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Real Estate Glossary

This glossary was created by a team of real estate professionals. It contains terms regarding real estate buying and selling, home finance, home improvement, as well as legal terms. For your convenience, the glossary is searchable alphabetically.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

a la carte real estate services
Professional real estate services that are rendered one transaction at a time instead of the conventional full-service, commission-based brokerage relationship.

A-frame design
An interior style that features a steeply peaked roofline and a ceiling that is open to the top rafters.

abstract of judgment
The summary of a court judgment that creates a lien against a property when filed with the county recorder.

abstract or title search
The process of reviewing all recorded transactions in the public record to determine whether any title defects exist that could interfere with the clear transfer of ownership of the property.

accelerated cost recovery system
A tax calculation that provides greater depreciation in the early years of ownership of real estate or personal property.

accelerated depreciation
A bookkeeping method that depreciates property faster in the early years of ownership.

acceleration clause

A provision that gives a lender the right to collect the balance of a loan if a borrower misses a payment.

acceptance

The seller's written approval of a buyer's offer.

access
Any means by which a person can enter property.

accessibility
The degree to which a building or site allows access to people with disabilities.

accretion

The gradual addition to the shore or bank of a waterway by deposits of sand or silt.

acknowledgment
A written declaration affirming that a person acted voluntarily.

acre
A measurement of land equal to 43,560 square feet.

acre-foot
The volume of material needed to cover an acre of land one foot deep.

active solar system

A system that utilizes electric pumps or fans to transfer solar energy for storage or direct use.

actual age
The number of years a structure has been standing.

ad valorem tax
Tax based on assessed property value.

additional principal payment
A payment by a borrower of more than the scheduled principal amount due in order to reduce the remaining balance on the loan

adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)

A mortgage loan whose interest rate fluctuates according to the movements of an assigned index or a designated market indicator--such as the weekly average of one-year U.S. Treasury Bills--over the life of the loan. To avoid constant and drastic fluctuations, ARMs typically limit how often and by how much the interest rate can vary

adjusted basis
The original cost of a property plus the value of any capital expenditures for improvements to the property minus any depreciation taken

adjustment date
The date on which the interest rate changes for an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).

adjustment period
The period that elapses between the adjustment dates for an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).

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

administrator/administratrix
A man/woman appointed by a court to settle the estate of a deceased person when there is no will. Contrast with executor/executrix.

adverse possession
The right of an occupant of land to acquire title against the real owner, where possession has been actual, continuous, hostile, visible, and distinct for the statutory period. The requirements for adversely possessing property vary between states, but usually include continuous and open use for a period of five or more years and paying taxes on the property in question

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. Also see buyer's broker

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. See also attorney-in-fact

alienation Clause
A clause in a mortgage, which gives the lender the right to call the entire loan balance due if the property is sold; due-on-sale clause

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. Examples might include a change in the pruchase price due to a low appraisal, or a change in the closing date.

amortization
The operation of paying off indebtedness, such as a mortgage, by installments. The conventional amortization periods are15 or 30 years.

amortized mortgage
A mortgage requiring periodic payments that include both interest and principal

annual membership
The amount that is charged annually for having a line of credit available. Often charged regardless of whether or not you use the line.

antitrust laws
Federal and state laws prohibiting, among other things, monopolies, monopolistic practices, restraint of trade, and price fixing.

application

An initial statement of personal and financial information, which is required to approve your loan

application fee
Fees that are paid upon application. Charges for property appraisal and a credit report are usually included in the application fee.

appraisal
A determination of the value of something, such as a house, jewelry or stock. 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. And insurance companies require appraisals to determine the amount of damage done to covered property before settling insurance claims

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

assignee
A person to whom a property right is transferred. For example, an assignee may take over a lease from a tenant who wants to permanently move out before the lease expires. The assignee takes control of the property and assumes all the legal rights and responsibilities of the tenant, including payment of rent. However, the original tenant remains legally responsible if the assignee fails to pay the rent.

assignment
A transfer of property rights from one person to another, called the assignee.

assumable mortgage
An existing mortgage that can be taken over by the buyer on the same terms given to the original borrower

assumption of mortgage
The transfer of title to property to a grantee wherein he assumes liability for payment of an existing note secured by a mortgage against the property; should the mortgage be foreclosed and the property sold for a lesser amount than that due, the grantee-purchaser who has assumed and agreed to pay the debt secured by the mortgage is personally liable for the deficiency. Before a seller may be relieved of liability under the existing mortgage, the lender must accept the transfer of liability for payment of the note. Also known as simple assumption. Contrast withsubject to mortgage

attachment
Method by which a debtor's property is placed in the custody of the law and held as security pending outcome of a creditor's suit

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

auction
A public sale of property to the highest bidder