Real estate lingo for the New Westerner


I’m a rancher, so almost every day some realtor explains how much money I could make if I sold the ranch. Developers are subdividing pastures nearby, and soon, it’s true, I may not be able to afford ranching.

So, I’m studying up on the new real estate lingo and — in typical friendly Western fashion — offer this handy dictionary for prospective New West landowners. Words, it turns out, don’t always mean what they seem:

Access: The county built the road past the ranch to the only scenic attraction (check one: ___ scenic grove; ___ pictograph rocks; __ lake) so idiots can drive SUVs past, dump their beverage cans and relieve themselves, using lots of toilet paper.

Access limited in winter: If you get through the snow here with your SUV, a realtor might find your shriveled corpse next summer.

Adventure: A mountain lion will eat your poodle the first time you put her outside. Then the lion will sit on your barbecue grill and stare through the window at your children.

Authentic: See: pioneer.

Breathtaking view: The feedlot next door. See: freedom.

Cathedral ceilings: Gaze up at your expensive heat while you freeze.

Culture: The local summer celebration features something for every taste: a rodeo, monster truck rally, motorcycle races, mud wrestling and cheap beer.

Discovery: We have no idea what that plant is, but it gives everybody a rash.

Escape: No phone, no TV, no Internet.

Exciting: Watch the sheriff chase drug dealers on gravel roads.

Exclusive: Do your own house-cleaning, because the nearest people poor enough to take service jobs are 300 miles away.

Freedom: We Old Westerners don’t believe in zoning, so your neighbors live in yurts and converted school buses next to McMansions, mud huts and shacks made of discarded tires. Everybody, including 6-year-olds, is armed. No vaccinations for humans or dogs.

Gateway to a national park: Winnebagos of humongous size lumber past you every 15 minutes.

Golf course: On the only flat piece of land, elk and deer have been replaced by white guys with skinny legs.

Heart of the West: Anywhere west of the Adirondacks.

Historic ranch: See pioneer.

Horse property: Flat, no trees, no water and little grass.

Innovative: Built by previous owner in a county with no building code; realtor hopes to unload it before the roof falls in.

Landscaping: We bulldozed native plants that thrived for several million years and planted alien species that will die the first summer.

Mineral rights: When gas drilling starts under your garage, you can’t stop it; you own only what’s on top. Now, you begin every sentence by saying, "I wasn’t an environmentalist, but…"

Mountain views: See them from the roof of your three-story house until the neighbor builds a four-story house.

Pioneer ranch: The house (no plumbing or electricity) has been vacant since the last bachelor died in 1985. Mice gallop through the trash and old magazines, dodging black widow spiders. The barn burned; the corrals are knee deep in manure. The hired man’s 1962 house trailer blew over. The well dried up when the first subdivision went in.

Playground: Every weekend near your house, the RV people get their air conditioners and TVs humming before they race their ATVs in the dust.

Next to public land: Piles of appliances for target practice. During hunting season, wear a helmet and a bulletproof vest outdoors.

Pristine: No well; nearest electric line is 12 miles uphill; nearest doctor, grocery store, and Starbucks are 100 miles on gravel and 30 miles on a two-lane.

Rugged: You’ll use a tank of gas with every trip to town and wear out the tires every couple of months.

Scenic: The locals have outhouses and abandoned cars in the back yard, guarded by big dogs.

Snowmobile trail: Like black flies with loudspeakers. All winter.

Tree-covered: One lightning strike or dropped cigarette will set thousands of trees on fire around your log house.

Uncork: Living lonely may drive you to drink.

Unique: Made of cheap imported materials like every other house.

Vivid sunsets: Colored by dust, pollution, and forest fire smoke.

Wide open: No trees, so the folks who target shoot on the gravel road in front of your house bring their own beer cans. No zoning, remember?

Wildlife: One of the subdivision construction workers hit a deer.

Linda M. Hasselstrom is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She ranches in South Dakota and writes in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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