Tuesday 1 December 2009

Estate agent's dictionary

Charming post with original features; ideal for first-time readers

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


  1. What about "up and coming", as in area? Isn't that a classic? Or is that more journalese?

  2. Thanks Everet - post updated to take this into account.

  3. School Zoned - Not sure how that would work but these days you have to be in the right Zone to get into a certain school.

  4. OneLifeLiveit - That is fascinating; I had never even heard that term before. Googling it, it seems to be more common in the US and Australia/New Zealand than in the UK. In the UK I think "catchment area" is creeping into estate agent's ads.

  5. Sorry - that should read estate agents' ads...apostrophe in the wrong place, unforgivably.

  6. Mrs M, surely "Desirable" should be mentioned! - great article, made us giggle! regards Tina P.

  7. Thanks, Tina P - that is very kind. I am glad you enjoyed it. I agree, "desirable" should definitely be in there; I can't believe I missed it the first time round, but will update the post to include it.

  8. The Antipodean3 June 2010 at 10:41

    Arriving very late to this discussion, but having looked at lots of real estate ads today, I'd like to add 'Bright' and / or 'Cheerful,' which seem to be code for 'original 70's decor' or 'decorated in primary colours.'

    Also the ubiquitous 'studio' apartment, which should really be named 'room, possibly with separate bathroom, if you're lucky.'

  9. I should append to this post some verses of instruction that Mrs M composed on the Tube for my edification.

    If a flat is called bijou, or compact, or neat/
    It's sure to be less than five hundred square feet - /
    And that is the minimum size you should view/
    For a one bedroom flat - but if you want two/

    You must go for eight hundred feet - at a pinch/
    You could try seven fifty, but even one inch/
    Less, and you'll find yourself cramped and depressed
    And annoyed with your flatmate - that mess-making pest!

    If you don't mind a wreck, look for flats with "potential";
    While a separate kitchen is simply essential./
    An open-plan kitchen's not something to "boast" -/
    It will just leave your sitting room smelling of toast/

    And anything else that you might have been making/
    Whether that's mackerel or curry or bacon./
    A decent-sized bathroom is worth having too/
    Not one where the bath's cheek by jowl with the loo.

    (Do try to find one with a standalone shower/
    Those "shower attachments" lack style, height and power/.)
    Now for the kitchen - you ought to be able
    To fit in some chairs and a proper-sized table.

    In conversions, the best floors are raised ground and first -
    While a flat in the eaves is without doubt the worst/
    With a garden, the lower ground holds some appeal/
    If you don't mind a dark subterranean feel./

    But for ceiling height, layout and general good looks/
    A period mansion flat's best in my book/
    The downside? They're not always that economical/
    In fact, service charges can be astronomical.

    Don't worry unduly about decoration -
    You can change it - but can't alter size or location.
    And please don't go further than zone 1 or 2 -
    If you get all that right then I'll come live with you.

  10. The Antipodean, appending and cross-referencing,20 July 2010 at 13:10

    As mentioned, in my internet meanderings I found an academic working paper titled "Rhetoric in the Language of Real Estate Marketing." Seriously.

    I only skimmed it, but in does include in the appendices classification and discussion of some terms, and reference to a 2002 BBC Online article here. This has a much better definition than mine of 'studio': "You can wash the dishes, watch the telly, and answer the front door without getting up from the toilet."

  11. thank you very much indeed. That is a great article. I'd love to be an academic writing on real estate marketing... that's another of my dream jobs, up there with proofreader (although I know I'm doing a shocking job on the blog at the moment).

  12. The Antipodean, rather tense and staying up late for some random reason,23 July 2010 at 17:01

    You're welcome, Mrs M, but I think this is more evidence that we're different people: honestly, academic writing on real estate marketing? Really??

    Proof-reading, no worries, although you did slack off there a bit... I should only want to be proof-reading in certain genres, though.

  13. I wasn't being entirely serious, although my career ambitions have become increasingly lowly as I have got older. But I do like academic papers on frivolous subjects like Freakonomics and the sillier outposts of psychology.

  14. The Antipodean, assuming that Anonymous is Mrs M rather than confuse this whole identity thing any further,29 July 2010 at 03:55

    Well, if it's any comfort, one of these days, when I have enough money, a few spare years, and have studied the odd bit more philosophy and physics, I'm going to do my PhD on concepts of time and space in children's literature - a Narnian Theory of Relativity, if you like. My ambitions have become more grandiose with time: it's what I wanted to do as my honours thesis but it was rejected due to lack of anyone to supervise it. I suspect this would still be an issue, but I'll find them one day. It's also not really a career goal, since I suspect that accounting pays rather better than academia - at any levels I can achieve, anyway.

    With regard to proof-reading, it would appear that we've both been sacked in favour of some chaps in togas, (not sure how they will go with English, I must say) so I vote we head down to the pub.

  15. My favourite is "viewing recommended". What does that mean? If I want to see it I will see it, right?

    "Spacious" usually means ugly, I've come to discover...


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