Realtor speak: For real laughs, read the real estate ads

Some guys go golfing. Others collect stamps. I read the real estate magazines.

Here are some of the things I've learned during the last decade reading about and seeing houses:

If it's reasonably priced, it's probably at least a 50-minute ride to your job in Charlottesville.

"Quaint" and "cozy" are buzzwords used to describe cramped quarters, and "rustic" often means there haven't been any plumbing upgrades since the Spanish-American War.

I must sympathize with the folks who have to write these ads. How does a realtor give ad-copy oomph to yet another one-story brick rancher? One way is to use the headline "Bigger than you think." Often houses described this way are partially built into a hill and have large, full basements. I have yet to see an ad saying, "Smaller than you think."

"Cute as a button" is a much overworked real estate cliché. About 12 years ago, this was the description used for a small house off the 250-bypass in the north Locust Avenue area. This particular house happens to actually be circular, and the headline therefore was appropriate, because most buttons on my clothes are round. Since then, however, "cute as a button" has been used for a variety of smaller structures that are neither round nor things I consider "cute."

Houses are never simply "on" a parcel of land. They are either "situated on" or "nestled on." If they're in a prestigious area like Farmington, houses can be "perched on."

Real estate ads in the Rugby area are almost always "within walking distance of the University"– never, ever, 1.3 miles away. Realtors must suppose that all walkers have the vim and vigor of 18-year-olds.

All houses– or "homes," as most real estate people refer to them– are always shown by appointment, just in case you might decide to show up at 3am with a six-pack.

Real estate ads also feature a lot of pictures of realtors, and I really don't know why. I would think potential buyers would like information about houses instead of knowing how good-looking the realtors are. There must be a compelling, selling reason for those mug shots. But I'll be darned if I know what it is.

I'm sure there are a lot of other reasons why realtors do things like give themselves nicknames such as "The hard-working nice guy," "The straight-shooting realtor," and "The real Cotten, not the synthetic." Whatever their reasons, such names must work, since agents have been using them for a good number of years.

Looking at the names of real estate folks, it seems the more unusual the first name, the more successful the realtor. So if any of you out there wish to have your child become a member of the Realtors' Million Dollar Sales Club, consider naming him or her "Lane," "Punkie," or "Loring."

The best time to sell a house is the early spring, sometimes as early as March. The autumn isn't as "hot," although all those rich professors, medical residents, and wealthy early retirees planning to arrive in the early fall and get their kids in the best schools make old-time residents drool. Then they sneer, "We're not selling until we get our price," which– if they are selling their houses themselves, without an agent– is at least 20 percent over any reasonable figure.

"Owner says sell" and "Owner anxious." These expressions make me laugh, as does the phrase, "Won't last." That last one makes me think of the big bad wolf blowing down the house of the first little pig.

Realtors also use a number of devices to jazz up their "open houses," a term which does not mean there's a gaping hole in the roof– you know what it means. One such popular device is boiling cinnamon in an otherwise empty kitchen, or laying down some pricey temporary oriental rugs to class up the joint.

Realtors also have all kinds of rationales for selling houses. Some of these reasons make me wonder. Several years ago, there were a couple of houses for sale in the Winston Road area. One was $245,000, the other $375,000. They both seemed to have the same number of rooms. When I asked why one was more expensive than the other, I was condescendingly told that the more expensive house "had a legal basement apartment you can rent out to students and help pay off your mortgage." That led me to wonder why anyone willing to spend that amount of money would want beer-swigging, party-throwing grunges in their basement.

Another device realtors use is making past or present owners more important than they really are. I was once told that the woman who owned the house I was looking at was "from one of Lynchburg's finest families," and one realtor graciously let me know that "When the Commander lived here," he built in such and such a convenience.

One thing for sure, with all the local agents, the real estate business is very, very competitive… maybe even more competitive than the local newspaper business.

But I hope not, because I'm probably in enough trouble with all the real estate agents already.

Back by popular demand! This essay got a lot of chuckles when it originally appeared in the Hook in the spring of 2002.–ed.