Innumeracy is Perfect for Entertaining

Wall Street Journal was looking hard for a story.

Earlier this morning, WSJ tweeted, “Nearly 1 in 64 U.S. homes for sale are described as “perfect for entertaining” – up 15% from the past year.” My immediate reaction was, “This year, hardly anybody included the phrase ‘perfect for entertaining’ in their home listings. Again.”  The article being promoted, “Pitching Houses With Entertaining Spaces: With the market perking up, more homes across the country are pitched as ‘perfect for entertaining’,” did not allay my skepticism.

Home buyers want to have fun again.

There was a point when they didn’t?

In the years immediately following the housing bust in late 2007, real-estate agents focused on functionality and facts, like the square footage and condition of the house, to convince buyers that they were getting a good deal. Now with the market improving, sellers are seeking to establish an emotional connection with buyers by focusing on lifestyle features instead.

Oddly, they were doing that before the housing bubble burst, too. Listings always include that information. How else would you decide which homes to visit.  Descriptors like “perfect for entertaining” may entice but they’re meaningless.

As a result, nearly 2% of homes on the market are described as “perfect for entertaining”—or one out of every 64 homes, according to an analysis by real-estate brokerage ZipRealty.

In in 64 is 1.56%, which is only “nearly 2%” if you don’t understand how percentages work.

That is a 15% increase over the past year.

So, last year it was 1. 41% of listings? Or, 1 in 66? I suppose that’s an interesting blip but one suspects its just a function of real estate agents having a herd instinct, tending to glom onto new buzzwords to stand out from the crowd.

It turns out that the phrase is really hot in a few areas, all of them in the western half of the country. Los Angeles tops the charts with 2.67% of the listings, followed by Denver (2.39%), Dallas (2.03%), Phoenix (1.97%), and Houston (1.61%). Put another way, even if the cities where the phrase is most prevalent, 97+ percent of listings do not contain the phrase. Which, again, is absolutely meaningless:

“A home doesn’t have to be large to be used for entertaining, but there has to be an area dedicated to it,” says Soren Bech, a real-estate agent with Town Residential in New York City. Mr. Bech has a $995,000 listing for a 700-square-foot Midtown condo with a 450-square-foot terrace. Though the apartment is small, the terrace offers both space and outdoor access—two premiums in New York, he says.

Nothing says “entertaining” like being forced onto the balcony of a prison cell-sized apartment.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Nothing says “entertaining” like being forced onto the balcony of a prison cell-sized apartment.

    Unless you don’t plan to live there at all but solely use it for entertaining. At one point when we visited Southern California my wife and I used to amuse ourselves by checking out houses listed for sale. We were amazed at the number of unlivable houses that would make great places to hold parties.

    My offhand guess is that there are markets in which that’s an important segment.

    How the other .1% of income earners live.

  2. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    I’m always amazed at American space requirements. 700sqft would be comfortable living space for a family of three around here :D.

  3. rudderpedals says:

    Around here, perfect for entertaining means “stripper pole in the living room.”

  4. john personna says:

    Ooh, I wanted a “legal” place to hang this at OTB! It is a good long read on the “nudge,” how everyone does it (from home sellers to governments), but how “doing good” has fallen victim to polarization in the US. Libertarians would rather be wrong than helped.

    Britain’s Ministry of Nudges

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    I just sold my home in a retirement community and the thing at the top of the list was no stairs.

  6. john personna says:

    (To be a really good nudge, realters should help people plan parties.)

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I would actively avoid a home that was great for entertaining. No matter where we live it’s never big enough for entertaining or for having relatives visit. This was true even when we lived in a five bedroom Victorian. It will always be true, no matter how large the house. If I moved into the White House it would still not be great for visiting relatives or entertaining.

  8. CSK says:

    I used watch House Hunters every once in a while for its unintentional (I think) comedic value. In addition to a house with a master suite, walk-in closets, a spa tub, granite counter tops, and an open floor plan, the house buyers also required a football field-sized kitchen so that they could have their guests in there while they were cooking.

    Now, anyone who really cooks knows that the last thing you want is a horde of people underfoot while you’re trying to flip the frittata.

    The show once featured a family who had bought a house with one of those colossal kitchens. They were throwing a party. Sure enough, all the friends and family were mobbed into the kitchen. The “cooking” the hostess was doing involved opening jug wine and ten boxes of Domino’s pizzas.

  9. rudderpedals says:

    Leftover Dominos takes on some classiness when stored in the $10K Sub-Zero (R) brand fridge.

  10. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @CSK: You flip your frittatas? I do mine in an oven–no flipping required. When I do make an egg dish that requires flipping, I use two pans and having an “assistant” to get splattered by the hot oil from the first pan is a welcome distraction.

    Maybe that’s why no one wants to talk to me while I’m cooking.

  11. CSK says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    I like the results a bit better with flipping. I put a dinner plate over the frying pan and maneuver the contents onto it, then slide it back into the pan on the reverse side. Either way, I don’t need a crowd underfoot.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    It used to be you had to have a large room with a massive mahogany table for “entertaining.” Now you’re supposed to all cram into the kitchen and sip wine while looking over the cook’s shoulder?

    Sheesh. Unless you love showing off your cooking skills, might as well make reservations at the local gourmet restaurant.

  13. john personna says:

    I like a kitchen that works as a hangout, but it should not be a house’s only hangout.

    (Taco night was fun.)

  14. al-Ameda says:

    Entertain at home, why bother? Go out.

    I lived in Japan (in the metro Tokyo area, the Kanto Plain) for the better part of 3 years, and because of the lack of space many people always go out to entertain. Even here in Northern CA when friends come to visit, we love to go out to eat and drink. It’s great, plus, no mess to clean up at the end of the evening (or the next day).

  15. Ben Wolf says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: In my experience American culture tends toward a need for greater personal space than in some other societies. I personally would feel crowded living with two other people in less than 1500 square feet, but solitude is something I just can’t do without.

  16. Franklin says:

    @Ben Wolf: Hmm, perhaps a little bit of our independent spirit.

  17. Matt says:

    @Ben Wolf: I live in a roughly 792sq foot home and I can’t imagine having two other people living here. It felt mildly cramped when my (now ex) fiancee lived here with me.

  18. Matt says:

    @Matt: Although my neighbors somehow fit 8 or so people into a 3 bedroom 1250sq foot house. I’m not even exaggerating as at night they would have 7 or so cars parked out front (two in driveway one in yard two on street in front two on street in front of neighbors and one in front of my house). Fortunately some of them have moved out so they are down to 4 or so cars now.