George Orwell said: “The slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Yes, and for others to read them. Everyone in real estate treats everyone else in the game as foolish, at least when it comes to trumpeting projects.

Peter Bill

Peter Bill

This is despite the fact that commercial property is full of clever folk. Everyone sees through the insincerity to the subtext. A few semi-serious instances: Don’t brand your off-pitch baby a ‘hub.’ Subtext: it’s in a spot where dogs can die in the street unnoticed.

A ‘new quarter’ is simply a bigger hub: an old sweet factory, rather than a Methodist Hall. ‘Vibrant’ added to either epithet suggests drunks vomiting in doorways when the bars tip out.

Labelling space as ‘versatile’ suggests willingness to rent to a penniless youth with an idea for an app.

Clipping CGIs to disguise the bulk or height of a project fools nobody. All you are doing is betraying shame that the scheme has to be big and ugly to make the numbers work. Using ‘fluff and filler’ descriptors such as ‘quality’ or ‘excellence’ is slovenly. Think. These words are so bleached of meaning they are almost invisible.

Stop griping you may say. This is a game of sales, not truth. No one takes marketing-speak literally, do they? No. Not even I’m daft enough to think that. Only a fool would accentuate the negative.

Marketing speak has leached into a serious area and is being sprayed as ‘greenwash’

What I am griping about today is how marketing speak has leached into a more serious subject area and is being sprayed as ‘greenwash’ to camouflage the honest intent to make a profit.

Orwell also said: “When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”

A higher purpose

Real estate promoters routinely squirt cuttlefish ink at investors, planners and the public these days, attempting to persuade everyone, including themselves perhaps, that developers have a higher calling beyond profit and what they build will somehow help save the earth from hellfire.

They insist: “Our [insert the name of any project] will be ‘sustainable’” — a word up there with ‘quality’ as one of the most meaningless in the lexicon. The subtext? “How can you possibly refuse us good people permission?”

This is not to attack on ‘green’ codes such as BREEAM. It is a defence against such standards falling into disrepute because of the insincerity of those who over-hype them as selling aids. The honest truth is that no developer will surrender a square foot of net lettable space to save the planet.

Why would they? Would they refurbish, if tearing down and maxing the density is possible? No. The prime driver for real estate is profit. Adding net-zero square feet would save more cubic feet of carbon than building a larger ‘net-zero carbon’ replacement.

Planet saving rules are now a necessity, not a virtue. Perhaps cut down on the virtue signalling? As Orwell almost said: “The great enemy of insincerity is clear language.”

Peter Bill is a journalist and the author of Planet Property and Broken Homes