Selling Your House? Choose Your Words Carefully

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Certain phrases pop up again and again in real estate listings, and these keywords offer a good indication of the prices a property will command. A listing promising a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” for instance, has an average price of $3.4 million, while a “cute little bungalow” asks around $62,000, on average. Quirky terms pop up in local markets, too: You’ll never guess what one of the top phrases in San Francisco is.

After sifting through its 4.5 million-property database, has released a new study naming the real estate listing phrases that appear often in the highest- and lowest-priced homes.

As might be expected, most of the phrases that fill out the highest-priced listings evoke magnificent estates; in fact, “magnificent estate” is one of the top 10. (The average listing price of a magnificent estate: about $3.6 million.) The priciest phrase of all is “parlor floor,” which corresponds to an average property price of $4.9 million. “Parlor floor” is a common descriptor for  luxurious townhouses in New York City, which is notorious for high real estate costs. Even the 250-square-foot shoeboxes under consideration by a space-squeezed city government would start at $940 a month to rent in NYC. (“Shoebox,” by the way, is not a term you’re likely to see in real estate listings.)

The phrase “highest level” — another example of urban market-speak — corresponds to a $3.4 million price tag, but most of the other terms imply more spacious surroundings: “formal gardens,” “paneled library” and “motor court” all make the top 10 list.

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More specific phrasing seems to be a better bet for sellers: Trulia found that specifying oak or bamboo rather than just saying “hardwood” in reference to the floor corresponded with a higher listing price.

At the other end of the pricing spectrum, listings warning about defective paint or a “mold-like substance” clocked in with average listing prices of around $45K. When there’s a lead paint warning, the average goes down to $40K. Buyers looking for a starter home or investment property probably don’t want to spend much, and listings with those terms only average about $65,000. The lowest average price — $27,569 — turned up on listings with the phrase “minimum commission applies.”

Then there are the phrases that demonstrate the quirkiness of local markets around the country, where specific features or amenities seem to be popular with buyers (or at least the folks writing up property descriptions). St. Louis is the top market where “stained glass” is mentioned, for instance, followed by Pittsburgh. The word “lanai” — a kind of open-air porch — is a top term for listings in Honolulu, while “mirrored closet doors” are popular in Ventura County and Orange County, California. And hey, San Francisco: Trulia’s research upholds your city’s food-snob, health-nut reputation. The phrase “Whole Foods” popped up 10 times more frequently in San Fran than anywhere else in the country.

“Sellers need to know the local lingo in order to appeal to buyers, and buyers need to know which hyperlocal features they should look for,” Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko said in a statement. Buyers should also keep in mind that descriptive, flowery verbiage is a key sales tool — and not let those “cute” or “magnificent” words distract them from finding the best house for them and negotiating the best price possible.

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“From a buyer’s perspective, listing words can be a strong clue whether a home might be overpriced or underpriced,” Kolko tells TIME. “An expensive listing described with words that usually appear in lower-priced listings could indicate it’s overpriced – or could indicate that the listing description is underselling the home’s features.”