Behind the babble: An expansive one-bedroom?
Writers look at common phrases from real-estate listings and attempt to decipher what the agents really mean. Does anyone have a tub you can't soak in?
One of our favorite features in the family of Curbed blogs is the BrokerBabble feature: the decoding of what real-estate agents really mean by some of the words so common in real-estate listings.
What's BrokerBabble? Curbed writes: "The concept: Take a word or phrase that shows up in an unreasonable number of listings and decipher its true meaning." Just in case you're in doubt, the editors include photos of what the place really looks like, as opposed to what the babble implies.
The BrokerBabble Glossary section was started by Curbed New York's Jeremiah Budin and expanded to the other Curbed sites. Readers also send in tips.
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Curbed L.A. did a post last year analyzing the most common adjectives in Coldwell Banker's View magazine, a supplement to the Los Angeles Times. The most common adjectives were private (this is Los Angeles), spacious, beautiful, large, charming, fabulous, stunning, gorgeous, lovely, exquisite, panoramic, wonderful, huge, amazing and perfect.
Curbed is not the only one to bemoan "broker babble" that would put Alice in Wonderland to shame. In a post complaining about some of the most common phrases, Malcolm Carter, a broker himself, wrote:
And I have to say that I’m baffled by the word “soaking” before “tub” as I frequently see in listings. Aside from the unrenovated bath of some pre-war maid’s rooms, I cannot summon the image of bathtub in which I could not soak substantially more than clothing.
Here are a few examples of BrokerBabble from Curbed:
- Jewel box: This usually describes a small house or apartment with expensive materials and finishes. Writes Budin: "Sorry, Upper East Side co-op. Newly painted walls do not a jewel box make."
- Expansive: We'd think that expansive means large, but the word somehow seems to crop up in listings for small New York City apartments. We liked the "expansive" dressing room that was three times the size of a bathtub and the "expansive rich granite counter" big enough to accommodate four bar stools in a line. (It is New York City.)
- Sprawling: Apparently, there are quite a lot of "sprawling" one-bedroom apartments in New York City, though none of my friends has ever been able to find anything I would describe as larger than compact. Budin advises: "As a general rule, if you ever find yourself using the phrase 'sprawling one-bedroom' there's a pretty good chance you need to check yourself."
There are times a bit of broker babble can be effective and evocative.
I used to own a rental house that was a compact two bedrooms, with two tiny closets, in 950 square feet. Nothing about it was sprawling or expansive, though you could probably stretch and call it a jewel box if you overlooked the badly-in-need-of-renovation kitchen. When I advertised it as "charming," prospective tenants usually rejected it too small. When I advertised it as a "dollhouse," those who didn't want small stayed away.
What's your favorite example of broker babble?
Pride of ownership: The owners went into hock putting all their own awful interpretations of "style" into it (like shag carpeting in the "Rumpus Room") and now want you to pay for their financial/stylistic mistake in the 20% over-priced asking price
Owners want it sold!: Really, they do...the foundation is caving, there's mold everywhere, the bank is knocking at the front and back doors and taxes are due.
Just reduced!: Because after the 2 years it sat on the market without a reduction, it's suddenly occurring to everyone that it was overpriced even AFTER the reduction
Just Listed!: If an agent puts this in, its because they don't want you to notice that the old listing just expired after sitting unsold for many, many months and they want you to think it's somehow new and fresh
Plenty of space!: Yes, in the attic, the "finished" basement, the "converted" garage, the shared driveway and the shed out back.
Quiet and private: No shopping, no local amenities, and maybe even no paved roads
Bank-owned: because they're the only ones willing to take title
Needs TLC: And plumbing, foundation work, electric, new kitchen and bathrooms, HVAC, and anything else the scrappers stole
Historical Home!: Yes, every single part of it.
Many updates done!: No, not really. The flipper slapped up some paint and had the carpets cleaned.
Great add-ons! (or addition): completely unpermitted work the county will fine you for or make you knock down
And the worst over here in this part of the country: mineral rights negotiable! (something that should pass with the land has already been negotiated away and the owners have no use for the rest of the property at all but you have a chance to keep a major part of the land if you offer them $100,000 over what the gas/shale/well company is offering.)
I'm in the Boston area and I was priced out of a great neighborhood after 18 years of living in a house with cheap rent in return for services. I was horrified with what my money could get me for apartments! I also marveled at the way realtors used to describe property. One dastardly trend I caught was to call what is basically a studio a one-bedroom apartment. Kitchen, bathroom and the "bedroom". Yeah, right. Most places that I looked at were pretty much the same: what was once the pantry is now the kitchen; what was once the kitchen is now the living room, and what was probably the living room is a bedroom.
Otherwise aging boomer (below) says it pretty much the way it is.
"Custom" i.e. we replaced charming solid wood built-ins and/or trim with cardboard from Home Depot.
"New windows" the good quality solid wood (or better yet steel casement windows) were removed and their sashes replaced with plastic windows that have nylon brushes where the weather-stripping is supposed to be.
"Updated" some built-ins and/or plumbing fixtures or appliances are new and the price is 25-50K higher than it should be.
The Realtors Code of Ethics states that Realtors "must present a true picture" in their advertising and most Realtor adhere to that. All of the examples you chose are words or phrases that are completely subjective and open to different interpretations. My "cozy dollhouse" may be your "tiny shoebox", but it is open for each person to interpret accordingly. Also, Realtors consider what is customary to their marketplace, such as the comment made by the person who relocated from Fla to NJ. In some marketplaces, 40 years old is OLD. I am a Realtor in NYC and NC. When I tell my NC collegues that here in NYC a 60x100 lot is described as "parklike", they laugh their heads off. When I tell my NYC collegues that a 30 minute commute to work is long in NC, they laugh! I have had buyers turn down a 5,000 sf house as too small and had buyers be thrilled when they could move out of a 500sf studio apt. to a 1,200 sf duplex house! Its all relative.
Great neighborhood! Means the people making meth next door are back in jail.
Great views! Means someone burned down the abandoned houses on each side.
I could go on but I think we all know how listings bend reality.
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.