ZeroDown's Naughty/Nice List for Real Estate

With another year of many of us staying home more than we expected, many of us have been thinking more and more about what we want to change about our current homes, or even what we would want in a new one. Just like Santa Claus, our data and home management team have come up with "nice" and "naughty" lists of things to look out for when shopping for a new home.

Below are our “Nice” and “Naughty” lists of things to watch for in listings when shopping for homes:


Growing home value

For most American families, home equity is the largest source of wealth, and equity in homes has increased at increasing rates throughout the last few years. Which means a "nice" home would include one that is comparable to most homes in an area which has seen rising home prices, a useful (though not perfect) proxy for overall home value. Fortunately, listing pages on ZeroDown for certain housing markets includes information on home prices over the last three years.

Home price trends for the Claremont neighborhood in Berkeley, CA

Recently remodeled kitchen or bathroom

The kitchen and the bathroom are two of the highest traffic rooms in our homes (especially with the amount of time people are spending at home these days) so renovations to these spaces have a significant comfort value and comparatively high return on value.

New furnace / water heater

Most furnaces and water heaters only last about 10 -15 years before it starts making sense to consider replacements. A home with a recently replaced furnace and water heater will spare you the trouble of finding you have no hot water and a non-functioning HVAC system during a cold winter morning.

A reasonably quiet neighborhood

Your mileage may vary, but many would agree that living next to an airport, or on the side of a freeway would be loud and disruptive. Living in an area where you don't have to mute your Zoom meeting because the 11:15 train just passed through down the block is ideal. As luck would have it, listings on ZeroDown include information from the DoT on noise levels.

Noise levels for the area in a listing in the Berkeley, CA area

“Permitted" mentioned in the listing description

Confirmation that major improvements (such as additions and ADUs) were done with permits and approved is a gift of peace of mind.

New roof

Protect against leaks during the rainy winter months, and enjoy silent, quiet nights unburdened with worry about needing to worry about a roof replacement for at least a couple of decades.

New windows

A single new window can cost $1,000, so if your home has all new windows it can save you tens of thousands of dollars. Dual-paned windows in your home can help with monthly energy savings, temperature control in your home as well as lessen street noise.

Good cell coverage

As anyone who has ever had to make a long road trip knows, there is nothing worse than having to spend long periods of time in an area with poor or shoddy cellphone coverage. Which is why it's a "nice" thing to know you have good cellular coverage as well as multiple options. ZeroDown includes cell phone coverage data for a listing's geographic area to help make sure you don't drop your calls.

Cellphone coverage information for the area around Nob Hill in San Francisco

Recently painted

A new coat of paint not only prepares a home for a new owner with a nice refresh, but it also helps protect the bones of the house from weather and termites.

Solar panels

Having solar panels (especially if they are owned, rather than still rented) not only reduces energy costs (or even earns if you are able to sell back to the grid), but also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions - which is nice for everyone, including mother nature!

Electric vehicle charging points nearby

Expanded EV charging infrastructure may have been part of the recently-passed bill, but it will take some time before we will see that on our streets and roads. The good thing for those of you who have or are considering an EV, ZeroDown displays information on EV-charging points around a listing.

EV-charging points in North-East San Francisco

The naughty list...

Missing information

If a listing is not a multi-family unit or a Tenancy-in-common and is missing square footage or even the number of bedrooms or bathrooms - that’s a red flag that there's potentially unpermitted spaces and work done on the property.

“Buyer to verify” in the listing description

Phrasing in the listing description (rather than disclosures) that a buyer should check on things themselves (usually in relation to permitting) is a warning sign that there’s possibly some sort of catch. Make sure you get solid, official information on a home and lot's square footage, whether the home is served by the school district you want, and if there is some unpermitted work that you might need to resolve down the line.

Oddly low pricing

If only every seller used transparent pricing, a lot of time, effort, and heartbreak could be saved; sadly, a too-good-to-be-true price is just that, used to draw interest. Alternatively, it could be a sign of a home that "has good bones" (but a terrible body!) and "just needs work" (a lot of it!).


If the public records say a home has 3 beds and 2 baths, but the listing says it’s a 4/3, or they mention a new addition but the permit records have no mentions, you’ll want to investigate.

“Lived in” or “Well-loved” in the listing description

The nicest way of saying that the home is likely not updated (cosmetically or otherwise). Prepare to do some extra diligence when considering a home that uses these phrases.

“TLC” or “Great Opportunity” in the listing description

A nice way of saying the home needs work. Could be merely cosmetic or major work, so it would be best to get inspections if they don’t already have them. “Great Opportunity” could mean that you might be able to make a profit by fixing and flipping - so we guess this could be naughty or nice, depending on your view.

“Low maintenance yard”

Sometimes this is a nice way of saying the yard needs work because there’s been little to no maintenance to begin with.

We aren't keeping a "naughty" list of homes, but we do have a "nice" list of the Best of the Bay. Check it out!

Looking to understand more real estate terms? Check out our glossary!

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Further reading

U.S. Weekly Real Estate Update

Let's see what's going on with the market this week...

U.S. Weekly Real Estate Update

Let's see what's going on with the market this week...

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