Many Americans and people who come to America want to own a home.
Home ownership is part of the American Dream: the hope that if you work
hard and are treated fairly, you can buy a place to call your own.
But buying a home can be difficult. Even talking about it can be confusing.
The language of real estate – the buying and selling of property – includes its
own terms, phrases and expressions.
For starters, let’s talk about who has the advantage in the real estate
market. Well, that depends. A buyer’s market means a lot of people are
trying to sell their homes. People shopping for a home – the buyers – have a
lot of choices, and the price of property can be low.
But in a seller’s market, more people are trying to buy property
than there are homes for sale. As a result, people selling their homes can
charge a lot of money. Or they can wait for just the right offer before
deciding to accept a bid. In other words, sellers have the upper hand.
So, let’s say you finally find a place. You and the seller agree to a
price. But most houses cost a lot more than anyone can simply buy outright in
cash. So you put some money down. For the rest, you take out a mortgage
– a loan from the bank to help you pay for your home.
Having a mortgage -- or carrying a mortgage -- is normal. A lot of
Americans owe money on their homes. But you never want to be upside down in
your mortgage. That means you owe more than your house is worth.
Having a home with more debt than value is also called being underwater.
You can find yourself underwater if you buy at the peak of a real estate
boom but then something happens that causes the value of your home to
drop. Maybe a highway is built through your front yard, or a natural disaster
strikes, or violent riots terrorize your once peaceful neighborhood. Suddenly,
your house is not worth as much as you paid for it.
People who find themselves upside down in their mortgage often have no
choice but to foreclose. This means the bank becomes the official owner
of the house. The buyers have to move out, and they lose the the money they had
originally paid for the property.
Before foreclosing on a family, banks sometimes offer a grace period.
This extra time allows the homeowner to pull together some funds to pay the
Now, let’s listen to a dialogue using some of these terms.
A: Hey, thanks for coming over. I have big news to tell you!
B: You’re getting married.
A: No. But it’s almost as life-changing.
B: Well, don’t keep me waiting.
A: I’m buying a house!
B: But I love your apartment. It’s so hard to find a rental with a great
outdoor deck like this!
A: I know. Believe me, I love this apartment too. But I’m tired of paying
rent. It’s time to invest in some property. And right now, it’s a buyer’s
B: That’s true. There are so many houses available that prices have really
hit rock bottom.
A: I know! Housing prices have not been this low in decades. Now is the
time to look for a great deal.
B: My cousin Bernie bought a place 15 years ago in this neighborhood for
a song. It was so cheap! And now he owns it free and clear.
A: Lucky guy. My friend Rebecca is not so lucky. She bought her place three
years ago when the market was peaking.
B: Is she carrying a big mortgage?
A: Not only is she mortgaged up to her eyeballs, she’s actually upside
down in her mortgage.
B: Oh no. She owes the bank more than the house is worth in the current
market? Being underwater
is the worst situation to be in.
A: It gets worse. She just lost her job and can’t make payments. The bank
is threatening to foreclose!
B: Yikes. That is serious. Maybe she can ask her bank for a grace
period. If they give her three or four months to find a job and get back
on her feet, maybe they won’t have to foreclose on her house.
A: Actually, she found a job in another city. But she can’t move and sell
her house right now because she’s underwater and will lose all the money
she has invested.
B: Well, that’s a catch-22 if ever I heard one.
A: Stories like my friend Rebecca’s scare me to death. Maybe I’ll wait a
little longer before becoming a homeowner.
B: Just keep an eye on the market and do your research. You don’t want a
big mortgage hanging over your head, but it also sounds like you don’t
want to rent forever.
A: Exactly. Especially with my other big news. I got a puppy! Come here,
boy! Come and meet Uncle Mario!
And that brings us to the end of Words and Their Stories. Whether you own
or rent, now you have some expressions for the next time you talk about real
Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning
English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. John Cougar Mellencamp ends our show
with “Little Pink Houses.”
Words in This Story
bid – n.
to offer to pay (a particular amount of money) for something that is being sold
upper hand – n.
the position of having power or being in control in a particular situation
outright – adv. in one payment of money
peak – n.
the highest level or degree of excellence, quantity, activity, etc
boom – v.
to grow or expand suddenly
for a song – informal
: to buy something very cheaply.
free and clear – informal
: without owing any money
up to her eyeballs – informal
: used to emphasize the extreme degree of an undesirable situation or
rock bottom – n.
the lowest possible level or point
interjection : used to express a feeling of fear or surprise
grace period – n.
an amount of extra time that someone is given to pay a bill, finish a
get back on her feet – informal: to recover from something
hanging over your head – informal : something makes you unable to relax or enjoy yourself