My first job was as a Saturday assistant in an estate agency, where I spent fruitless hours trying to persuade the manager to correct his offences against grammar, spelling and common sense.
What I didn't realise at the time was that estate agents live in an alternative reality of "ideally located split-level maisonettes" and "spaciously arranged family bathrooms", and that any attempt to impose everyday language and style was ultimately doomed to failure.
For anyone else grappling with the inanities of property marketing, I have begun to compile an estate agent's dictionary...please let me know if you have any suggestions.
- Arguably – A useful weasel word which can be used to preface any high-flown but un-provable assertion. As in “arguably one of the most attractive roads in Hampstead”, “arguably the best 2 bed penthouses in Sheffield”, or this wonderfully prolix example: “Arguably the finest example of an idyllic 16th century grand hall in an elevated riverside setting - in Ribble Valley”.
- Arranged over – (As in “arranged over the second floor”). On – could also mean that it takes up the whole second floor as opposed to just being carved out of a section of it.
- Benefits from – Has. Often applies to something which is not, strictly speaking, a benefit – e.g. “benefits from an open-plan kitchen” – who wants a kitchen in their sitting room?
- Boasts – Has.
- Character – (As in “brimming with character”) Not bland and beige, but may not be to everyone’s taste. May also suggest an impractical layout or other inconveniences. “Quirky” or “unusual” are similar terms.
- Charming – Like “super”, “funky” and other vague terms of approbation, pretty much meaningless. A study by Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt found that words like “charming”, which don’t refer to anything specific about the property, were associated with a lower sale price.
- Close to/ within walking distance of/ within easy reach of – Vague. Could mean anything up to a fifteen-minute walk. But could also mean "right on top of" (in the way that "convenient for train station" often means "facing the railway tracks").
- Compact/Bijou - Very small.
- Dining hall - In the absence of a proper dining room, this phrase is used to describe a hallway which is big enough to squeeze in a dining table.
- Duplex/split-level – Officially means a flat across two or more floors; but many estate agents will describe a flat as split level even if it just has a “mezzanine” loo halfway up the stairs, or an entrance hall on a separate level to the main flat.
- Family bathroom - Bathroom which is not en suite. Doesn't have anything to do with size (as in a "family-sized pack" of something in the supermarket).
- Feature fireplace - Fireplace.
- Ideally located in – Located in.
- Ideal for first-time buyers or rental investors – Cheap but unattractive; if you could afford anything better, you wouldn’t want to live there yourself.
- Neat, tidy - Small. Nothing to do with actual neatness, since - unless it was being sold complete with the previous owner's clutter - why would it matter?
- Offers the opportunity to create your dream home - In need of a total overhaul.
- Pied a terre - Very small.
- Proportional accommodation – The flat is too small for the estate agent to get away with the word “spacious”, but the layout arguably makes sensible use of what space there is.
- Receiving hall - Square hallway, presumably big enough to greet visitors in.
- Sought-after – (As in “sought-after location”). Meaningless; can safely be used to describe any road, even the cheapest, ugliest or scariest in any particular area.
- Spacious – Usually meaningless. If a property or room is spacious, you can see this on the floorplan, or the estate agent will give measurements. For "deceptively spacious", see this post.
- Unofficial roof terrace - The roof of the extension to the floor below, which can only be accessed by climbing out of the window. May be decorated with pot plants and a sun lounger to make it look more like an official roof terrace.
- Up and coming - To be fair, this can mean an area which is in the process of gentrification (artists, young professionals, Starbucks, chichi bakeries and everything else that entails). But it can also mean an area which is still resolutely gritty, with no cupcakes or coffee chains in sight; all you can safely assume is that the area is not yet "established". (Thanks to Everet Lapel at the fabulous Foam and Skies for this update).
- Within this large/imposing/grand building – The word “large” is being used to distract from the fact that the flat itself is not large at all.
- Yards from the amenities of a popular local supermarket – At the bottom of the Tesco car park (This comes from a local ad; I thought it was an impressive attempt at spin).
The direct approach