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0851 Finding a House to Buy

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 851: Finding a House to Buy.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 851. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development, right here in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Go there and download a Learning Guide for this episode. You can also take a look at some of our special courses in business and daily English that we have available right there on the website.

This episode is a story about someone who’s trying to find a house to buy. Let’s get started.

[start of story]

I’m looking to buy a house and I want a single-family home. I have been living in a townhouse for two years, and I am tired of having common walls and very small yards. My new house will have to have a lot more square footage, a large lot size, an open floor plan, great curb appeal, and lots of upgrades.

My agent has been showing me fixer-uppers, while I want a home that’s in move-in condition. The problem is, I can’t afford a high mortgage. I’m not holding out for a mansion, but I want this new house to be a step up from my townhouse.

My real estate agent tells me that I have to adjust my expectations. I asked him, “Do you mean I can’t have the house I want?” And he said, “Of course you can. All you have to do is move – to Alaska!”

[end of story]

Our story begins when I say that “I’m looking to buy a house and I want a single-family home.” When someone says they are trying to buy a house, it isn’t always necessarily a physical house versus a condominium or a townhouse. We’ll talk about what they are in a minute. A “single-family home” is a home designed for just one family to live in, in a single building. It’s the traditional house. When someone says “I have a house,” we think of a building being on its own. The only people in that little building, that house, are the people who live there.

This is different from a condominium. A “condominium” is when you have, basically, what are apartments that people buy and own. You could also have a “townhouse.” A “townhouse” – one word – is a tall, narrow home, usually with two or three levels, two or three floors, but it’s built right next to another townhouse. So, it’s not like a single family home where the building is separate from anything around it. In a townhouse, usually, they’re all in one building so that even though you have your own space, your own area, there’s someone right next to you who has, typically, what are called “common walls.” “Common walls” are when two different apartments, or two different townhouses or two different condominiums have one person on one side of the wall and the other person on the other side of the wall, that’s a common wall.

Well, I say in my story that “I have been living in a townhouse for two years and I’m tired of having common walls.” “I’m tired of this” means I don’t want to live this way anymore. I don’t like this situation. I’m tired of having common walls, walls that I share with other people. Of course, when you have a townhouse or a condominium or an apartment building, it’s usually a little noisier because you can hear the people next to you more easily because you have a common wall.

I also say that I don’t like the very small yards that come with the townhouse. A “yard” (yard) is an outside area next to a home. Many homes have a yard in front of the house, the front yard, and then they have a yard in the back of the house, the backyard. Typical American homes have grass somewhere on the yard or in the yard. My house has grass in the front yard and grass in the backyard. That’s my real house, not the house in the story here, necessarily.

Let’s go back to the story. I say that “My new house will have to have a lot more square footage.” “Square footage” (footage) is the number of square feet in an area. It’s how we measure the size of houses or the size of apartment buildings or apartments within the building, more likely. The same is true for townhouses and condominiums. You might buy a house that has a thousand square feet. That means that there are 1,000 square feet inside of the house. Most American homes used to be built with, say, 1500 – 1700 square feet. That would be a typical three-bedroom, two-bath home (that is a home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms). Nowadays, in the last, oh, I don’t know, 25, 30 years, houses are being built to be much bigger, so that you have 2,000 or 2500 or 3,000 square feet.

In the story, I say “I want a lot more square footage,” meaning a bigger house, “a large lot size, an open floor plan, great curb appeal, and lots of upgrades.” “A lot” (lot) is the land that the house sits on. “Lot size” would be the size of that piece of land. Typically, here, in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, lot sizes are between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet, and then on those lots, on those pieces of land are houses that have between a thousand and 3,000 square feet inside of the house.

An “open floor plan” is a design of a home. It could be an office also that has a lot of open space. There aren’t that many walls. The floor plan is technically like a drawing of where things are in your house, almost like a map. When we use the expression “open floor plan,” we’re referring to a place that doesn’t have a lot of walls, where there’s a lot of light passing through one room to the next.

I also want, in the story, a house with “great curb appeal.” “Curb appeal” (curb appeal) – two words – refers to how attractive, how good-looking the house looks when you’re driving by it or when you’re walking down the street. A “curb” is where the street meets your property. Usually, the street is a little bit lower, maybe a half a foot lower than the land where the houses are. “Appeal” refers to how attractive something is. We have, also, the adjective “appealing.” “Curb appeal” refers to the attractiveness of your house. Does it look good from the outside?

“Upgrades” (upgrades) refer to when a house has new things done to it. When an old house has a new bathroom or a new kitchen, those would be upgrades. “Upgrades” could also refer to some things you wouldn’t normally expect in an average house, a typical house. Maybe there’s a very big tub. A big tub might be considered an upgrade. It’s nicer. It’s more expensive and so forth.

I say in the story that “My agent,” meaning the person who’s helping me buy the house – my real estate agent – “has been showing me fixer-uppers.” A “fixer-upper” (fixer-upper) is a house that needs work. It’s a house that has problems that you’re going to have to come in and fix. I say that “My agent has been showing me fixer-uppers while I want a home that’s in move-in condition.” “Move-in condition” is when you can come in and you can just live in the house. You don’t have to fix anything. Everything is working. That’s move-in condition. Usually, having to paint the walls is not considered something that would make a house a fixer-upper. Wall painting or changing the carpet – those things are to be expected, and you could still call a house in move-in condition even though you had to paint the walls.

In the story, I say that “My problem is I can’t afford a high mortgage.” A “mortgage” (mortgage) – the “t” is silent – is a loan that you use to buy a house. I say, “I’m not holding out for a mansion, but I want this new house to be a step up from my townhouse.” “To hold out for something” means to wait for something that you really want. “I’m not holding out,” “I’m not waiting to get a mansion,” I say. A “mansion” (mansion) is a huge house, a very large, expensive house. People in Beverly Hills, rich people, live in mansions.

“I want this house to be a step up from my townhouse,” I say. A “step-up from” simply means an improvement over, something that is better than what you used to have. If you own a Honda Civic, which is a very nice car – I used to own one – and then you buy a Porsche or a Lexus, those would be a step up from your Honda Civic – more expensive cars.

I end the story by saying that “My real estate agent tells me that I have to adjust,” or change, “my expectations.” “Expectations” are the things you believe will happen, that you want to happen about a situation, what you anticipate to happen. Here, it really just means how good of a house I can get for the money that I have.

I asked him, “Do you mean I can’t have the house I want?” And he said, “Of course you can. All you have to do is move - to Alaska!” My real estate agent is saying that with the money that I have, if I want the kind of house that I want – a big house – I’m going to have to go to somewhere where houses are very cheap. In the story here, my real estate agent says “to Alaska,” not because Alaska is the cheapest place to live in the United States, but because it’s far, far away. It’s a long distance from where most of us live here, what we call the “continental United States,” the part of the United States between Canada and Mexico.

Now let’s listen to the dialog, or rather the story, this time at a normal speed.

[start of story]

I’m looking to buy a house and I want a single-family home. I have been living in a townhouse for two years, and I am tired of having common walls and very small yards. My new house will have to have a lot more square footage, a large lot size, an open floor plan, great curb appeal, and lots of upgrades.

My agent has been showing me fixer-uppers, while I want a home that’s in move-in condition. The problem is, I can’t afford a high mortgage. I’m not holding out for a mansion, but I want this new house to be a step up from my townhouse.

My real estate agent tells me that I have to adjust my expectations. I asked him, “Do you mean I can’t have the house I want?” And he said, “Of course you can. All you have to do is move – to Alaska!”

[end of story]

You don’t have to adjust your expectations when it comes to our scripts here on ESL Podcast. You can have very high expectations because they’ll always be met by our own wonderful scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
single-family – a home designed for one family to live in a single building; not multiple units that are connected

* Urban planners struggle to connect single-family homes to city centers without having too much traffic.

townhouse – a narrow, tall home, usually with two or three floors, built right next to other townhouses on each side so that they share walls and there is no open space between them

* Dynee loves the way the townhouses look in San Francisco, but she wouldn’t want to live in one.

common wall – a wall that is shared between two rooms, homes, or buildings

* I wonder if our neighbors can hear our conversations through this common wall.

yard – an outdoor area next to a home, owned by and belonging to the home owner

* They’re buying swings and a slide to put in their yard so the kids can play.

square footage – the number of square feet (ft2) in an area; a measurement of the size of a home or building

* How can they get so many bedrooms in so little square footage? This website says the home is only 1,600 square feet, but it has four bedrooms and three bathrooms!

lot size – the size of the piece of land on which a home is built; the size of the land that is sold with a home

* If you don’t like gardening and yard work, you should probably buy a home with a smaller lot size.

open floor plan – an architectural design of a home or office that has a lot of open space and few walls

* The home has a nice, open floor plan, so you can see into the living room and dining room from the kitchen.

curb appeal – the attractiveness of a home from the street; a home that looks nice when viewed from outside

* Realtors recommend painting, watering the grass, and planting flowers to improve curb appeal before trying to sell a home.

upgrade – an improvement; the replacement of one thing by something that is nicer, more luxurious, and/or more expensive

* They’re planning to invest in a lot of upgrades in the kitchen, like stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

fixer-upper – a home that has many structural and/or cosmetic (visual or aesthetic) problems and will require that the new owners invest a lot of time and money for improvements

* The home is really inexpensive, but that’s because it’s a fixer-upper. Once we have paid for all the repairs, it won’t seem inexpensive at all!

move-in condition – ready to live in; ready for the new owners to move into a home without needing to do any work on it first

* The home is almost in move-in condition. We just need to fix the heating system and install new carpet.

mortgage – a loan used to buy a home; a home loan

* Currently, mortgage rates are lower than they have been in years, so many people can afford to buy a home.

to hold out for – to wait to do something until one gets or receives something better

* Suzanne has received three job offers, but she’s holding out for one that offers a higher salary and more vacation time.

mansion – a very large, luxurious, and expensive home

* Most of the mansions in that neighborhood cost between $2 million and $5 million.

a step up from – an improvement over; something that is better than what one previously had or did

* The Porsche is a huge step up from the Honda Civic Tim used to own.

expectation – what one anticipates; what one believes will happen or be true; the belief one has about a situation or event before one experiences it

* Hannah grew up with her parents’ expectations that she would become a lawyer.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these things would improve a home’s curb appeal?
a) Planting new bushes and flowers.
b) Installing new plumbing.
c) Painting the inside walls.

2. What does he mean when he says, “I want this new house to be a step up from my townhouse”?
a) He wants the new house to be nicer than his townhouse.
b) He wants the new house to be near his townhouse.
c) He wants the new house to be less expensive than his townhouse.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
yard

The word “yard,” in this podcast, means an outdoor area next to a home, owned by and belonging to the home owner: “They made the southwest corner of their yard into a small vegetable garden.” Sometimes a “yard” is an enclosed area, or an area surrounded by a fence: “The children play in the school yard for a half-hour each day after lunch.” A “yard” is also a unit of measurement equal to three feet or 0.91 meters: “How many yards of fabric will you need to buy to make the curtains?” Finally, a “yard sale” is a like a garage sale, an event where people sell used items that they no longer need in front of their home or on the sidewalk: “Look at this great table we picked up at a yard sale this morning!”

condition

In this podcast, the phrase “move-in condition” means ready for the new owners to move into a home without needing to do any work on it first: “When we bought the home, we were told it was in move-in condition, but soon we realized how much work needed to be done.” In general, “condition” refers to the status or quality of something: “How can anyone live in these conditions?” A “condition” can also be a term or clause of a legal contract: “One of the conditions of the contract is that any disputes are governed by the laws of New York.” Finally, the word “condition” also refers to one’s health or fitness: “Ingrid runs four to five miles every morning, so she’s in great condition.”

Culture Note
Foreclosures and Short Sales

Most Americans cannot “afford” (be able to pay for) a home with cash, so they have to “take out” (borrow) a loan known as a mortgage. The home itself is put up as “collateral” (what the bank will receive if the borrower is not able to make payments). Unfortunately, this means that if the home owner becomes unable to make payments “on schedule” (when they are due), perhaps due to “unemployment” (not having a job) or a medical “condition” (illness or injury), the bank may “foreclose” on the property.

Banks usually give the borrower several opportunities to make the “outstanding” (not paid on time and still owed) payments, but after a certain period of time the “lender” (the person who gave money for the loan) “initiates” (begins) the foreclosure process. The home owners are “evicted” (forced to leave the home). Then the bank usually makes any necessary repairs and then tries to sell home, often for less than its “market value” (how much the home is worth; how much other people are willing to pay for the home).

Some home owners try to avoid losing their “equity” (the amount of money one has paid toward the home) by negotiating with their lender. These negotiations sometimes result in a “short sale” where the home is sold for less than the amount of money that is still owed on the loan. This is especially common in places where home prices are falling and many people are “underwater” (owing more on a mortgage than the home is worth). The bank agrees to the short sale because receiving some amount of money is better than nothing at all. A short sale usually involves lower fees and other costs than a foreclosure, so it can be “beneficial” (helpful) to both the lender and the homeowner.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - a