How to Read Between the Lines on

More and more, our clients shop online before and during their search for a new home. Sites like make it easy to survey what’s available in your desired neighborhoods and price range.

It’s a convenient way to shop for a home, but there are words and phrases you should keep an eye out for during your search. These are the clues that a listing might require some further investigation:

The listing only shows exterior photos

You might see the words “handyman special” in the description of the property. These are sure signs that a home requires significant work. In some cases, exterior-only photos indicate that a unit is currently rented to a tenant, which may impact potential closing dates, or even signal that the tenant is not willing to cooperate in the selling process.

Some key photos are missing

Does the listing mention a large lot size, but offer zero pictures of the backyard? Are there photos of the living area, but neither bedrooms nor bathrooms? The lack of images can signal that these areas aren’t up to the same standard as the rest of the property.


Depending on the age of the property, updates from the original fixtures, appliances, and finishings may have been completed over a long period of time. Realtors are likely to mention the date of brand new upgrades, so a non-specific “updated” in the property description can be suspect. If in doubt, ask for clarification of when important features were updated, such as the roof or furnace.

“One of a kind”

In some cases this means the home has a unique feature, such as two staircases or an indoor pool. It can also mean that the home has something so bizarre about it, the builder never repeated the design. Descriptions that are vague about what makes a property “one of a kind” are a red flag.

“Green belt adjacent”

The thought of being close to nature and conservation areas, perhaps with no rear neighbors, strongly appeals to some buyers. Examine these listings carefully, because green belt land does not always mean farmland. Green belt designation can also apply to land used for power lines and windmills.

“Professionally done”

Many listings mention updated fixtures or rooms, freshly painted walls, and more. Simple updates and fixes may have been done by the homeowners themselves, but when it comes to big renovations, such as additions, decks, or finished basements, the lack of “professionally finished/done” can be a red flag worth investigating.

“Move-in ready”

This phrase is your cue to hustle! Vacant properties typically signal motivated sellers, as the current homeowners are already situated in their new residence, or the previous tenant has already moved on. Motivated sellers are looking to close quickly, and in our current sellers’ market, they can often get their wish! If a property with this description appeals to you, don’t count on it being available for long.


Shopping online for a home is a great way to dip your toes into the process of buying real estate. Once you're sure of what you want in a home and neighbourhood, reach out to a trusted Realtor to help you navigate the ins and outs of the real-world shopping process. Our team is always happy to help! 


You may also like: How to Shop for a House in a Sellers' Market



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From step one, Dana instilled a sense of confidence in our decision to look for and purchase a home. Dana is a great agent: her profound knowledge of Ottawa’s real estate market and impeccable professionalism are combined with a great sense of humour, which made our experience looking for a home a lot of fun. From our first meeting, Dana struck us as an honest person, who is there to represent our best interest. We had no doubt that she would always share her opinion when we asked her what she thought about a house itself, an area or our options.
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