Real estate listings offer much information about properties if you understand them Reading Between the LINES


If you've never read a real estate listing before, this house on Evesham Avenue certainly might not sound like much of a buy:

"Age unkn, ex ww carpet, ex lgt fxtrs, unimprv outside entr, ex dl glz wn, $119,000."

Great, you say -- an ancient place with no carpet or lights, a dirt walk up to the entrance and no dl glz wn, whatever that means. A real steal for a hundred thousand dollars and change. Once deciphered, though, the listing describes a house that doesn't sound half bad:

* "Age unkn" may just mean the seller doesn't know the age of the house, and it could be relatively new.

* "Ex ww carpet, ex lgt fxtrs" actually means carpet and light fixtures are existing, not excluded.

* "Unimprv outside entr" means the owner didn't build a deck or patio on the original builder's finished entry. It is unimproved, not necessarily undesirable.

* "Dl glz wn" means "double glazed windows," nice protection from cold winds and high energy bills. And they are "ex" -- existing -- in this house.

On the other hand, a home listed as having "wood floors" and an "eat-in-kitchen" may sound like a great find, but be careful. "Wood floors" may mean well-kept hardwood or cheap softwood, and an "eat-in" kitchen may mean a table in the corner barely big enough for two people -- let alone a family of five.

Real estate people, who see listings every day, have no problem understanding them and reading between the lines. But to buyers, especially first-timers, the listings look like hieroglyphics.

"You'd be surprised," said Nancy Hubble, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. "I take very well-educated people and they can't make out what the listing means."

House listings -- usually given out at open houses or perused in bunches by prospective buyers -- offer a wealth of information about homes, if you know how to read them. For buyers, they can help narrow down a seemingly endless list of possibilities.

But listings can also be misleading, at least for novices, and can be limited in what they say. The best way to get specific, accurate information on a home is by asking the selling agent, touring the house and inspecting public records.

Real estate listings are a computerized listings of properties for sale. Information about each property is entered by real estate agents -- usually from information supplied from the seller. Agents often cannot verify the data, so buyers should carefully ,, check out everything that is listed.

Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service, a subsidiary of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, lists properties for Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. Other areas -- like Anne Arundel County, the Eastern Shore or Montgomery and Frederick counties -- are served by separate listing services.

Anne Arundel County's listings look slightly different than Central Maryland's, says Tom Quattlebaum, executive vice president of the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors.

"They're just printed differently because we have a different software program," Mr. Quattlebaum says. "But they all have the same information about the property -- layout, number and size of bedrooms and baths, and amenities."

What they say

Listings usually contain the property address, map coordinates, style, number of bedrooms and baths.

They also describe the lot size, room sizes, floor plan, appliances and amenities included, type of utilities, improvements to the property, fees and property taxes and directions. They also have brief comments about the best features.

Sounds like a lot of information. But Tom Quattlebaum, executive vice president of the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors, says buyers should think of listings only as a starting point in their home search.

"There are some limitations to the sheet," he says. Buyers can get much more detailed information about a house from a tour or photos and fliers about it.

For example, because of the way the listing software is programmed, homes with three-car garages appear on Baltimore's listings as "garage 2+," not "garage 3."

"We can only feed in answers that they have questions for," Mrs. Hubble said.

And she concedes buyers are frequently confused by the meaning of "ex." It means existing, not excluded, but the abbreviation can stump anyone.

When giving room sizes in a listing, for example, agents are required to round down to the nearest whole number. A room measuring 20 feet, 11 inches must be listed as 20 feet. The difference in size could be important if a buyer is looking for a 21-foot room.

What isn't on the listing can be just as important as what's there. Older homes with asphalt shingle roofs usually require new roofs at 15 to 30 years of age. But unless "new roof" is included on the listing for a 35-year-old house, chances are the roof has not been replaced recently.

On a close inspection of this older house, the roof could prove to be in terrible shape. The potential buyers would have wasted time touring it unless they didn't mind replacing the roof themselves.

Why use the listings?

Mrs. Hubble says they can help eliminate the definite "nos" from the possible "maybes" before a buyer drives to see any of them. To begin a computer search for homes that might appeal to a buyer, agents try to determine the price range, neighborhood FTC and what the buyer wants in their new house. With a stack of listings in hand, the potential buyer can scan through and quickly eliminate most of the houses on the market.

"I suggest the buyer read the remarks first," Mrs. Hubble said, where the best features of the house are described in a sentence or two. She says the remarks usually aren't flowery; there's not enough room.

"When I write my remarks, I write for the Realtor rather than the buyer," she says. "It's usually the Realtor who is scrolling through the listings looking for a buyer. I try not to be flowery but be real to the point about what the home has to offer."

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