Property Terms


Flat – this is a Chicago specific term used to define units in a building.  Example:  2 Flat, 3 Flat, 4 Flat – It may or may not include only legal units.  So sometimes you will see a property defined as a 2 flat with in-law/garden or it will be described as a 3 flat.

Duplex – In Chicago this means a unit with more than one floor.  A duplex down has a first-floor entrance with an interior staircase going down to more finished space.  A duplex up has a first-floor entrance with an internal staircase going up to more finished space.  In other areas of the country a duplex means 2 units (2 flat)

In law/Garden or Non-conforming unit or Illegal Unit – A unit that is not legally zoned.

Egress – exits, either doors or windows

Ceiling height – the height from the floor to the ceiling in an apartment

Furnace – Heating unit that uses gas to heat air and is then blown through ducts to heat a house.  Typically, there is one per unit or one that can heat two floors.

Boiler – Heating unit that uses gas to heat water or create steam that is pumped through pipes into radiators (also called rads) in each room.  Typically, there is one unit per building and the landlord pay the bill and the tenants get free heat.

Central air conditioning – Can only be present with a furnace, because the cold air is blown through the ducts to cool the room.

Window air conditioner – used when the building has radiators, can be provided by the landlord or tenant.

Brick – A house with an exterior built out of brick

Frame – A house with an exterior of siding

Home Inspection – Done as part of your due diligence typically within the first week after the seller’s accepts your offer.  The home inspector provides a report of items to be corrected and we negotiate repairs with the seller.

Efflorescence – a white, chalky substance found on bricks. Efflorescence indicates the presence of water corruption in the brickwork

Spalling– When the hard brick surface starts to deteriorate leaving the soft core of the brick exposed.

Lintel – a straight metal support beam found on the top of windows

Tuck pointing – the mortar in between bricks

Flat Roof – Only on brick homes, it is a rubber roof coating (hopefully silver to deflect sun and extend the life of the roof) that needs annual maintenance to check for ponding or cracked rubber

Parapet – Terra cotta edge of the roof, where the roof meets the wall on brick buildings.  This is the part we can see without going on the roof.  We look for deterioration as an indication of the overall condition of the roof.

Pitched Roof – only on frame houses, this is a roof made of shingles.  Shingles last 20-30 years and you can have 3 layers of shingles on a roof before you need to tear them all off and redo the whole roof.

Wiring – Knob and Tube – Older wiring rarely found in homes.  This type of wiring cannot be insured and is hazardous.  I have only seen it twice in hundreds of homes I have seen.

Wiring – Cloth – It is common in homes built before 1960. These wires don’t pose an inherent risk, but if you experience electrical faults or are starting a home renovation, you might consider replacing them.  The cloth sheath can deteriorate over time, especially when close to a heat source (like can lights, not really a fan because the bulb is not close enough to the wiring to heat it up)

Wiring – Plastic-coated – It is the current standard for residential jobs because it’s easy to cut, easy to strip and easy to pull through stud holes.

Conduit – A hard metal tube that electrical wires are run through.  With this it is easy to fish through wires if you want to update your electrical.

BX – Flexible conduit, this is the standard in the US but it is not allowed in Chicago (nobody knows why) so if you see it in a house it means the electrical was done without a permit or it was done before the 1970’s

Romex – The main source of power from the street to the house.  This is the standard in the US but it is not allowed in Chicago (nobody knows why) so if you see it in a house it means the electrical was done without a permit or it was done before the 1970’s.  It is a safety hazard if exposed, so not encased in a metal conduit, because it can be sliced easily and cause electric shock.