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Ask Dr. Real Estate
Should I Wash My Mouth Out With Soap?
by Dr. Kenneth W. Edwards GRI



I was working with a broker recently on a co-op sale and during a conversation with him I used the word "deal" to describe the transaction in which we were involved. I haven't received such a tongue lashing over using a four letter word since I inadvertency uttered one in the fifth grade and Miss Baumgartner overhead me. I won't make that mistake again, but since I'm comparatively new to the profession, can you tell me if there are other words I should avoid using in mixed company?


As you have learned, there are some words that offend certain people in our profession. Those who object to the word "deal" do so on the basis that they believe it conjures up visions of such things as "wheeling and dealing" or "double dealing" and does not project the professional image REALTORS® should be striving to attain.

What's The Big Deal? Although I appreciate the basis of those sentiments, and although I counsel you to be sensitive to the feelings of others, I have to admit I can't get too excited about such linguistic nit picking. As a result of your letter, I plugged "deal" into my computer's thesaurus and it kicked out these synonyms: "agreement", "arrangement", "bargain", "contract", and "understanding." My print dictionary simply describes it as a "business transaction." Sounds pretty innocuous (and accurate) to me, but to avoid raising the blood pressure of those who consider it inappropriate (particularly if it's your supervising broker), you may wish to do a little research and employ other options.

The Art Of The Deal: I do want to make one thing very clear, however. Whether you call your real estate transaction a "deal" or something more gentile has absolutely no bearing upon whether or not it is ethical or professional or whether or not you have honestly and efficiently handled the needs of your customers and your clients. After all, to paraphrase the Bard just slightly, a skunk by any other name smells the same. It is infinitely more important how you put your transaction together than what you call it.

Words, Words, Words: One of my favorite all time movies is My Fair Lady. I particularly liked Eliza Doolittle when she sang "words, words, words. I'm so sick of words. First from him, now from you; is that all you blighters can do?" She followed that with "if you're in love, show me!" In other words, a little less talk and a lot more action.

We do, however, need to be sensitive to the feelings of others. Are there other words you should be avoiding? There may be. Off hand, I can't think of many that raise hackles as much as the word "deal" seems to, but there may be better ways to express certain often used phrases. For example, I did a little research and turned up these possibilities: "initial investment" for down payment; "brokerage fee" for commission; "deferred initial investment" for balloon payment (now that's creative); and "authorize" for sign. Even lending institutions have gotten in to the act. "Prepayment privilege" is their preferred term for prepayment penalty (wow, talk about creative.)

Say What? There is one area in which the use of certain language can get you into serious difficulty. If you are engaged in preparing advertising copy, including flyers for your listings, you need to be familiar with the requirements of the Federal Fair Housing Law, which prohibits discrimination in housing based upon race, color, sex, familial status, handicap, religion or national origin. Certain states and cities add other categories, such as age and sexual preference. You could get in trouble if you use such seemingly inoffensive phrases as "exclusive neighborhood", "close to the country club", "upscale living in posh condo", "near Martin Luther King Jr. Center", or "next to a large synagogue." You'll likely find written instructions in your office, and many newspapers have policy manuals that provide guidance.

Fighting Words: I'm sure you also know that certain words are extremely offensive to particular groups of people. Here's an example. At the risk of blowing my status as a somewhat seasoned citizen, I grew up in California during the Great Depression. I had an elementary school classmate whose nickname was "Okie," because that's where he was from. Everyone at school called him that, except the teachers. No problem. However, if someone off the school grounds referred to him as an "Okie" (considered a derogatory term in that place and that time) they had a fight on their hands. It's best to avoid completely any type of ethnic or cultural remarks or references, even when you consider them to be made in friendship or in jest.

Sticks And Stones Etc.: I do want to add that if there are certain words that offend you, lighten up. I learned that lesson while on the Air Force ROTC faculty at Cal Berkeley 1966-70. As you may recall, those were not the quiet years. One of the favorite tactics of the frequent demonstrators was to get in the face of the local police who were attempting to restore order, and to utter some of the most incredibly vile and personally insulting language you can possibly imagine. We in the military shared some of those encounters personally. We quickly learned that if you let it bother you, the perpetrator had accomplished his (or her) objective.

Shut Up And Deal: Early in your career you need to learn to "talk the talk." Read good real estate literature (the LANGUAGE OF REAL ESTATE by John Reilly is a great basic reference), study the office policy manual, and get going on GRI and other professional education programs. In short order you'll be fluent in the language of real estate and can concentrate on the deals ... oops, ...transactions at hand.