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How to Read Between the Lines of a Sale or Rental Listing

Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to tips@curbed.com. Up now, deciphering the real estate listing.

Let’s think of the traits and skills it takes to become a great real estate agent: good negotiator, knowledgeable, perhaps even charming. And without a doubt, a good marketer, both for themselves and their properties. Real estate property descriptions are second only to beautiful pictures among the tools used to draw in potential buyers. In an agent’s mind, the better the description, the more traffic will flow through the property. Basically, they just want you to call them so they can start working their real magic, so sometimes a little exaggeration is in order. Get out your Ovaltine secret decoder ring.

Size: Square footage speaks for itself. If the apartment is huge, you’ll be able to tell from the floor plan. If the apartment is small, however, the agent needs to account for that somehow. Beware of the words quaint, cosy, intimate, or starter home. They mean “the living room might not even fit your couch! Be prepared to watch TV forever in a wing-backed chair!” The floor plan should have dimensions for each of the rooms, so grab your measuring tape and make sure you know (generally) how big the rooms should be.

Renovations needed: As explained in this Times article about TLC, “Cozy’ means minute. ‘Quiet’ means it’s in the back of the building. It’s just the language of the industry. TLC means a total gut job.” Beware of “TLC” if you’re not planning on a major renovation?the phrase means different things to different agents. Another important distinction to make is the difference between original details and original condition. Any connoisseur of a prewar apartment is of course looking for original details, including high ceilings, hardwood floors, moldings. But without a doubt, if you’re not looking for a renovation, you are NOT looking for “original condition.” The kitchen probably has olive green cabinets, crackling linoleum, and an “original!” 1950’s stove.

Some other phrases include “estate condition,” which means “as-is” condition. The property was probably recently inherited and has had minimal renovations over the years.

Bring your... “designer” or “architect” or “handyman” is saying “bring someone else to help you sort through this mess. Bring your... shrink?

Let the Sun Shine: Brokers and buyers have different opinions on how much light constitutes “sunblasted,” so keep that in mind when reading descriptions like “plenty of light,” or “sun-filled.”

Kitchen: A “Chef’s kitchen” has been described in listings in many different ways?it could mean a kitchen that has been specifically made for a chef, composed of lots of counter space, excellent appliances, and numerous cabinets designed to hold cheftastic items...or an agent could just mean it’s a really nice kitchen. If you’re a serious chef looking for a specific kind of kitchen, make sure it’s what you’re looking for before you make an appointment.

Unique: Using this word means there is something really odd about this apartment. Maybe the owner is into CandyLand and has decorated appropriately. Maybe there are rope ladders instead of stairs. It means that this apartment is impossible to sell.

New To Market: This is a call to action?come get it before someone else scoops it up. It’s effective, but make sure it’s actually a new listing by checking the date! It’s possible the agent might not have updated the description.

Charming: Quite a catch-all, isn’t it? Everything can be “charming” to someone. This is the word agents use when they really can’t think of anything else. It may very well actually be charming to you, but who knows.

When an apartment is truly in great shape, there are many words the agent can use to convey that. For example, turn-key ready, move-in ready, or Mint. They could even use the favorite of high end listings: Triple Mint, or the slightly more pornographic XXX MINT. You should be able to at least get an idea if they’re exaggerating from the pictures, but when agents use words like that, they usually mean business.

Desperation: Won’t last long! Motivated Seller! Price Slashed! Best Buy! The exclamation point peaks your interest for a minute and makes you want to rush right out to make sure you don’t miss the obvious deal of the century. But then, you squint closer and realize that it reeks of desperation. “You can’t miss this!” says the ad. Says who? Oh... the broker who wants to make a commission, that’s who! Don’t let the exclamation points get you too excited. (!)

And of course keep in mind that there will be different words used for the super high-end apartments located in another stratosphere. A $200,000 studio isn’t going to have a “handsome, elegant library.”

Bottom line, a picture is worth a thousand words. If there isn’t a picture of the kitchen or the bathroom, they probably look like something out of Hoarders: Buried Alive. Try to cut out all of the buzz words and read between the lines. If you’re serious about buying a home, make up a checklist that has all of the vital information on it (bedrooms, square feet, etc.) and also a space for bonus points for you (washer/dryer, brand new kitchen, etc.)

For more he said-she said real estate speak, check out these archives on BrickU.

Words Brokers Use
Hey, some real estate brokers tend to be pretty busy people. Way too busy to write out full words, and sometimes too busy to formulate words that even make sense. However, once someone is in a committed relationship with their apartment search, these abbreviations can be just as commonplace as looking for a date with a SWF.

Just a quick search on Craigslist turned up a very excitable “$2799 / 1br - X-LARGE RENO'D 1BD/BALCONY” on the Upper West Side. One of our favorite brokerbabble items is “WBFP,” which (of course) means “wood burning fireplace,” which (of course) means that you’ll actually need to find firewood during the winter. Make sure the fire alarm works! Story time:

If your fire alarm goes off, perhaps you’ll be able to escape to your EIK. I mean, your “eat-in kitchen” where you can fit a card table. From there, you can reach across the kitchen to your SS DW, (stainless steel dishwasher) or even [gasp!] your W/D, (washer/dryer) where you can dry off your clothes (stored in your WIC - walk-in closet) when the sprinklers go off after the eventual “WBFP” mishap. But be careful not to drop it on your HWF (hardwood floors). Take a moment to reflect by looking out the window of your 450s/f (square foot) apartment to your fabulous “Riv vus” (river views.) When you leave at night to pick up some extra towels on which to house the firewood, you might run into your P/T DM (Part-time Doorman) who can hopefully help you out.

Brokerbabble is a part of the real estate game. Learn it. Love it.

Understanding Square Footage
The thought of living in a space equal to 8 jail cells is creepy, no? The average jail cell is around 60 square feet, and according to Jonathan Miller (though in an admittedly oldish chart), the average Manhattan studio is 480.5 square feet. Yikes. A newer chart divides the square footage by co-op and condo sales, and not surprisingly condos are winning the space war big time. Recently, the average condo sold was just under 1,500 square feet and the average co-op was just under 1,200. (Chart here.)

When the average apartment in the USA is 2,438 square feet, us New Yorkers have to get a little creative with space. Yet, not that many people can really latch on to a concrete representation of what those numbers look like in actual space. For your enjoyment:

Racquetball Court: A one bedroom averages 757 square feet, and a racquetball court (40’ x 20’) is 800 square feet. Don’t think your neighbors will be too thrilled if you try to use your connecting wall for a test run, though.

Volleyball Court: You could nicely fit your two bedroom, averaged out to be 1,428 square feet, inside an 1,800 square foot volleyball court. Bump, Set, SPIKE!

Tennis Court: According to the chart, a three bedroom apartment averages 2,489 square feet. A tennis court is roughly 2,808 square feet. Just put your bed in the serving box and you should be all set.

Basketball Court: Trim a bit off your 4,700-square-foot NBA basketball court and you’ve got yourself a (slightly above) average four bedroom (with the average clocking it at 3,534 square feet) If you’re more of a Jets fan, you could fit that apartment nicely inside the regulation end zone as well.

NYC’s real estate agents have seen it all?Douglas Heddings of Heddings Property Group says the average square footage for a studio is around 400 square feet, while Victoria Shtainer of Prudential Douglas Elliman says she sees them as low as around 250 square feet. Yikes?that’s photo spread material! Heddings explains that an appropriate amount of square footage for your abode should be 600-750 square feet for a one-bedroom, 1000-1300 square feet for a two-bedroom, and 1500-2000 square feet for a three-bedroom.
· Kitchens, Outdoor Space, and Other Layout Considerations [Curbed]
· The Brokerbabble Glossary [Curbed]
· Curbed University [Curbed]