A thorough home inspection is the likely the only way to find out if a property you're considering doesn't have structural or other issues, but you can learn a lot from a listing ad before you even visit a home.

The home buying process can be tedious, especially when skimming through many listings to find properties that are worth a visit. After a while, you may develop a personal system for deciding which homes to immediately skip and others that are worth a shot. Yet, saving time on your search is only worthwhile if your expectations are met when you actually see a home. To choose from only the listings that offer what you're looking for, you can further tailor your search by looking for certain clues that reveal details you might otherwise not see until you're at the front door.

Here are a few tips for reading listings and what some of the terms you'll see actually mean:

  • Needs TLC: This is typically a seller telling you that the home needs a lot of work. If you're not ready to break out your safety goggles and tape measure or pay a contractor to make extensive renovations, properties with this description may not be in your best interest.
  • Charming or vintage charm: Although these adjectives appear in listings often, they are not as flattering for a home. What sellers are actually saying is that their home is old. This could mean outdated cabinets and other features as well as structural issues that will be later revealed through a home inspection.
  • Cozy: This refers to a property that is on the small side. If you're in the market for more space after moving out of a condo or apartment, such homes may not be a good fit for your storage needs.
  • Low-maintenance yard: While many buyers are looking for a yard that doesn't require too much work, this term likely errs on the side of no maintenance and no lawn. Either the seller paved over the yard, or the soil is so full of stones that nothing can grow. When shopping for a pet- or child-friendly home, these properties may not be the best option. You could rehab the yard, but doing so is typically expensive.
  • Unique or one-of-a-kind home: There are times when it's good to stand out from the crowd, but not so much when purchasing a home. This description usually means that there is some noticeable trait that will make the property hard to sell when you move out.
  • Conveniently located by: Whether a shopping mall, expressway or other seemingly beneficial amenity follows this phrase, it often means that said amenity is across the street, if not next door. As a result, there could be a lot of noise. While this is still an attractive feature for some buyers, others may not be as fond of being conveniently located by the local bar scene.
  • Original condition: The seller hasn't made any changes or performed any maintenance since the home was purchased. This means more work when you move in.
  • Amazing view: It's nice when you can see a mountain range or the ocean from your home, but sellers that advertise such views typically refer to a view that can only be seen from one vantage point or angle. Getting a peek at the west coastline from your Seattle home isn't as appealing if the ocean is five miles away and you have to stand on the roof to see over nearby trees.