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You Call These Colonials????????

Posted by: Peter Coy on February 23, 2006

This, my friends, is a house that deserves the name “colonial.” Or even “Colonial,” with a capital C. It’s in Colonial Williamsburg and was built by James Geddy, Jr., shortly after 1762.

This house in Wayne, N.J., in contrast, while a perfectly fine place to live (listed at a mere $999,000), is a colonial only in the sadly debased nomenclature of the real estate biz circa 2006.


And it is the stretch of all stretches to call this house on New York City’s Staten Island, which is going for exactly the same amount, $999,000, “colonial.”


Most of today’s so-called colonials would look as strange as a pink iPod to Benjamin Franklin or Paul Revere. What can real estate agents possibly be thinking? …

Here's my guess: I think colonial caught on as a grabbag term because there wasn't any other broad term available to describe the profusion of styles of houses that have sprung up since, oh, 1776.

I found this definition of "colonial" on the website of Long & Foster Real Estate, a big East Coast real estate brokerage firm based in Fairfax, Va.:

Colonial. A two-story design with center hall or side entry, often with basement. Variations often feature double or single wings with garage. Numerous styles include New England, Federal, Plantation, Dutch Colonial, Georgian, French Colonial.

(To see Long & Foster's other definitions, click here.)

Anybody else think house descriptions have gotten bizarrely inapt?

Reader Comments


March 6, 2006 4:15 PM

Again with the blaming and vilification of the poor real estate agent :)

You know, those are new homes. They probably come out of a pattern book for builders or from schlocky architectural firms. Each of the designs probably has a name, like "Thomas Jefferson" or the "Benjamin Franklin" and they're probably located in housing developments with names like "The Landed Gentry" or "Pretentious Manor".

When a builder hires an agent to market their latest jumbo Piece-O-Poop, the agent would probably love to advertise it as a poorly located, suburban, over-built "Ostentatious McMansion", but I don't think that would go over very well and it would be doing a diservice to their client.

Blame old-school architects for a lack of vision. Don't blame the agents -- they didn't build that piece of fake colonial crap. They just have to try to find a buyer.

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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