Reading Between the Lines: Help Interpreting Real Estate Listings

If you have been searching for a home for a while, you may be tired of finding listings you love—only to find out that the home is not quite what you expected when you show up to look at it in person. It's not that real estate agents and homeowners intentionally mislead you when they create ads. Rather, it is hard to fit everything about a home into one listing, and they also strive to present the home in the best light in these ads.

If you want to do a better job of weeding out homes before you make an on-site visit, then it's important to read between the lines as you look at real estate listings. Here are some indicators that can help you determine if you want to buy the home or not.

Few pictures mean the rest of the home needs work.

If a homeowner wants to show off the beauty of a newly remodeled home, they will usually take plenty of pictures to include in the listing. So, if you come across a listing with only a few pictures, you can bet that's because the other areas of the home were not worth photographing. If you're looking for a fixer-upper, then by all means, schedule an appointment to see the home. However, if you want a house that's move-in ready, you'll be wasting your time visiting such a home.

If nobody is living in a newly remodeled home, it's probably a flip.

If the listing shows pictures of an obviously empty home that's not being lived in—and it also specifies that the home has just been updated—then there is a good chance an investor bought the property, remodeled it, and is trying to sell it for a profit. While there is nothing wrong with buying a "flipped" house, you should be aware that the owner probably needs to sell the home for a certain amount in order ton make a profit. They may be less open to negotiation than a seller who is living in their home. 

"Up and coming neighborhood" may be a nice way of saying the home is not in the best area.

Nobody is going to say in their real estate listing that their home is in a bad part of town. If you specifically want to live in an area with a low crime rate, the best parks, and the best schools, then you may want to steer clear of listings that state "up and coming neighborhood." The neighborhood very well may turn around in the next few years, but this statement suggests it has not done so yet.

Words like "cozy," "rustic," and "vintage" are up for interpretation.

Keeping in mind that real estate agents always aim to represent a home in the best light, consider that these words are often used in place of less-positive adjectives that could describe a home equally as well. A home that is "cozy" is probably small. One that is "rustic" may be a bit run down, and one that is "vintage" is probably outdated—though likely in good shape. When you see adjectives in a real estate listing, always try to think of their synonyms, and then ask yourself if those synonyms describe a home you would want to live in.

Whenever you read real estate listings, remember that they are not an all-inclusive description of the house. However, if you read between the lines a little, you'll find that the listings say more than you might initially think. Reading ads with discretion will reduce the number of homes you show up to see, but that are nowhere near what you're looking for.