Your browser is not supported. We do our best to optimize our websites to the most current web browsers. Please try another browser.
Skip to main content

Scott McGillivray’s Advice for Decoding the Hidden Messages in Real Estate Listings

Scott McGillivray’s Advice for Decoding the Hidden Messages in Real Estate Listings

If you do a Google search for how to read a real estate listing you’ll find a ton of articles and lists full of common abbreviations like bdrm = bedroom, and lr = living room. These are helpful for sure, and they’re worth familiarizing yourself with, but when I read a real estate listing I’m more interested in discovering the hidden messages.



A real estate listing is meant to create a certain impression about a property, and it’s the listing agent’s job to make it sound as desirable as possible. While no one should ever lie on a listing, there’s no rule against using creative language to try and invoke certain feelings and emotions-and most people play right into it.

When you do finally go to see a property in person, it’s easy to overlook problems if you have a certain romantic idea or expectation in your head. So when reading real estate listings, don’t just look at the surface description. Think about what’s really being said, and go in with your eyes wide open.


Common Phrases

  • All the Work Has Been Done For You – This is meant to sound like a good thing, but be very wary of this statement. What it often means is that the previous owners did some renovations, quite possibly in order to flip the property. If this is the case you need to pay close attention to the quality of the materials and the workmanship. Flips are usually done very quickly with the intent of maximizing profit. As a result, some corners may have been cut.


  • Fixer Upper – This phrase may evoke some warm feelings about design possibilities and DIY projects, but the truth is that a house listed as a fixer upper is going to need a lot of work and a lot of money. Make sure you get a full home inspection so that you have a complete picture about what needs to be done (and save a contingency for things the inspector might miss).


  • Needs a Little TLC – Like fixer upper, this is a gentle way of saying the property has seen better days. The acronym TLC is sweet, but what you find at the property may be anything but.


  • Good Bones – We’ve all heard this one, and what it means is that it has a good floor plan and the basic structure is in fairly good shape, but pretty much everything else could be a write off-meaning it will require a lot of cosmetic updates. This can be a good thing-particularly if you’re looking to add value-but it won’t come without quite a bit of work on your part.


  • Great Investment Opportunity – As an investor, I like this phrase. But the key here is that they’re telling you flat out that you have to make a big investment. They’re not saying, “great family home” or even “needs a little TLC.” It’s clearly marked as an investment opportunity, which means you’ll have to put in a lot of money before seeing any kind of return.


  • Attention Renovators – This sentence is a clear and intentional indicator that the house needs a lot of work. We’re not just talking about kitchen upgrades or new flooring either. There’s a good chance that a house calling for renovators will be a total gut job, if not a tear down. If that’s what you’re looking for then great, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can fix it up with a small budget.


  • As Is Condition – You may think that with rundown houses the sellers will be willing to negotiate, but if you see a listing for a property being sold in “as-is” condition, that’s probably not going to happen. This is the seller’s way of saying they know the house is a disaster and they’re not willing to negotiate. If you see this phrase in a listing you might want to wear a Hazmat suit when you go look at it (just kidding, but I wouldn’t wear open-toed shoes.)

No Photos

Another thing you should be on the lookout for is a listing that has no photos. Usually this means that the house doesn’t show particularly well and the agent doesn’t want to turn people off. I think this is a mistake on behalf of the seller, but as a buyer you should definitely still go look. Most people tend to skip past them, so the pool of potential buyers diminishes. The place probably isn’t in very good shape, but if there aren’t many interested parties you might be able to get a great deal.



The Power of Punctuation

If there’s one more important piece of advice I can give, it’s not to be fooled by exclamation marks. It may sound silly, but an exclamation mark is meant to invoke excitement, and it can really play with your perceptions. The difference between “great investment opportunity” and “great investment opportunity!” is pretty significant when you first read it. When you see an exclamation mark, you read it with an added sense of excitement and urgency.  I recommend crossing out the exclamation mark and then reading it again. You may find you instantly feel different about it.

Scott McGillivray is a real estate expert and host of HGTV Canada’s Income Property and Moving the McGillivrays.

Latest News

Viva la Magenta! Pantone's colour of the year is here, and we're tickled pink.
December 6, 2022
Learn how to make the perfect holiday wreath that adds a lovely, cozy touch to your outdoor decor.
December 5, 2022
Filled with colour and whimsy, this retro Calgary home inspired by the 1960s and '70s is right on trend for 2023.
December 5, 2022
These chic and sweet Christmas decorations have caught our eye — and our holiday-loving hearts.
December 4, 2022
Surprise your guests at your holiday party with this festive winter wonderland centrepiece!
December 3, 2022
A serious plant lover like Pamela needs a potting shed as beautiful as her roses.
December 2, 2022
Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year without breaking the bank.
December 2, 2022
Beautiful antiques, simple furnishings, and accessories fill this influencer's cozy, coastal historic New Brunswick home.
December 1, 2022
We're sharing how to get Ellen's luxury look for less.
December 1, 2022
This content is restricted to adults of legal age.
Please enter your birthdate to confirm.
Date of Birth