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OMG! A Crazy World of Real Estate Shorthand

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

My wife gave me a real chuckle the other day when she asked, “By the way, what does ‘btw’ mean?”

Margaret is actually quite savvy in the tech world, but obviously this abbreviation had passed her by.

We’ve all grown up with abbreviations and acronyms that probably originated at sea, from SOS (originally for Save Our Ship) to POSH (for portside out, starboard in). Others developed on land for everyday living, such as VIP (very important person), RSVP (respondez s’l vous plait) and ASAP (as soon as possible). An important one I learned attending college in a dry state was BYOL (bring your own liquor).

Not all of us studied Gregg or Pitman, but a new shorthand developed – then exploded – with the invention of the personal computer, the Internet and when texting became our primary mode of communication with others. Who ever heard of LOL (laughing out loud), IMHO (in my humble opinion) and the ubiquitous OMG! (oh, my God!) before we logged on or texted?

But in RE (real estate), the world of abbreviations and acronyms frequently draws questions about meanings among realtors and blank looks from buyers and sellers as we start to automatically reference letters from the alphabet. There’s AO (acceptable offer), ZB (zoning board), CMA (comparative market analysis) and CO (certificate of occupancy).

Keeping up with these abbreviations is a continuous learning process that can lead to misunderstanding, double interpretations and silly sounds. My favorite is FISBO (for sale by owner).

This subject first came to mind a while back when I was having an uncomfortable conversation with a service provider, a rare situation since most suppliers are very eager to please and win our business. But this one, who installed tiling, refused to give me a solid estimate of what it would cost to have tiles repaired or replaced at the water line of my pool.

When I shared with him that I was hoping that it might be around a $500 job, he retorted, “No way! It’s going to be a lot more than that!” When I asked how much more, he said, “I won’t know until I actually do the work and then it will all be TM.”

The only TM I knew was transcendental meditation, which I thought I would surely need when our conversation ended. When I summoned the courage to ask what TM was, he was happy to educate me: time and materials.

Why everything in the real estate business must be abbreviated I can’t say, but I suspect it originated as a way to save space in listings and ads. Read any ad about a house and you won’t find a complete word anyplace, just a series of letters, some whose meanings are more difficult to guess than others. Consider EF (entry foyer); LR (living room); DR (dining room); EIK (eat-in kitchen); FR (family room); BD or BR (bedroom); BA (bath), SGD (sliding glass doors); WIC (walk-in closet); WDSTV (wood-burning stove); BSMT (basement); GAR (garage); and DK (deck). The ad might also state that it needs TLC. Years ago, it might offer the possibility of a M/D (mother/daughter), but realtors can’t use that discriminatory term anymore.

Styles of homes also have their own codes: COL (colonial), CONT (contemporary), RR (raised ranch), SL (split level) and CC (Cape Cod).

Not to be overlooked for confusion are those abbreviations with double meanings such as AC (it can mean air conditioning or acre) and FHA (Federal Housing Authority or forced hot air).

Some sound either funny or crude, such as PUD (planned unit development); HOA (homeowners association); HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development); and NOO (which isn’t an emphatic negative but nonowner occupied).

Then there are all the financial terms to keep straight such as APR (annual percentage rate) and ARM (adjustable rate mortgage).

Those that definitely need explanation the first time around may be DVAC (central vacuum) and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). I can never remember GFI or GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter, an electrical receptacle that protects us from electrocution in high-risk areas such as bathrooms and kitchens).

Before I’m ready to draw a conclusion, I’ll relate an incident in which I was convinced that abbreviations, while convenient, may be taken too far. I was in an extended e-mail conversation with a seller’s agent concerning an offer I was trying to make on behalf of my buyer client. She said she would be sure to follow up with the seller’s response by e-mail. Granted, it was a somewhat low-ball offer, but I was initially startled when the return e-mail’s subject line simply stated “FU.”

Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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