9 Real Estate Code Words That Should Send You Running

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Richard Goerg—Getty Images

"Offered as is" means it's a dump.

When you’re house-hunting, it can be overwhelming to sort through all the properties in your price range — especially if you’ve taken time to visit homes that look divine online but fall far short of your expectations in person.

You already know the ABCs of real estate terms, from mortgage and loan to title insurance and walk-through. But there might be clues you’re not picking up on in the property descriptions. A phrase such as “could be a real gem” might mean the property is a fixer-upper — not a good fit if you’re looking for move-in ready. “Full of character” might indicate the home has some quirks you’d be hesitant to inherit (think bathtub in the basement or man den in the master bedroom).

Whether you’re searching homes for sale in Athens, GA, or Sioux Falls, SD, here are nine commonly used code phrases. Knowing the deeper meanings of these real estate terms could help you avoid wasting your time on a home that isn’t right for you.

“Pride of ownership shows”

Sounds great, right? The current residents have been taking care of the place, polishing the banisters and recaulking the bathtubs at every turn. But a lot of times, this also means a home that’s stuck in a time warp: outdated kitchen, black-and-white-tiled ’80s bathrooms, the works.

The home might be well-maintained, but that doesn’t mean the owners had the wherewithal to think beyond their original glass-bricked entryway. An impeccably maintained relic is still a home you’ll probably want to gut the minute you step inside.

“In one of the hottest neighborhoods”

“Hot” is not the same as “popular” or “coveted.” When listings refer to a neighborhood as “hot,” that usually means the neighborhood has yet to establish itself. Sure, it might be an area developers think — or hope — will become the next big thing, but it’s not there yet. Another variation of this term is “up-and-coming neighborhood”: Maybe someday it’ll be the most desired location in your area, but for the immediate future, it’s not.

This shouldn’t immediately be a deal breaker, but an emerging neighborhood might lack the amenities or walkability that you crave from your next home. Also keep in mind that buying into a hot neighborhood today is a gamble — there’s no actual guarantee the neighborhood will still be hot in five years.

“Attention: Investors”

The listing might as well read “Stay away, average homebuyer.” A write-up that includes this line is basically admitting that only a savvy developer can save the property. Basically it’s a place that demands a studs-up rehab because, home loan–wise, there are no other reasonable possibilities.

“Offered as is”

Can you say “money pit”? Chances are, this real estate listing has some downright alarming things going on. Burst pipes that no one bothered to repair or clean up? A renovation that was abandoned halfway through? A creepy red room in the basement? A roof in danger of collapsing?

This warning also means that you have absolutely zero negotiating power. The seller is well aware of all the property’s faults and has no interest in pretending otherwise. Proceed accordingly.

“Condo alternative”

A single-family home in your price range? Holy moly, where’s the checkbook?

Hold up, cowboy. It’s a single-family, yes, but a single-family dwelling so Lilliputian that the bedroom pretty much doubles as the living room that doubles as the master bath. Don’t let the allure of owning a free-standing home cloud your judgment — when it comes to “condo alternatives,” you’ll probably get more bang for your buck in the actual condo market (unless you can afford to build an addition).

“Natural landscaping”

Read: yard jungle. Great for an aspirational green thumb, but a huge letdown for someone who’s looking for a little nonweedy backyard space. That said, professional landscapers can do wonders with even the most wildly overgrown plots.

“Not a drive-by”

Did you wonder why there were no photos of the home’s exterior? The clue was in the write-up. “Not a drive-by” is code for “lacking curb appeal.” Curb appeal can be improved, though often at a hefty cost. But if the rest of the home is terrific, the question becomes, how much do you care about first impressions?

“Not a foreclosure, not a short sale”

This seems like a good thing but is actually kind of a bad thing. Such an upfront warning could mean the house is close to other properties that have gone into foreclosure or are boarded up and waiting to be seized or condemned.

“Needs your decorative touches”

This sounds so innocuous, right? It sounds like an otherwise charming home that’s lacking a few knickknacks and floral arrangements. But more often than not, this descriptor means that the property is in serious need of a new bathroom or kitchen or more — stuff that’s well beyond remedy with a quick run to a home decor shop.

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