Column: But how many steps to the beach? How to decipher Realtorspeak

You’re in the early stages of looking for a house to buy and you will be immediately swamped by real-estate jargon that you’ll have to untangle: debt-to-income ratio, pre-qualification, inspection contingency, title search, proof-of-funds, etc.

But, as you’re scrolling through the real-estate listings on the web looking for your perfect pad, you’ll also find yourself lost in the lofty language of Realtors who burnish their offerings with overly generous descriptions and more euphemisms than a funeral director.

Living rooms are full of natural light, kitchens are ready for a gourmet cook, backyards are elysian getaways. No street escapes the adjective “tree-lined,” and lawns, it’s even been noted, are “grassy.”

A recent listing bragged that the house came with a kitchen “with just enough space for prepping those home cooked meals.” That’s Realtorspeak for “small,” or, more bluntly, “cramped.” A wee bit more expansive than a hotplate and a cutting board.

Here are some other terms you might run across in the course of your house-hunting. They’re not outright lies, but as truths, they’re perhaps a bit overly decorated.

“Lovingly maintained”: A particularly nice way to say that while the owner hasn’t done any upgrades, the Harvest Gold refrigerator still purrs like a kitten and the avocado-green swag lamps are dusted twice a week.

“Freeway close”: Like that’s a selling point? I like to have fairly easy access to a freeway, but a couple-block buffer would be nice. I don’t need big rigs tumbling into my pool all the time.

“Curb appeal”: It’s how the property looks while you’re driving by, but you can’t see the exposed wood lath in the living room, the sex dungeon in the guest room and the considerable fire damage in the kitchen.

“Priced to sell”: Well, that should be the idea when you’re pricing your home, rather than “priced to scare potential customers away.” What it really means is the seller isn’t likely to want to haggle over the price. Take it or leave it, and “you’re welcome.”

“Steps to the beach”: Theoretically, every place is steps to the beach. An average person can walk a mile in about 2,000 steps. If the house is farther away than a mile, do the math yourself. Also: “Close to beach.” Yes, on a global scale, even 72nd Street at the tip of North Long Beach is close to the beach (as opposed to, say, Omaha). A couple of current listings I’ve seen include, “A great opportunity to live so close to the beach!!” for a home on 25th Street, and a “charming beach bungalow” on Market Street, above 53rd Street. In real life, you wouldn’t want to go much farther north than Fourth Street if you want to live close to the beach. On the other hand, if you’re worried about the rising sea, Naples and the Peninsula are perhaps a tad too close to the beach.

“Low-maintenance yard”: Dirt is low maintenance. Artificial turf is low maintenance. Cracked concrete is low maintenance. Weeds, for that matter, are low maintenance; leave them alone and they’ll do fine.

“In-law potential”: I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that. If you don’t want me to buy the property, just tell me in English and I’ll move along.

“Turnkey”: It’s supposed to mean all ready to move in, but it doesn’t mean it’s really all ready to move in because you’ve still gotta pack up all your old stuff, which is way more than you’d imagined you’ve amassed over the years, but there’s no time for moving-day triage, so you pack up everything and haul it to your turnkey house and then unpack it all and now the house looks like a hobo flat, so, no, not turnkey unless it comes with everything you need to live, including furniture and salt and pepper shakers and you can throw all your old stuff away.

“Bring your paintbrush”: How about you bring your paintbrush and charge me an extra $5,000.

“Bring your tools,” or “handyman special”: I’m looking for a home, not a hobby. And, anyway, you didn’t mention that my tools should include a water-cooled plasma torch, a bulldozer and a fleet of dump trucks.

“Extra storage”: There’s no such thing as “extra” storage. I don’t care how much storage your house has now, I can guarantee you don’t have any empty cabinets or drawers. No one’s ever said, “How are we ever going to find enough things to fill all this storage?”

“Tree-lined street”: How do you feel about jacarandas? Are towering palms even trees?

“Starter home”: The implication is that it’ll do for now, and in a few years when it triples in price, you can sell it and buy the home of your dreams. Which will also have tripled in price, so you’ll have to move out of state, add on to your starter home or live the rest of your life in close quarters with your immediate family, which has tripled in size.

“Cozy”: Why waste an extra syllable when you could’ve just said small? The afghan my grandmother crocheted for me is cozy, but I wouldn’t want a house that barely has room for it. Also: “Doll house.” Have you ever seen a doll house? Can you fit a couch in one? Did it have a “wide-open floor plan”?

“Plenty of room for an add-on”: Did I give the impression that my housing budget has enough wiggle room to leave money to add on a family room, another bedroom and a bathroom?

“Bonus room”: What, did they just find a room that they didn’t know they had? Is it a selling point? “Buy today and we’ll throw in a BONUS ROOM! at no additional cost?” It’s a room that you have to go through to get to another room. It’s where you’re going to keep empty baskets and holiday decorations or use for a podcast studio.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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