Dictionary Review: Wörterbuch Immobilienwirtschaft (Englisch/Deutsch)

Architect, German-English translator and GLD member Andrew Catford reviews the latest Real Estate Dictionary (4th revised edition) from Immobilien Zeitung in Wiesbaden.

Wörterbuch ImmobilienwirtschaftWörterbuch Immobilienwirtschaft / Real Estate Dictionary
4th revised edition, Wiesbaden: Immobilien Zeitung, April 2011
A review by Andrew Catford

This German/English and English/German dictionary aims to cover the needs of the real estate industry in the broader sense. In addition to core topics such as real estate law, finance and investment, it includes a range of related subjects such as architecture, construction and general business and economic issues. The publishers claim over 43,000 entries. Where applicable, both US and UK English spelling and usage are provided.

The package
The dictionary consists of two components: a physical volume and an online dictionary. Purchase of the dictionary entitles access to the online database through the publisher’s website for a period of 3 years following initial registration.

The book
The hard cover book is approximately 5” x 7.5” in size and runs to 753 pages. There are 3 primary sections: an English-German dictionary, a German-English dictionary and an appendix. Inside covers provide an overview of the dictionary’s structure and abbreviations used in the text to identify areas of application, such as finance, law, etc. Parts of speech are identified and noun genders are provided in the German to English section.

Organizationally, use is made of headwords followed by derivative terms, so word sequence is not always strictly alphabetical. In circumstances where a narrow translation of a term may fail to completely clarify the concept, the authors elaborate the entry with an explanation.

“The dictionary consists of two components: a physical volume and an online dictionary.”

Text is arranged in 2 columns, attractively presented with clear, legible type on good quality paper. Facing pages carry the initial entry in the upper left margin and final entry in the upper right. Letters of the alphabet are printed on the outer margins of each page. Page numbers are rather inconveniently positioned, close to the binding.

Online dictionary
An access code to the online dictionary is provided at the rear end paper. For some reason, the simple instructions are only provided in German.

The publishers plan to post updates to the online dictionary on an ongoing basis. Search options are limited to single entries and the search domain (German-English / English-German) must be selected to activate the search.

Perhaps more interesting than the online version of the dictionary is an ongoing series of tutorial articles on the website (in German) addressing real estate topics and liberally sprinkled with English equivalents.

Where is the dictionary at its strongest? It gives excellent coverage of core real estate topics, finance and general business. It seeks to address the needs of real estate practitioners, and provides excellent coverage of areas such as appraisal, acquisition, property development, management, leasing, and financial reporting. In the process, it deals with a wide range of directly related issues including forms of tenure, titles, land registration, zoning, and preservation.

There are copious references to industry groups and institutions affecting real estate and investment activity. The US Federal Reserve Bank and the Urban Land Institute are both included.

Extensive coverage of US, English and German laws affecting real estate such as the US Fair Housing Act or English town and country planning legislation is provided.

The dictionary provides very good coverage of more arcane real estate terminology such as adverse possession or quit-claim deed.

Translators from German to English will also find very good coverage of the abbreviated references to German laws that are so frequently found in German real estate source texts.

“Extensive coverage of US, English and German laws affecting real estate such as the US Fair Housing Act or English town and country planning legislation is provided.”

The dictionary is at its weakest and most uneven in the ancillary areas of architecture and construction. Among these, the topics of estimating, bidding and construction contracting fare best. British, American and German construction industries are different in numerous respects, resulting in trades designations and professional responsibilities that defy precise translation. The English terms joiner, clerk of works or quantity surveyor and the German Spengler are examples. Where warranted, the dictionary provides explanations rather than translations.

The architectural entries are a curious mixture. With limited space, the dictionary might be expected to concentrate on terms of immediate relevance in the development or marketing of real estate. While building types, forms and materials receive respectable coverage, it is unclear why terms such as tenon or eye are given space.

Where spelling and terminology differences exist between US and UK usage, the authors generally do an excellent job of identifying them. But not in every instance. Sometimes, only the UK translation is offered, even though that term enjoys little currency in the US. Elsewhere, the choice of US term as synonym for a UK term can be disputed. e.g. public house (UK) and saloon (US).

The dictionary appears to be reasonably up-to-date in its references. It is unclear whether the worldwide real estate and banking crisis influenced the selection of entries in this edition, but I searched in vain for bubble, underwater and Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc.

The authors are clearly aware of recent changes in English planning and land registration law.

Not to be confused with false friends! This is rather a situation in which the offered translation may be literally true but fails at the level of common usage. The German term Bundesstraße is correctly rendered in UK terms. The US equivalents are not equally persuasive. Federal highway is a reasonable rendition and, in a strictly legal sense, interstate is too. After all, Route 66 identified a federal highway that was also an interstate highway. But in normal usage, interstate refers to a freeway component within the interstate highway system. Around here, we consider highway 287 (a Federal interstate highway in the narrow sense) and interstate 25 to be two very distinct road types.

It may seem odd to even consider objectivity in the appraisal of a dictionary. Surely, objectivity should be a given in a work of reference. However, authors’ choice of language in the explanation of potentially hot-button terms like redlining or gentrification may offer some insight into how to approach the balance of their work. I can report that I only found one reference (to UK poll tax) that might be considered as editorializing.

Geographic coverage
Among the country abbreviations listed in the rear end papers are entries for Austria and Switzerland. The publishers also make reference to inclusion of Austrian and Swiss terms in their promotional material.

Given the federal structure of these nations, a search of the German-English section for terms beginning in Bundes seemed a good initial test. Every entry found was clearly associated with the German Federal government.

As a practical test, I searched the dictionary for terms that appeared in source documents of projects originating in Austria and Switzerland. These included:

  • a promotional web page from a Swiss real estate firm offering valuation, development and property management consulting
  • a post-crash global economic survey and real estate development report from a Swiss bank
  • a webpage for a major Austrian general contractor
  • specifications for electrical renovations in a Vienna apartment building

No results were found for several terms and abbreviations in these documents, including:

  • Kaufrecht, Überbebauung, Reservationsvertrag, ZGB, Sperrkonto, Schaltschützen, lotrecht, BVergG (Austrian Federal Procurement Act), SiGe-Plan (Sicherheits- und Gesundheitsschutzplan) and Önorm.

In other cases, entries did exist but failed to cover all the bases, e.g. Anlagenbuch in its non-financial sense of an installation and commissioning record and AG in the sense of Arbeitgeber.

And, in yet other instances, a perfectly common (Swiss) word such as Quartier would lead to a cross reference (Stadtquartier).

There are dictionary entries that are identified as Swiss or Austrian terms, but they are comparatively rare. On balance, this dictionary is best treated as a source of German usage.

The appendix contains a number of pages of miscellaneous information. It includes tables of measurement systems and conversions, classification of cities and towns, comparative job titles of company officers and guidance in calculating rental areas of commercial buildings. A series of drawings and floor plans to clarify architectural terms are provided. This is perhaps the most misleading portion of the apendix. While GB and US equivalents are given for some building elements, others are missing. Thus downspout is a not offered as a US alternative to the UK down pipe. Similarly, parapet is not likely to refer to the portion of wall beneath a window sill. Other equivalents are also dubious. German Mansarddach is translated as both gambrel roof and mansard roof, two forms that are architecturally quite distinct. Caution is advised!

Compilation of a bilingual real estate dictionary that caters to the needs of users in Germany, the UK and US is a daunting challenge. While legal traditions in the UK and Germany are distinct, both countries benefit from internally consistent bodies of real estate law. Except at the Federal level, this is not true of the US, where real estate law exhibits wide regional variation and influences. Some regionally significant concepts of US real estate law such as community property or homestead could arguably be given more detailed treatment, but the good news is that they are not ignored.

This real estate dictionary provides excellent coverage of its core focus: real estate practice.

However, the dictionary is not a substitute for dedicated architectural of construction dictionaries.

Andrew Catford
Andrew Catford

Andrew Catford, architect and senior project manager with an MBA and MArch, has extensive theme park, entertainment and commercial development experience and specializes in German-to-US and -UK English translation of real estate, architectural, construction and related business material. He was born in Perth, Scotland, and has been a US resident since 1975. He currently resides in Fort Collins, Colorado, with Jan and Teo the wonder dog. He can be reached at baullc@earthlink.net