They say all real estate is local, and the same is true when it comes to those descriptions you see in real estate listings.
Compared with the rest of the country, home-for-sale ads in the Bay Area are far more likely to mention vertical gardens, easy freeway access, top-rated schools, side-yard access, dual or double-pane windows and architectural styles such as Mediterranean, Art Deco, Craftsman or Midcentury.
They are much less likely to mention finished lower levels or basements, which is understandable, since basements are common in states where the ground freezes in winter and rare in warmer climates. Bay Area ads are also less likely to mention fenced backyards, gas furnaces, porches, mudrooms, barns, bricks, lakes or water slides.
To come up with these numbers for The Chronicle, Zillow searched through all homes for sale that appeared on its website in 2015, checking for more than 300 terms.
For each term, Zillow calculated the percentage of times it came up in a Bay Area listing and the percentage of times it appeared in listings elsewhere across the United States. Zillow then divided the Bay Area percentage by the U.S. percentage to come up with relative frequencies. The Bay Area included San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin counties.
Zillow then compared the Bay Area with the rest of California, which turned up even more regional differences.
Why did we do this? Mostly for fun, but also to see which features real estate agents think will hook Bay Area home buyers.
The study revealed a few surprises.
Despite our proclivity for pet pampering, the term “catio” — an enclosed patio for cats — did not come up in Bay Area ads last year. It was listed eight times in California and 29 times nationwide.
We’re doing much better with another hot trend, the vertical garden, which cropped up five times more often here than it did nationwide and twice as often as it did elsewhere in California.
In San Francisco, “The buildings are so dense, it’s hard to get sunlight and garden space,” said Katrina Schissle, a home stager with Gigi Park and a former real estate agent. “If you can get a wall and grow herbs or strawberries, it can get sun. I have seen a handful of homes with them. It’s something a listing agent would certainly talk up if they had it.”
Agent Lamisse Droubi listed a house with a vertical garden on Dorland Street in San Francisco that sold in December. “People loved it. It was definitely a high point,” she said. “It comes off as high end. It’s not inexpensive.” It cost $16,000 to install, including an irrigation system.
If you exclude geographic terms such as “Golden Gate Bridge” and generic terms such as “open house,” the term that came up with the greatest relative frequency in the Bay Area was “side-yard access.”
It appeared 80 times more often than in the rest of the country, and 20 times more frequently compared with the rest of the state, said Zillow spokeswoman Emily Heffter.
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This term seems to exist primarily in the East Bay, where it means there is a gate in the fence large enough to drive a boat or recreational vehicle through.
“It’s for recreation enthusiasts,” said Nicole Causey, an agent with Legacy Real Estate in Fremont. “I’ve had clients who have specifically said, ‘I won’t buy the property unless I can get my RV in there,’” since many cities prohibit these vehicles from parking on the street. Causey sold two homes with side-yard access last year.
West Bay Realtors were unfamiliar with the term. “We put ‘RV parking’ or ‘boat parking,’” said Quincy Virgilio, a Realtor and chairman of MLSListings, the multiple listing service for the Peninsula and South Bay.
Jay Pepper-Martens, director of the San Francisco MLS, had not heard the term. He said he has seen the term “side-yard entrance,” used in San Francisco “which would mean access to a probably (unpermitted) suite, that doesn’t have a front or street entrance.”
Pepper-Martens said architectural terms such as Mediterranean or Art Deco are common in San Francisco because “maintaining the character of these old homes is part of the value. When they renovate them, they want to keep the look and feel of the original construction. Here, character counts for a lot.”
Likewise, the relative popularity of “dual-pane windows” in Bay Area ads is probably a result of our older housing stock. “On older homes, single-pane was standard. It’s an upgrade that started after 1980,” Pepper-Martens said. It’s an expensive improvement that gives the dual benefit of energy efficiency and noise reduction.
Limestone and quartz are also more popular here than in the rest of the state or country.
Top-rated or award-winning schools came up with far more frequency in Bay Area ads than elsewhere. You’d think that good schools are important everywhere, but “I think here in Silicon Valley, because the big companies are attracting these extremely well-educated foreign nationals, education is paramount,” said Mattie Baker, co-founder of School Scout, an online service in Santa Clara that lets agents and buyers search for homes within a certain school’s boundaries.
She said international buyers “search out schools proclaimed to be great” based largely on their test scores.
Some features that are uncommon in the Bay Area compared to the nation are less so when compared to the rest of the state.
For example, although basements are rare in Bay Area listings, they are 2.4 times more common here than in the rest of California, perhaps because of a boom in building luxury basements in Palo Alto and other pricey cities.
Other terms that are more common here than the rest of the state: updated kitchen or bath, eat-in kitchen, public transportation, refinished hardwood floors, commute and top-floor.
Terms that are less common here than elsewhere in California: covered patio, RV parking, ceiling fan, pool, spa, gated community, beach, fire pit, walk-in closet, golf and barbecue.
Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: http://blog.sfgate.com/pender Twitter: @kathpender