Decoding the secret language of estate agents

‘Freehold’. ‘Leasehold’. ‘All mod cons’. Are you baffled by estate agent speak? You’re not alone…

Landlord advice

29 March 2017

Buyers depend on reliable property descriptions before agreeing to a visit. You certainly don’t want to find out a ‘room with a view’ looks out over the neighbour’s roof.

While we might all be able to see through the sales patter of phrases like ’cosy’ and ‘fixer-upper’, there are plenty of other terms and acronyms in the estate agents vocabulary that you might not be as familiar with.

If you’re looking to buy a rental property, or home for yourself and your family, you’re going to have to learn how to decode the secret language of estate agents and get down to the heart of what they’re really saying. Luckily, we’re here to help with our basic estate agent jargon buster.

Here’s what they really mean:


This refers to a valuation of the property, usually conducted by the estate agents themselves.

Absentee landlord

An absentee landlord is a landlord who does not live in or near the property they own. The term is often used to describe landlords who do not take care of their property.

Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)

The Association of Residential Letting Agents is the main representative group for letting agents. Membership of the association grants letting agents with an ARLA license and shows that they comply with the professional standards of the nationally recognised professional body for letting agents.

Assured shorthold tenancy (AST)

This gives landlords the right to reclaim their property after six months. Landlords have to put deposits in a government-approved protection scheme. The scheme offers a free resolution service if you disagree about how much should be returned. Both the landlord and tenant have to agree to use the service and the decision is final.

Break clause / release clause

A provision in a lease which enables either the landlord, tenant, or both, to end the lease early. It is sometimes used in conjunction with fixed term tenancies. Typically, this is entered into between landlords and tenants if unsure about continuing for the next six months.

Buy-to-let mortgage

This is a kind of mortgage specifically designed for people buying a property with the intention of letting it out.

Early repayment charge (ERC)

A penalty charge levied by the lender if a mortgage is paid off within a specified period.

Energy performance certificate (EPC)

The energy performance certificate, or EPC, is a measurement of a property’s energy efficiency and is rated on a scale from A-G. It is a legal requirement that a property has a valid EPC commissioned before it can be put on the market.


A freehold property is one where the owner owns both the property and the land it is built on.


A leasehold property means you own the property for a set number of years. After the lease expires, the property returns to the freeholder, Flats are a common example of property sold as leasehold.

National Landlords Association (NLA) and Residential Landlords Association (RLA)

These are the two main representative groups for landlords. Membership grants landlords access to documents, guides, advice, news updates and discounts on a variety of essential landlord services. They also both offer government-authorised tenancy deposit protection schemes.

Private rented sector (PRS)

The private rented sector is how the UK government classifies property owned and rented by private landlords.

HomeBuyers Report

The HomeBuyers Report, previously known as the Homebuyers Survey and Valuation (HSV), is a survey which provides an in-depth report of the condition of the property and provides buyers with professional advice to help make an informed decision on buying a property. It is presented in a standard form laid down by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

House of multiple occupancy (HMO)

An HMO property is classed as a residence rented out by at least three people who are not from one household, for example if they are not from the same family, but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. An HMO property requires a licence from your local council to rent out.

Portable appliance testing (PAT)

Portable appliance testing is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe to use. Testing must be completed by a professional electrician, carried out every year, and is highly recommended if you plan to provide tenants in a rental property with any electrical appliances.

Sitting tenant

This is someone who has a legal right to occupy a property, even if that property changes ownership. They are entitled to apply to the local authority to set a fair rent. Properties with sitting tenants are generally worth less than they would be if sold on the open market without being occupied.

Stamp duty

This is the government tax you pay when purchasing property or shares. In the case of property, it is stamp duty land tax (as opposed to stamp duty reserve tax on shares). As of April 2016, those in England and Wales buying a second property will have to pay a 3% surcharge on each stamp duty band. If you are buying a property worth between £125,000 and £250,000, where the stamp duty is 2%, buy-to-let landlords will pay 5%. More information on stamp duty can be found here.

Tenancy deposit protection (TDP)

Tenancy deposit protection came into effect on 6 April 2007 as part of the Housing Act 2004. The law requires all deposits taken on assured shorthold tenancies in England and Wales to be protected in a government-authorised deposit protection scheme. It is also a requirement in Scotland where it came into effect on 7 March 2011 as part of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006.

The Property Ombudsman (TPO)

The Property Ombudsman offers consumers and property agents with a dispute resolution service designed to achieve a full and final settlement of any dispute and all claims made by either party. They have the power to make compensatory awards in individual cases for factual and quantifiable loss caused by the actions of an agent.

If you’re purchasing a buy-to-let property, check out our landlord insurance and find out more about the right cover for you.