So maybe the current low mortgage rates and housing prices have you thinking about buying a home. If you haven't already, you'll quickly find out that part of the challenge is decoding the property descriptions in the real estate listings.

Real estate listings have a reputation for what might be charitably described as creative writing. Others might say they can be downright misleading, as agents try to put the best face on a Medusa of a property.

Some of the more standard euphemisms are fairly well known: "cozy" and "cute" mean small, "fixer-upper" means the place is a dump and "sunny" often indicates there's not a tree on the lot.

The more extreme contortions of language are often a source of amusement both within the industry and among home shoppers who've become accustomed to such things. One industry group, the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA), even publishes and updates a consumer guide to home buying euphemisms and lingo, in an effort that is both tongue-in-cheek but also designed to serve their clients.

Because NAEBA exclusively represents home buyers, it has an interest in helping its customers cut through the fog of property descriptions. The guide is compiled through a survey of its members, who report phrases and terms they encounter in listings used to sell homes. In some cases, a particular term or phrase will be associated with a certain region of the country. While many are fairly straightforward explanations of terms used as shorthand to describe certain situations, others can be downright funny in their efforts to obscure or shade their real meaning.

A few examples of how some terms may be used:

"Easy access to everywhere" - backs up to a freeway

"Grandma's house" - hasn't been updated since granny moved in and still smells like her

"As the bird flies" - you have to navigate a tangled network of streets to get there

"Light and bright" - everything is painted white. Looks like a hospital.

"Light, airy basement" -daylight was visible through the cracks in the foundation "Retro décor" - think avocado

"Turnkey" - seller didn't want to haul off the old furniture.

"Unique design" - you have to walk through a bathroom to reach one of the rooms

"Walking distance" - up to two miles

"Water front" - this has been reported to describe properties on long-dried up lake beds and even backing up to retention basins.

It should be noted that such terms as these do not necessarily mean the agent is stretching the truth - "water front" can mean a very nice property along an actual body of water. But if you do any amount of home shopping, you're likely to run into a least a few instances of "creative" property descriptions.

The NAEBA Report on Real Estate Euphenisms and Lingo is available online through the organization's web site.

Published on August 7, 2009