Real estate websites and classified ads can leave first-time home buyers wishing they had a Secret Agent decoder ring so they could decipher the abbreviations and description shortcuts used by real estate agents to save precious space when posting to  their local MLS system and creating newspaper and online classified ads for their properties. When house hunting, the first thing buyers and sellers need to do is learn the lingo!

Unfortunately, being able to decode a property listing on a real estate site doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a clear picture of the house that’s for sale. Like comparing apples to oranges, one Realtor’s flowery “luxurious master bath” may be another real estate agent’s succinctly stated “full bath.” Even real estate agents can find themselves confused when reading listings from another part of the country. Each regional of the U.S. seems to have its own unique way of describing different real estate features. Being unfamiliar with the local slang can radically skew your interpretation of a real estate listing. For example, a California bungalow could be a Midwest ranch or a New England Cape Cod. Each word conjures up a very different mental image depending on where you live in.

More than 900 nationwide multiple listing sites complicate the issue. Many determine their own listing standards. Discrepancies from one real estate website to another are often found in the way square footage is determined, how living space is defined, and how bedrooms and bathrooms are reported.

Such inconsistencies in the reporting, translation and display of real estate property data have led the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) to consider creating and adopting a standardized Data Dictionary for the real estate industry. Charged with promoting the development and implementation of data standards across the industry, the organization’s board has scheduled a discussion of the Data Dictionary proposal for its April meeting.

Real Estate Standards Organization board chairman Rebecca Jensen, CEO of, told The Seattle Times that preliminary discussions at the Real Estate Connect conference make publication of the first real estate Data Dictionary “very close.”

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