A Guide to Obscure House Terms
From Juliet balconies to English basements, here are the meanings behind a few ambiguous real estate phrases.
For as confusing as broker-speak can be, understanding the meaning behind certain real estate terms is essential when shopping for a home. "I try to avoid using too many obscure technical terms and stick to clear, casual language with clients," says agent Allison Chiaramonte of Warburg Realty. "However, I do find using some of these terms can be helpful—as it educates the client and provides a vocabulary to express what they like and are looking for in a home." While phrases like "good bones" or "enfilade" might seem unnecessarily complicated, in reality, they can be key to discerning the financial worth of a particular home. "Many of these terms might sound old-fashioned or irrelevant," says broker Wendy Arriz of Warburg Realty, "but it is important to know what they mean to understand the value they bring to a home."
However, that doesn't mean some of these terms and phrases aren't, in fact, outdated. "Some of these terms just don't apply anymore to present-day housing because homes are built differently today than they were decades ago," Chiaramonte says. "Not to mention that certain phrases, like 'Jack and Jill bathroom' are gendered and imply a traditional nuclear family of sorts—which goes against so many principles of Fair Housing." Ready to finally make sense of some frequently confusing real estate jargon? We asked Arriz and Chiaramonte to breakdown the meanings behind nine commonly used—and misunderstood—house terms.
Have you ever wondered what it means when your broker reminds you that the house you're about to tour has "good bones?" According to Chiaramonte, this is a real estate phrase that is often used to describe "homes that may have outdated décor or need some cosmetic updates, but have underlying value and appeal." In general, she says you can expect that a home with "good bones" will have structural integrity and a good floor plan ("with intuitive, functional room flow and good adjacencies," the pro adds).
"À la Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, a 'Juliet balcony' is a balcony that's more decorative than functional," says Arriz. Don't expect a sprawling space to relax on lounge chairs if your realtor informs you about this feature, as the pro adds that "some are so small and narrow, not even planters would fit."
Jack and Jill Bathroom
According to Chiaramonte, a Jack and Jill bathroom is a restroom shared between two different bedrooms, with doors that access the space from each room. "They are a great way to leverage a traditional bedroom's wet area, which is the tub/shower and toilet, to multiple users while providing privacy," she explains.
A veranda, like the one pictured above, is an open-air gallery or porch that is attached to the outside of a building. "It's often partly enclosed by a railing and can span the front and sides of a structure," Chiaramonte explains.
"A 'cupola' is an often-times dome-like feature on the roof of the building," says Arriz. Although these design features are generally small and simple, the pro says it's not entirely unusual to sometimes find one that's more functional. "Every once in a while, you'll come across one that's spacious enough to have been converted into a condo."
"An 'enfilade' is a suite of rooms formally aligned with each other," says Chiaramonte, "usually having doors connecting on a single axis, providing a clear line of sight through the entire suite of rooms. It's commonly in smaller-scale homes and apartments as a way to create a unified, yet separate space. It creates a sense of visual symmetry and grandeur and is an element of what makes certain older home or prewar-style apartments so appealing."
"English basements are a feature commonly seen in townhouses and brownstones," Arriz says. "They are designed partially below and partially above ground level and offer their own separate entrance—often times opening up to the garden." In broad terms, an English basement describes a basement that's especially usable—one that you might live in (or rent out as an income property) as opposed to an unfinished basement that's relegated to a laundry room or storage.
"A casement is a window that is attached to its frame by one or more hinges at the side," Chiaramonte says. "They open at an angle, as opposed to sliding up and down or side to side (double hung sliding windows). They can be single or in pairs, in which case they are hinged on the outside. Casement windows have an inflexible seal, which means they have less air leakage than sliding windows and allow for better natural airflow."
"A 'widow's walk' is a railed-in rooftop platform or viewing area found on many coastal North American homes," says Chiaramonte. "The name is said to come from the wives of sailors who would watch the horizon for their spouses' return, often in vain, leaving them widows. Beyond their use as viewing platforms, they are still relevant as they are often built around the chimney of the residence, thus creating access to the chimney and giving some of the best views in the house!"