Active Rain June 14, 2011

Real Estate Terms to Take with a Grain of Salt

It is no exaggeration that getting transactions to close is far more work in this climate than it was 5 years ago. The most onerous pitfalls in my experience are related to title and compliance issues on the property. Old school agents often gloss over illegal bathrooms and decks, but title companies and lenders do not. The following is a list of terms that could be red flags for a problem in getting a home closed. 


  1. In-Law and Mother-Daughter apartments. In Westchester County, a home is either a legal single family or a legal two family. They have to be sold as one or the other. If someone makes a kitchenette basement apartment for their elderly relative it might not be a big deal to the neighbors or the code enforcers, but when it is time to sell the home has to be brought into compliance, which means making a de-facto two family a single family again. It has gotten to the point where our MLS will not allow in law or mother daughter to be used in the marketing information unless the home is a legal two family. 
  2. Grandfathered, or predates zoning. This is one of those illegal addition/improvement get out of jail free cards that actually exists but is very, very rare. The only time I have seen it is in a very old home that has been in the same ownership for several decades and never had work done that required permits after zoning laws took effect in the 1960s and 1970s. Even if those conditions exist, the best thing to do is verify everything at the building department to ensure a “predates zoning letter” is on file. 
  3. Buyer agent to verify.” The public seldom sees this phrase, but it is still popular in some parts of New York in the agent remarks section of the MLS. It translates to “I don’t want to be responsible for the square footage, taxes or other piece of quantitative data.” We don’t permit it for the property taxes in the Empire Access MLS, as the taxes must reflect the true tax figure without STAR or other exemptions, but some out of area agents still use it sometimes. No inaccurate data in a listing gets a mulligan, and listing agents must make all reasonable efforts to ensure their data is accurate. 
  4. Slam dunk, sure thing and other superlatives. This one has to do with a buyer’s ability to get a mortgage. Unless they have been through underwriting, it is irresponsible to characterize any borrower this way in the current market. It is often famous last words. 

There are others, and this is by no means an attempt at a glossary of misleading agent terms. These descriptions are often offered by well meaning people who haven’t yet gotten the extent of thoroughness that is required these days, but they learn fast.