Real Estate Glossary of Terms

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Below is a comprehensive real estate terms glossary, which will help you understand the jargon of the real estate industry here in Massachusetts.

ABSTRACT OF TITLE

A condensed version of the history of title to a piece of land that lists any transfers in ownership, as well as any liabilities attached to it, such as mortgages.

ABUTTING

The joining, reaching, or touching of adjoining land. Abutting pieces of land have a common boundary.

ACCELERATION CLAUSE

A provision in a written mortgage, note, bond or conditional sales contract that, in the event of default, the whole amount of principal and interest may be declared to be due and payable at once.

ACCEPTANCE

An offeree s consent to enter into a contract and be bound by the terms of the offer.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

A declaration made by a person to a notary public, or other public official authorized to take acknowledgments, that the instrument was executed by him and that it was his free and voluntary act.

ACRE

A measure of land equal to 43,560 square feet.

ADJUSTMENTS

Money that the buyer and sellers credit each other at the time of closing. Often includes taxes and down payment.

AFFIDAVIT

Written statement signed and sworn to before some person authorized to take an oath.

AGENCY

The legal relationship between a principal and an agent. In real estate transactions, usually the seller is the principal, and the broker is the agent: however, a buyer represented by a broker (i.e., buyer as principal is a growing trend. In an agency relationship, the principal delegates to the agent the right to act on his or her behalf in business transactions and to exercise some discretion while so acting. The agent has a fiduciary relationship with the principal and owes to that principal the duties of accounting, care, loyalty, and obedience.

AGENT

A person authorized to act for and under the direction of another person when dealing with third parties. The person who appoints an agent is called the principal. An agent can enter into binding agreements on the principal’s behalf and may even create liability for the principal if the agent causes harm while carrying out his or her duties.

AMENITIES

Non monetary benefits and satisfactions derived from property ownership, such as a pleasant view, pride in home ownership, etc.

AMMENDMENT

A modification to an existing contract, mutually agreed to by all parties.

APPRAISAL

A determination of value. A professional appraiser–a qualified, disinterested expert–makes an estimate by examining the property, and looking at the initial purchase price and comparing it with recent sales of similar property. Courts commonly order appraisals in probate, condemnation, bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings in order to determine the fair market value of property. Banks and real estate companies use appraisals to ascertain the worth of real estate for lending purposes.

APPRAISED VALUE

An estimate of the present worth.

APPRECIATION

An increase in value or worth of property. Opposite of depreciation.

ASKING (LIST) PRICE

The price placed on property for sale.

ASSESSOR

A local government official who determines the value of the property for taxation purposes.

ATTORNEY’S OPINION OF TITLE

An instrument written and signed by the attorney who examines the abstracts of title, stating his opinion as to whether a seller may convey good title.

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE

Something on a piece of property that attracts children but also endangers their safety. For example, unfenced swimming pools, open pits, farm equipment and abandoned refrigerators have all qualified as attractive nuisances.

BILL OF SALE

A written instrument given to pass title to personal property.

BREACH OF CONTRACT

Failure, without legal excuse, of one of the parties to a contract to perform according to the contract.

BROKERAGE

For a commission or fee, bringing together parties interested in buying, selling, exchanging, or leasing real property

BUYER’S BROKER

A licensee who has declared to represent only the buyer in a transaction, regardless of whether compensation is paid by the buyer or the listing broker through a commission split. Some brokers conduct their business by representing buyers only.

CHAIN OF TITLE

A history of conveyances and encumbrances of a property from some starting point, whereby the present owner derives title.

CLEAR TITLE

A land title that doesn’t have any liens (including a mortgage) against it.

CLOSING

The conclusion of the sales transaction when the seller transfers title to the buyer in exchange for consideration. I

CLOSING STATEMENT

A detailed written summary of the financial settlement of a real estate transaction, showing all charges and credits made, and all cash received and paid out.

COMMISSION

The compensation paid to a licensed real estate broker or by the broker to the salesman for services rendered. Usually a percentage of the selling price of the property.

COMPARABLES

Properties which are similar to a particular property and are used to compare and establish a value for that property.

CONDOMINIUM

A form of real estate, usually a dwelling with individual ownership of separate portions of the building plus shared ownership of the common areas.

CONSIDERATION

The price or subject matter, which induces a contract; may be in money, commodity, exchange, or a transfer of personal effort.

CONTINGENCY

A provision in a contract stating that some or all of the terms of the contract will be altered or voided by the occurrence of a specific event. A common example is a Buyer who enters into the purchase of another home before his current home is sold. The Buyer will usually ask for the Seller to make the sale contingent upon the sale of the Buyer’s current home. If the Seller receives another offer for the property, the first Buyer must either agree to buy the home without any contingency, or step aside and let someone else purchase the home.

CONTRACT

A legally enforceable agreement to do, or not to do, a particular thing for a consideration.

CONTRACT OF SALE

The agreement between the buyer and seller on the purchase price, terms, and conditions necessary to both parties to convey the title to the buyer.

CONVEYANCE

Written instrument, such as a deed or lease, that evidences transfer of some ownership interest in real property from one person to another.

COUNTER OFFER

The rejection of an offer to buy or sell that simultaneously makes a different offer, changing the terms in some way. For example, if a Buyer offers $300,000 for a home, and the Seller replies that he wants $325,000, the Seller has rejected the Buyer’s offer of $300,000 and made a counteroffer to sell at $325,000. The legal significance of a counteroffer is that it completely voids the original offer, so that if the Seller decided to sell for $300,000 the next day, the Buyer would be under no legal obligation to pay that amount for the property.

COVENANT

A restriction on the use of real estate that governs its use, such as a requirement that the property will be used only for residential purposes. Covenants are found in deeds or in documents that bind everyone who owns land in a particular development.

CUL-DE-SAC

A dead end street which widens sufficiently at the end to permit an automobile to make a “U” turn.

DEED

A written instrument by which title to land is conveyed.

DEFAULT

Non-performance of a duty arising under a contract or otherwise.

DISCLOSURE

The making known of a fact that had previously been hidden; a revelation. For example, in many states you must disclose major physical defects in a house you are selling, such as a leaky roof or potential flooding problem.

down payment

An amount of money the buyer pays which is the difference between the purchase price and the mortgage amount.

DUAL AGENCY

Representing the buyer and the seller in the same transaction by the same agent.

EARNEST MONEY

A deposit made by the buyer as evidence of good faith in offering to purchase real estate and to secure performance of the contract. Earnest money is typically held by a title company, in an escrow account, during the period between acceptance of the contract and the closing.

EASEMENT

A right to use another person’s real estate for a specific purpose. The most common type of easement is the right to travel over another person’s land, known as a right of way. In addition, property owners commonly grant easements for the placement of utility poles, utility trenches, water lines or sewer lines.

EASEMENT BY PRESCRIPTION

A right to use property, acquired by a long tradition of open and obvious use. For example, if hikers have been using a trail through your backyard for ten years and you’ve never complained, they probably have an easement by prescription through your yard to the trail.

ENCROACHMENT

A fixture, or structure, such as a wall or fence, which invades a portion of a property belonging to another. Solutions range from paying the rightful property owner for the use of the property to the court-ordered removal of the structure.

ENCUMBRANCE

A cloud against clear, free title to the property which does not prevent conveyance, such as unpaid taxes, easements, deed restrictions, mortgage loans, etc.

EQUITY

The difference in dollars between a house’s value and the mortgage amount.

ESCROW

A trust arrangement by which none or more parties deposit things of value with an authorized escrow agent in accordance with the terms of a real estate agreement.

ESCROW ACCOUNT

  • (1) A third party account that holds money safely while a sale is in progress.
  • (2) An account used to save monies required for the payment of an eventual debt. Often used by lenders to save for property taxes, homeowner’s dues, etc.

Escrow accounts are typically non-interest bearing for the contributors, but may pay interest to the entity holding the account (lenders, title companies, lawyers, etc.).

FAIR HOUSING ACT & FAIR HOUSING AMENDMENTS ACT

Federal laws that prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. The federal Acts apply to all aspects of the landlord/tenant relationship, from refusing to rent to members of certain groups to providing different services during tenancy.

FAIR HOUSING LAWS

Federal, state, and local laws, particularly Title VIII of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which forbid discrimination because of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin, in the selling or renting of homes or apartments, and in other specified transactions. These laws have been recently been expanded to include familial status (having children) and disabilities (Americans with Disabilities Act).

FIDUCIARY

The relationship of trust, honesty and confidence between agent and principal; the faithful relationship owed by an agent to the principal.

GENERAL LIEN

A lien that includes all the property owned by a debtor, rather than a specific property. Contrast with Specific Lien.

HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION (HOA)

An organization comprising neighbors concerned with managing the common areas of a subdivision or condominium complex. These associations take on issues such as maintaining common land and recreation areas, and collecting dues from residents. The homeowners’ association is also responsible for enforcing any covenants, conditions & restrictions that apply to the property. Payment of dues and participation in the homeowner’s association may be either voluntary or mandatory, depending on the neighborhood.

HOUSE CLOSING

The final transfer of the ownership of a house from the seller to the buyer, which occurs after both have met all the terms of their contract and the deed has been recorded. Also known as the “closing.”

IMPROVEMENTS

Valuable additions to the land, such as buildings, fences, roads, etc., which increase the value of the property.

JOINT TENANCY

A way for two or more people to share ownership of real estate or other property. When two or more people own property as joint tenants and one owner dies, the other owners automatically own the deceased owner’s share. For example, if a parent and child own a house as joint tenants and the parent dies, the child automatically becomes full owner. Because of this right of survivorship, no will is required to transfer the property; it goes directly to the surviving joint tenants without the delay and costs of probate.

LEGAL DESCRIPTION

A description of a specific parcel of real estate which is acceptable to the courts in that state, and which will allows an independent surveyor to locate and identify it.

LIEN

A monetary claim against a property. These should be settled before the sale is finalized.

LISTING AGREEMENT

The legal agreement between the listing agent/broker and the vendor, setting out the services to be rendered, describing the property for sale, and stating the terms of payment.

MANUFACTURED HOME

A structure built in a factory, that is later shipped to, and placed on, the homesite. The term can apply to both mobile homes and pre-fab homes.

MARKET VALUE

The price that a willing buyer and a willing seller, both given full information, and neither under pressure to act, would agree upon. Also known as Fair Market Value.

MOBILE HOME

A type of manufactured home, that is transported to the home site using wheels attached to the structure. Mobile homes come in various widths and lengths, and maybe composed of one to three pieces. A one piece home is called a “single-wide”, while a house that is joined together from two halves is called a “double-wide”. Recently, “triple-wides” have appeared, and become as the largest mobile homes available. Most sections are between 14 and 16 feet wide, and 54 to 80 feet in length. Mobile homes do not require any foundation or substructure. They sit up off the ground, with skirting used around the base to hide the wheel and jacks. While it is possible to tie down a mobile home to a piece of land, using straps and screw-in anchors, the structures are very susceptible to high winds and tornados.

MORTGAGE

A contract providing security for the repayment of a loan, registered against property, with stated rights and remedies in the event of default. Lenders consider both the property (security) and financial worth of the borrower (covenant) in deciding on a mortgage loan.

MORTGAGE BROKER

A person or company having contacts with financial institutions or individuals wishing to invest in mortgages.

MORTGAGE LOAN

A loan which utilizes real estate as security or collateral to provide for repayment should you default on the terms of your loan. The mortgage or deed of trust is your agreement to pledge your home or other real estate as security.

MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE (MLS)

A system by which a number of real estate firms share information about homes that are for sale. Membership usually provides a monthly book and/or computer service that provides Realtors® with detailed listings of most homes currently on the market.

OFFER

A proposal to enter into an agreement with another person. An offer must express the intent of the person making the offer to form a contract, must contain some essential terms–including the price and subject matter of the contract–and must be communicated by the person making the offer. A legally valid acceptance of the offer will create a binding contract.

OPEN HOUSE

An opportunity for prospective buyers to view a house in a low pressure environment.

ORDINANCE

A law adopted by a town or city council, county board of supervisors or other municipal governing board. Typically, local governments issue ordinances establishing zoning and parking rules and regulating noise, garbage removal, and the operation of parks and other areas that affect people who live or do business within the locality’s borders.

PROPERTY TAXES

Taxes that are paid yearly on real property. based on the assessed value of the real property.

PURCHASE OFFER

A document that lists the price, terms and conditions under which a buyer is willing to purchase a property.

REAL ESTATE

Refers to land and improvements and the rights to own or use them. “A leasehold, as well as any other interest or estate in land, whether corporeal, incorporeal, freehold, or non-freehold, and whether the real estate is situated in this state or elsewhere.”

REAL ESTATE BOARD

A non profit organization representing local real estate agents/brokers and salespeople, which provides services to its members and maintains and operates the Multiple Listing Service in the community.

REAL ESTATE AGENT

A person licensed to negotiate and transact the sale of real estate on behalf of the property owner.

REAL ESTATE APPRAISER, LICENSED

A person licensed to legally appraise real estate property for a fee.

REALTOR®

A real estate broker or an associate who holds active membership in a local real estate board that is affiliated with the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF

REALTY

Refers to land and buildings and other improvements from a physical standpoint. Real Estate and Real Property tend to be used interchangeably with Realty in everyday usage.

RECORDED PLAT

A subdivision map filed with the county recorder’s office that shows the location and boundaries (lot and block number) of individual parcels of land.

RECORDING

The act of entering in the public records, the written record of title to real property, thereby giving constructive notice to the public.

SALES CONTRACT

A written agreement stating the terms of the sale agreed to by both buyer and seller.

SINGLE-FAMILY HOME

A free-standing, residential structure, designed to accommodate one family. Single-family homes include traditional houses.

TITLE

The right of ownership of a property.

TITLE COMPANY

A company that conduct title searches and hold closings.

TITLE SEARCH

Checks all the records relating to the property to determine whether the seller can sell the property, and can do so free of liens.

TOWNHOUSE

A dwelling unit usually with two, three or four floors, and shared structural walls. It can be individually owned.

VOID

Having no legal force or effect; legally invalid.

VOIDABLE

A contract which appears valid and enforceable on the surface, but may be declared invalid by one of the parties, such as a contract entered into by a minor.

WARRANTY DEED

A type of deed that contains express assurances about the legal validity of the title being transferred