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The Terms of Buying a House

The real estate market in the United States can booming or stagnant. It depends on many factors.

The real estate market in the United States can booming or stagnant. It depends on many factors.

Hello! It’s time again for Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.

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 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 mortgage.

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 market.

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 estate.

I’m Anna Matteo.

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 songinformal : to buy something very cheaply.

free and clearinformal : without owing any money

up to her eyeballsinformal : used to emphasize the extreme degree of an undesirable situation or condition.

rock bottom n. the lowest possible level or point

yikes - 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 project, etc.

get back on her feet –​ informal: to recover from something

hanging over your head informal : something makes you unable to relax or enjoy yourself

catch-22informal : a difficult situation for which there is no easy or possible solution

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