Q&A: Real Estate terms explained

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are mulling over Real Estate jargon as our Real Estate Copywriting course is open for inspection.

Q: Hi AWC, I thought we could discuss real estate terms today.

A: Is this because that new course on Real Estate Copywriting is now on sale?

Q: Oh what’s that? A course you say? Please… tell me all about it!

A: This is shameless. I can’t believe he’s making us say this.

Q: Ahem, what’s that? You can start ANY time online and it’s great for writers wanting to explore new revenue opportunities? You don’t say!

A: Uh huh. Yep, it’s amazing. And on sale until Sunday.

Q: Oh and look, it’s been created by the same copywriter who does these Q&As! Wow, that’s amazing!

A: Well, it certainly explains a lot. So can we get started now?

Q: Yes please. Let’s start with the term “real estate” – how did this come about?

A: Good question. The “real” part was originally from Latin “realis” and later French “reel” and it was used in law during the Middle Ages to distinguish actual, immovable things as “real” – as opposed to “personal” items.

Q: And estate?

A: “Estate” is around 800 years old, originally meaning rank or standing and not really relating to physical property at all until the 1600s. The first use of the complete term “real estate” was in the 1660s. And clearly it’s stuck ever since.

Q: Indeed it has. Now this next one I’ve always thought was a strange word – “mortgage”. Any ideas?

A: If you want to buy a home, it’s likely you’ll be needing one of these. And the “mort” part may give you a clue.

Q: Is it related to the animated show Rick and Morty?

A: No.

Q: Not even the ‘Pickle Rick’ episode?

A: Not even.

Q: Oh.

A: “Mort” is from Latin for “dead”, like you’d find in a “mortuary” or “mortal”, while “gage” is a pledge. So a mortgage is literally a “dead pledge” – a deal that either dies when you pay it back or go into debt.

Q: Till death do us apartment…

A: Precisely. Funnily enough, the spelling was originally “morgage” but it was changed to add the silent T during a phase of Latin rejigging.

Q: Okay, next one. Why is the person selling a house called a “vendor”?

A: That’s an easy one. It’s from Latin vendere – “to sell”. We have vending machines and street vendors. Curiously, it has a variant spelling “vender” which dictionaries acknowledge but almost no one uses!

Q: And yet the buyer isn’t the vendee. Hmm. Okay, what about “auction”? Is it because “U” are part of the “action”?

A: Haha, cute. But no. It’s our friend Latin again, with the original term “auctio” meaning “to increase”. By the late 1500s, it was recognised as it is today – a public sale where each bidder bids higher than the previous one. Curiously, in America something is sold “at” auction, while in UK it is sold “by” auction.

Q: Latin is appearing a lot here. Did you know that my Uncle Rodney did night classes in Latin for a whole year to please his wife?

A: Wow. Was she a fan of languages?

Q: No, it was all a big misunderstanding in the end. She had told him she wanted a “Latin lover”. They’re no longer together…

A: Sorry to hear that.

Q: Okay, one last one – “chattels” as in things that come with the house.

A: This is old, from French “chatel” meaning property, goods, and even cattle! Again, Latin’s “capitale” (meaning property) was the origin.

Q: I’ve often asked the agent if the cow came with the house.

A: Indeed.

Q: Okay, I think we’ve had a grand tour through some housing terms today.

A: What, no final shameless plug for the Real Estate Copywriting course?

Q: No, I’m sure that’s plenty.

A: Not even a link to the course page?

Q: Nah, we’re good

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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