Experts Say to Never Use These Words When Selling Your Home

updated Oct 11, 2019
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When you’re putting your home up for sale, you might be tempted to use some of the words you see again and again on different listings. Much of this real estate jargon is effectively meaningless and harmless, but experts say that a handful of other terms can actually convey negative things about your home. So while you may feel that your gorgeous fireplace definitely makes your home feel “cozy,” or that you’d describe the level of work you’ve put into your home as “lovingly maintained,” savvy searchers might see these terms as red flags. Before you work with your agent on your listing, get to know these real estate codewords and you’ll know which words to avoid—making sure you get the best pool of potential buyers to your property:

Cozy, dollhouse, or cottage

Sounds cute and whimsical, right? Maybe if you’re doll-sized. “When listings use the word ‘dollhouse,’ ‘cottage,’ or ‘cozy’ it is usually code for very, very small,” says Julie Gurner, senior real estate analyst for “These are the types of properties that often use decor to try to compensate for lack of space, and even then can feel cramped and tiny.

Custom, custom-built, or unique

Though you might be proud of the bespoke solutions you’ve built into your home, others might immediately think of weird corners, tacky colors, and wild additions. Robert Solis, broker at Spaces Real Estate in Chicago, Illinois says that these words usually indicate when a space has been designed to suit a seller’s very personal taste.

Modern, vintage, and rustic

These may not seem like synonyms, but they all can mean the property is like stepping back in time, and not in a good way. “Vintage often means ridiculously outdated,” says Adam James, broker at Spaces Real Estate. “Again, this type of property might suit some buyers, but it doesn’t have universal appeal. Modern isn’t as updated as buyers might expect.” For savvy searchers, this term will often provoke images of 10-year-old rehabs which have some updates, but not the most current features or on-trend finishes.

Great potential, potential investment, needs TLC

If you know your home isn’t as good as it could be (but is still a completely fine place to live), veer away from these common phrases: “‘TLC,’ ‘has so much potential,’ or ‘lots of possibilities’ imply that the property needs serious work done,” says Dawn Perry, senior vice president of marketing for ERA Real Estate. Perry says that these terms are generally used to communicate that a property will need complete fixer-upper requiring engineers and contractors.

Well-maintained, lovingly maintained, or all the original details

Compared with “Needs TLC,” these don’t sound too bad. Or do they? Again, these terms often evoke negative connotations in listings: This can be code for an older home with solid bones—but doesn’t fit into the current style, says Gurner. However, there is a caveat with this one: These words often convey that at least one room—usually the kitchen or bathroom—needs renovation, but the system and roofing are usually solid. Gurner says the people attracted to these listings are usually those looking for a bargain that they can customize to their tastes to over time.

Hot or up-and-coming

You’re super psyched about the new restaurant row or Trader Joe’s down the block—but real estate investor Brian Davis warns that descriptions that refer to a neighborhood as “hot” or “up-and-coming” are often misleading or just used for fluff. While these words may seem synonymous with best or most in demand, Davis says they usually refer to “a neighborhood that is–allegedly–appreciating faster than average.” Some may pass over your listing because they think your ‘hood has—and still may have—a long way to climb to the top.

Buyers to verify permits

While your agent might want to put in this to cover themselves fully in terms of disclosure, Samira Tapia, a second-generation real estate agent, says that this is often one of the scariest real estate codewords searchers to come across. “Many times it’s added to call attention to unpermitted additions or conversions,”says Tapia. Because of this, many might skip seeing a showing at your home, considering the potential high costs of getting everything to code.

Updated October 11, 2019—LS

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