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Euphemisms Run Rampant : By Any Other Appellation, a Condo Is Still a Condo

May 18, 1986|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

A house may be a home, but a home may not be a house.

It may be a court, patio, garden or zero-lot line home.

It may be a junior executive studio, paired condominium, town house or villa.

Villa? Webster defines it as "a rural or suburban residence, especially a large and pretentious one."

No wonder there is confusion when the word villa is used in an ad for one of 471 units in several three-story buildings in a sizable Southern California city.

Definition of Condominiums

In another project where the term villa is being used, even the marketing representative was perplexed. Asked if the villas are really condominiums, she replied, "I don't know, but they have common walls." Turns out that they were condominiums.

Nothing wrong now with the word condominium, but hungry developers, zealous advertising representatives and inventive publicity agents coined other euphemisms when the condo market went sour a few years ago.

The condominium has been with us for awhile, and most people know what it is: a unit in a multifamily dwelling that is owned and financed by its occupant, who also has an undivided interest in the common areas, facilities and underlying land. Condos are different from stock cooperatives in which residents own shares of stock in a corporation, which owns the building or buildings.

The definitions for "condominium" and "stock cooperative" are found in California law, but the meanings of other newer housing terms are not as easily traced.

Many--including ranchownership, condomaximums, seasononiums and condotels--seem to have originated in the developers' marketing or advertising departments, although Timothy R. Binder, senior vice president-general counsel of Hotel del Coronado Corp. in charge of The Racquet Club in Palm Springs, says "condotel" has a legal meaning in the East.

'Limits from a Tax Standpoint'

"There, a condotel is where the owners can only use their units a few days a year, and the profits (from renting the rooms in a hotel-like situation) are shared with a management company," he said.

The Racquet Club is similar, because it has some units that are privately owned but are rented through the hotel, which takes a share of the rent. "The owners can use their units almost anytime they want, though there are some limits from a tax standpoint," he explained.

Condominium sales, like the sale of nearly every other kind of real estate (no matter what it's called), picked up with the drop in interest rates, but there are still many condominiums on the market in Palm Springs and other desert communities due to builder ambition and buyer apprehension, which has eased since Congress decided not to eliminate second-home tax deductions.

Builder ambition led to a glut of condos in numerous other places besides the desert, and for awhile, "condominium" and "condominium conversion" (conversion of an apartment to a condo) became bad words--almost as bad as Roger Reitzel's definition of "condominium" in his humorous book, "Real Estate as a Second Language" (published in 1983 by Chicago Review Press and illustrated by David J. Schutten).

Reitzel wrote: "From the Latin word meaning 'to share walls with those of lesser intelligence,' it (a condominium) is a legal form of ownership of a unit located within a multiple-unit development. In residential condominiums, this involves taking a large, comfortable living area, dividing it up until each resulting space is too small for habitation and then selling these tiny spaces for an unconscionable profit."

("Condominium," joint ownership, is actually derived from the Latin words con, meaning "with," and dominium, meaning "ownership.")

Reitzel didn't include "resort time-sharing" in his glossary, but if he had, he certainly would have talked the same way about profit, because time-sharing takes the condo concept a step further. A time-share, also called a vacation license and resort ownership, is usually an interest in a condominium for a specified period of time each year. So a developer might sell the time-share interests in a unit to many buyers and make more than he would if he sold the unit as a condominium.

"Seasononium," a time-share purchased for an entire season, got scanty use, as did "condomaximum," which probably meant "big condominium," and "ranchownership," which was devised about a year ago to sell 1/2,500th interests in a 570-acre ranch near Hemet.

Next to "single-family home," though, "condominium" probably enjoyed the widest use of any American housing term in the past 20 years. (It didn't appear in California statutes before 1963.)

Reflecting the popularity of the condominium, Reitzel joked: "This word has had a strange evolution from a noun--'Hey, baby, how's your condo?' or 'There's no place like condo'--to an adverb--'My apartment just went condo'--to a verb--"Don't condo me, man.' "

And even when condomania cooled off a few years ago, the concept continued, sometimes under different names.

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