Coming to Terms

Every profession has its own lingo, meanings of which are not always apparent to the uninitiated. The profession with which I am now dealing is real estate–and finding a place just to rent is reminding me of vocabulary–and other knowledge–that I have had on some inner back shelf for some time.

Here in California’s land of grapes and olives–and every other growing thing–the language of real estate is curiously, or perhaps not, like that of most other places I’ve encountered, with one exception. Here there are many ‘cottages’ for rent. I am learning an expanded definition of that term.

To me, originally from the northeast, ‘cottage’ is some kind of small house, usually found on a lake. I learned sometime ago not to necessarily expect a lake to come along with a cottage in most parts of the country, but to me the word ‘cottage’ still has something to do with being ‘cute’ or ‘appealing.’ Something not as big and heavy as a house, but maybe more like a miniature house–like something you might live in while on vacation, or like something Hansel and Gretl lived in full time, again implying the unfortunately over-used word ‘cute.’ Well, that’s my idea anyway.

Here in California, a ‘cottage’ can be anything from ‘cute’ in the Hansel and Gretl sense to a ‘hovel’ of the hippie sort. It seems many places that don’t fit my definitions of the term are indiscriminately described as ‘cottages.’ OK, so now I know to beware of ‘cottage’ and what it may or may not imply.

Back to standard real estate lingo. Another word to watch is ‘charming.’ When that word gets used in a real estate listing, I ask myself, what is it they are trying to hide? ‘Charming’ seems to be a real estate code/euphemism for ‘this place needs serious work and we’re not allowed to say so.’

Then there’s ‘cozy.’ Think, “so small that even an extra toothbrush won’t fit.”

‘Rustic.’ Think ‘primitive,’ and ask if there is indoor plumbing.

‘Unique.’ Means something is missing or very wrong–like the shower is located in the kitchen. Don’t laugh. I was once shown an apartment in France where that was exactly the set-up-and the owner tried to make me see what a great advantage that was-I could cook and shower simultaneously. I passed on that.

‘Estate property.’ Now to me that means a property that houses ‘an estate’–something fairly grand in the normal scheme of things–a main house with outbuildings–maybe a stable, a guest cottage or two, caretaker’s house–something of substance. I’ve learned not to trust my sense of the word.

The other day I drove to see one of these ‘estate properties.’ Oh my. I was there to see a ‘cottage.’ The ‘cottage’ was allegedly the remodeled stable–I don’t doubt it had been a stable, but ‘remodeled’ is the alleged part. If that was in fact true, it needed a re-do. And the ‘estate’ on which it was located? It appeared more a commune from the 60s than anything that would make it worthy of the ‘estate’ designation.

‘Hillside view.’ The windows can’t be opened because they are so close to the hill behind them–therefore, there is a very close-up view of the earth that comprises the hillside in question.

And the vocabulary is not the only booby trap lurking to lure you in.

One owner tried to make me think that having only one closet in an entire apartment, itself a miniscule facsimile of what a regulation-sized closet would be, was ‘normal’ in this part of the world. Do I appear to be that naive or did he just presume easterners to be that dumb?

Don’t believe everything–or anything–you see in photos. The people posting these photos are doing it not to let you see what the place looks like, but what they want you to think it looks like–and they are clever–or is it sneaky?

At one place the agent admitted to having had a professional photographer do the photographing. His pictures made it look that this ‘cottage’ (which actually did fit my definition of that, minus the lake, of course) was sitting in the middle of a field of vineyards, far from the road, and bordered by ‘horse property.’ Fact is, it is sitting almost in the middle of the road and is not in a field of any sort at all, and the ‘horse property’ referred to the fact that the next door neighbors have a horse in their back yard–literally.

At another place, most likely professionally photographed as well, the outside shot of the ‘cottage’ skillfully camouflaged its bomb shelter appearance, never even hinting at its notably flat roof. In reality the ‘cottage’ looked as if a giant with a scythe had neatly lobbed off its rightful roof, leaving it forlorn in its stubby and wanton toplessness.

What I must always remember is, that despite all of the pitfalls into which I, and others of the unsuspecting, may unwittingly fall, searching for a place to rent is far less hazardous here than in other countries. When looking for places in France, I often had to ask, “Which room is the kitchen?” And then I learned. It was the room with a pipe sticking out of the wall. It was up to the tenant to supply all appliances, counters, cabinets, and even the kitchen sink–and that was, in fact, considered ‘normal.’ A good reason to give thanks for not being French.

Compared to figuring out French kitchens, glamour shots of topless ‘cottages’ in commune settings with too up-close views of encroaching hillsides seem a bit trivial. Was I complaining?

Internet Explorer 6 or older browser detected. This website is functional only in Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer 7+ and other internet standards compliant browsers. Please visit this site using a current browser.