The home, on one of the loveliest streets in town, had a lot going for it.
“I thought it sat nicely on the lot; I thought it was different; and I thought it was an interesting house,’’ said Maribeth Lynch, a broker and owner of Thrive Real Estate in Shrewsbury.
But it also had a lot working against it.
“It smelled like dogs. Every single window needed to be replaced, and the whole house was windows,” Lynch recalled. “And it hadn’t had a good scrubbing — ever.”
But you can’t say that. So, the challenge for Lynch was how to describe the house. Many brokers say the pictures really tell the story, but in this case, the house — a contemporary with wide open spaces — actually looked far better in photographs than in person.
The description was positive: “Cross the threshold & just say wow. Gorgeous contemporary has simple yet interesting architectural lines.”
But as buyer after buyer came through the door with a disappointed reaction, Lynch knew there was a problem. Eventually, she lost the listing. “For me, it was a lesson learned in setting expectations,’’ she said. “If I had to do it differently, I would have priced it differently, first of all, but I wouldn’t have been as flowery in the description.
It’s a dilemma all brokers face at one time or another, how to walk the line between generating interest in a house and overselling it.
“You do have to get them in the door,’’ said Marjorie Vogt of Vogt Realty Group in Dedham and West Roxbury. “I try to be as accurate as I can with the living space, because if you’re not, that will really annoy people. Some brokers embellish everything.”
When it comes to a home’s shortcomings, “Silence is best,’’ said Tracy Campion of Campion and Company on Newbury Street. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. As a real estate broker, you’re supposed to be positive and optimistic, so you look for the best.”
The Multiple Listing Service Property Information Network gives brokers just 1,000 characters with which to describe their listings, which naturally has led to the development of a certain short-hand. The same words and phrases tend to crop up over and over.
“There are these hot-button words that some brokers use, and they become almost formulaic,’’ Campion said. “For instance, ‘beautifully renovated while retaining all the original charm.’ You see that a lot.’’
And there are many others. Herewith, a primer:
■ “Architectural details means there was attention to craftsmanship — moldings, staircases that have something extra, great woodworking, and built-ins,’’ said Nora Lynch Smith, a realtor with Landmark Residential in South Natick.
■ “To me, it means lots of crown molding and wainscoting and different lines — not a square box,” Vogt said.
■ “That has to do with exterior trim, windows with pediments, or maybe pillars or a portico or other architectural detail that’s been added,’’ John Volpe, a realtor with William Raveis in Norwell, said.
■ “ ‘As is’ indicates that it definitely needs work,” Vogt said.
■ “What you see is what you get,’’ Campion said. “If the price is $559,000 and they accept an offer for $525,000, don’t come back after inspection and expect to negotiate further.”
■ “The price is the price,’’ Volpe said. “The seller understands that there’s an issue — structural or wiring or plumbing — that they don’t have the capacity to fix. It also could refer to ‘financeability.’ With many finance programs, like VA or FHA loans, you can’t have a lot of problems.”
■ “It’s not necessarily a bad thing,’’ said Heather Ovesen of the Kenneally-Ovesen Group at RE/Max Leading Edge in Boston. “It could just mean the sellers are in a place where they just want to sell. They don’t want to have a long discussion about what the house needs, and they don’t want to go back and forth over little things. They’ve priced it just where it needs to be.”
■ “Buyer beware. It’s a dump,” Lynch said.
■ “It’s additional space that you can possibly grow into, like unfinished attic space,” Ovesen said.
■ “It’s extra space in addition to the main living areas. That’s a room that can be a large entertainment room or a media room or a game room,’’ Volpe said.
Bring your checkbook
■ “You’re going to lose out if you don’t act fast,’’ Vogt said.
■ “Expect multiple offers or expect to be in a bidding war,’’ said Lynch Smith. “They’ve priced this to sell . . . maybe even underpriced it.”
■ “Be sure to jump on it quick. . . . Those are fighting words,” Lynch said.
■ “What’s a checkbook? I don’t even know what a checkbook is anymore,’’ Ovesen said.
Bring your vision
■ “Needs work,” Lynch Smith said.
■ “There’s something really pretty or unexposed that hasn’t been maximized,’’ Volpe said.
■ “Usually it’s a cluttered house. It hasn’t been depersonalized, so that when you walk in, all you see is stuff. . . . Or it could need some work, like removing dated wallpaper,’’ Ovesen said.
■ “Charming means small,’’ Lynch Smith said. “And by the way, sometimes ‘unique’ is a code word for ‘Oh, goodness.’ ’’
■ “It’s just very sweet,’’ Ovesen said. “You just love it. It does tend to fall on the smaller side.”
■ “It means it’s a small house and the price point is similar to that of a condo,’’ Vogt said.
■ “For people that might think they can only afford a condo, it’s a single-family house they can actually afford,’’ Lynch Smith said.
■ “A European kitchen is basically contemporary in my mind, with clean lines,’’ Lynch Smith said. “If they’re describing the exterior, I think of the French countryside or English gardens.”
■ “I typically see this with kitchens and baths,’’ Ovesen said. “European kitchens have more of a contemporary flair, with modern, flat cabinets. But it could also mean gorgeous, hand-carved woodwork. It usually means an open floor plan, or it could be an English Tudor or Victorian.”
■ “IKEA. Very clean. Sleek,” Lynch said.
■ “There’s flexibility in how you use the rooms. There may be an in-law or an au-pair situation downstairs or two master bedrooms or a room that can accommodate an office,’’ Lynch Smith said.
■ “The front living room might work as a den or as an office,’’ Volpe said. “There are many options for the ways different rooms can be used.”
■ “It probably has high-end appliances that are good enough for a chef. Cook’s, chef’s, and gourmet kitchen, to me, are all the same thing,” Vogt said.
■ “This is used too much, but it’s a kitchen that’s updated and has all the appliances and gadgets a chef would want,’’ Campion said.
■ “They want out. They’re ready and they want this to happen quickly. It screams, ‘Bring me an offer,’ ’’ Ovesen said. “I think it puts the seller at a disadvantage in terms of people coming in with a lower number.”
■ “I’ve also seen ‘seller says sell,’ ” Lynch Smith said. “Like other sellers don’t want to sell? It’s a little desperate.”
■ “Kitchens and baths are done, floors are nicely sanded, everything’s done, and the owner has kept it up,’’ Lynch Smith said. “It’s clean and crisp.”
■ “Everything’s on trend,” Lynch said.
Not a drive-by
■ “You have to get in there because it’s not what you think,’’ Lynch Smith said. “It probably looks smaller than it actually is. Appearances can be deceiving. Maybe it goes way back, but you don’t see that from the front.”
■ “You need a broker to explain the unseen potential,’’ Campion said.
Offers will be reviewed (at a stated time and date)
■ “It could be a tool to generate interest, but it could also be a way to get everyone in the door who’s interested when you know you have a listing that might sell in 24 hours,’’ Campion said.
■ “Be prepared for multiple offers. Be thoughtful about your bid,’’ Lynch Smith said.
■ “They feel very confident that this home is going to go. It stirs up a little pressure. I don’t care to use that language,’’ Ovesen said. “What if no one makes an offer?”
■ “That’s another one that says ‘priced to sell.’ Or it could mean this kind of house doesn’t come up in this neighborhood very often,” Vogt said.
■ “Again, it needs work . . . the kitchens and baths or some other major improvements may have to be done, so it’s underpriced,’’ Lynch Smith said.
■ “The highest and best use of that house hasn’t been met,’’ Volpe said. “Maybe it’s a decent house in a great location. Or maybe there are four or five acres, and the seller doesn’t want to go through the approval process for subdividing them.”
■ “Fixer-upper term. It’s a great neighborhood, but the house needs work,” Lynch said.
Perfect for first-time buyers
■ “It’s a good entry-point for a particular town. Probably there’s no deferred maintenance. It’s fresh, and it’s priced right,” Lynch Smith said.
■ “I would say it’s an entry-level price point,’’ said Ovesen. “It’s a space you might grow out of quickly.”
Perfect for investors
■ “They’re looking for flippers and rehabbers,’’ Volpe said. “It probably needs lots of work and maybe you need a cash buyer.”
■ “Usually you see this with multiunits. It means the numbers make sense. The rents will cover the mortgage, or the numbers make sense to restore it and sell it as condos or rent,’’ Ovesen said. “For a single-family, it means it’s too much for the average person, that it needs a complete rehab.”
■ “I think it means a lavish bath. People want the oversized tub. But it could be dated, too, because it could have a jetted tub — which are becoming passé,” Vogt said.
■ “It’s a larger master bath,’’ Lynch Smith said.
■ “It has a luxurious feeling to it: It’s well lit, has white marble, and is spacious,’’ Campion said.
■ “It’s more of an enclosed steam room,’’ Volpe said.
■ “Something you can relax in,’’ Ovesen said, and “some connection to a retreat.”
■ “This depends on the price point. If it’s in the mid-range, it means there could be a multioffer situation. But it could also be a price reduction, where they’re saying: ‘We’re done. Let’s drop the price and move on,’ ’’ Lynch Smith said.
■ “This creates some type of urgency,’’ Volpe said. “Some sellers want to price their home just below your suggested price and start a bidding war.”
■ “It can mean that it’s just an amazing home,’’ Ovesen said.