7 Red Flags in a Real Estate Ad That Should Make You Worry



Ever have that jarring experience in which you fall in love with a home online, then show up at the front door to realize that it looks nothing like it did in the listing? It's annoying for sure, but that's just the nature of advertising. After all, that close-up of a sizzling Big Mac in those McDonald's commercials looks amazing compared to the burger you see when you open the box, right? Get real.

Listing agents, like all salespeople, have to do something to attract potential buyers, and one way they do this is by finding euphemisms to throw the most flattering light onto a home -- and sometimes obscure a home's flaws.

So we're here to help you understand what certain terms and catch phrases really mean in real estate speak, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Consider it a translation manual!


This warm-and-fuzzy word inspires many positive vibes. But make no mistake, "cozy" is code for small. There's nothing wrong with a tiny house or kitchen, of course (in fact, people love tiny homes), but it's nice to know a place is diminutive before you take the time to see it.

Related terms: "Intimate," "efficient" (as in the "efficiency kitchen" where you can "chop, mix, microwave, bake, cook, wash, and store without ever having to move your feet!" according to WiseGeek)

Reality check: Check the square footage and floor plan.

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"Custom" usually signifies that the owner has adapted the home to his or her own particular taste. It sounds fancy, but just what is that taste? The results could well be odd, inconvenient, inappropriate, or just plain bizarre.

Related terms: "Unique," "interesting," "one of a kind"

Reality check: Ask the listing agent what, exactly, is unique about the home. As for whether it's a positive or negative, you be the judge. Some people like having a "custom closet" for their taxidermy projects.

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Needs TLC

This is yet another term that tugs at the heartstrings, right? But your Spidey sense should be tingling with this one, because it typically means the house needs major work. If you're lucky, it's just a new paint job; if less lucky, you could need new plumbing, wiring, and roof. Or it might be cheaper to just tear the whole place down and start fresh.

Related terms: "Great potential," "fixer-upper," "handyman's delight," "DIY," or "great bones" (which means the house is solid structurally but needs major cosmetic work -- prepare to demo some drywall!)

Reality check: Ask the listing agent what renovations need to be done.

"I laugh when I see these terms, because they could mean anything from needing cosmetic fixes to bringing in a bulldozer to knock the whole thing down," says Realtor Sandi Margolis of Keller Williams Realty in Beverly Hills, CA.

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This is yet another major euphemism in the real estate world where the reality is not so swoon-worthy: It just means the house is old.

Related terms: "Quaint," "adorable," "tons of character"

Reality check: Check the listing to see if it mentions the age of the house. You can also ask the Realtor for this info, as well as the age of major appliances within, like the boiler.

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Up-and-coming neighborhood

You're thinking streets lined with cool restaurants and cafes! But it could also mean you might hear gunshots when you go to bed at night. There can be an extremely long gap between "up-and-coming" and "arrived." Meanwhile, you'll be putting up with a rundown area and longtime neighbors who are resentful of the newbies, as well as the noise and other inconveniences of construction.

Related terms: "Trendy," "hip," "artsy"

Reality check: Type the address into My Local Crime to pull up local crime statistics. Meanwhile, Gravy will give you the scoop on an area's events, from bars and restaurants to rock concerts. Here are 10 ways to find out about a neighborhood without even setting foot there.

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Way off the beaten path or freeway, it could take you hours to commute to work or even to the local grocery store.

Related terms: "Private," "quiet," "rural," "retreat," "oasis"

Reality check: Check Google Maps in satellite mode so you can see exactly how off the beaten path this is.

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Just had a total face-lift

It sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it? But don't expect Joan Crawford -- level surgery here. A "face-lift" for a home is quite simple.

"Loosely translated, this means the seller painted everything," says Jay MacDonald, a real estate expert at This sounds good, except for the fact that paint is often used to hide things such as water stains and cracks in the wall that could signify foundation problems.

Reality check: Be sure to ask if the home has any history with water damage or foundation problems; sellers are required to disclose any known problems.