Buying a home can be one of the most valuable and significant investments an individual can make. Laws and contracts regulating your rights and obligations as a property owner from the foundation of our legal system. This glossary provides you with functional, working definitions of all terms commonly encountered.
Abstract of Title – A compilation of the recorded documents relating to a parcel of land, from which an attorney may give an opinion as to the condition of title and a title agent may issue title.
Action to Quiet Title – Modernly used to describe a court action to establish ownership to remove a cloud on title.
Adverse Possession – A method of obtaining ownership rights by open, notorious, exclusive, and hostile possession of private real property for a statutory period which varies from state to state.
Affidavit of Title – An affidavit by a seller of real property that as of a certain date, no deftects of title exist except those which have been disclosed in the sales contract or deed.
Appraisal – An opinion of value based upon a factual analysis. Legally, an estimation of value by two disinterested persons of suitable qualifications.
Assessment – (1) The estimating of value of property for tax purposes. (2) A levy against property in additional to property taxes. Usually for improvements such as streets, curbs, sidewalks, sewers, etc.
Assignment – A transfer to another of any property, real or personal, or of any rights or estates in said property. Common assignments are of leases, mortgages, deed of trust, but the general term encompasses all transfers of title.
Binder – A report issued by a title insurance company setting forth the condition of title to certain property as of a certain date, and also setting forth conditions which, if satisfied will cause a policy of title insurance to be issued. Often called a commitment.
Chain of Title – The chronological order of a parcel of land, from the original owner to the present owner.
Closing – In real estate sales, the final procedure in which documents are executed and/or recorded and the sale (or loan) is completed.
Closing costs – Expenses incidental to the sale or purchase of real estate, such as loan fees, title fees, appraisal fees, etc.
Cloud on Title – An invalid encumbrance on real property, which if valid, would affect the rights of the owner.
Contiguous – Actually touching or bordering on.
Deed – Actually, any one of many conveyancing or financing instruments, but generally a conveyancing instrument, given to pass fee title to property upon sale.
Deed Restriction – Limitations on the use of property placed in the conveyancing deed by the grantor, which may bind all future owners.
Easement – A right crated by grant, reservation, agreement, prescription or necessary implication, which one has in the land of another. It is either for the benefit of land (such as the right to enter onto another’s land to reach your own) or “in gross” (such as a public utility easement).
Eminent Domain – A governmental right to acquire private property for public use by condemnation, and the payment of just compensation.
Encumbrance – A claim, lien, charge or liability attached to and binding real property. Any right to, or interest in, land which may exist in one other than the owner, but which will not prevent the transfer of fee title.
Escrow – Funds held by an escrow agent with special instructions when to transfer from one party to another.
Federal Tax Lien – A federal income tax lien. May attach to all property of the party owing the taxes.
Foreclosure – A proceeding in or out of court, to extinguish all rights of title and interest of the owners of property in order to sell the property to satisfy a lien against it.
Grantee – The recipient of the deed or, generally, the buyer.
Grantor – The issuer of the deed or, generally, the seller.
Home Owners Association – (1) An association of people who own homes in a given area, formed for the purpose of improving or maintaining the quality of the area. (2) An association formed by the builder of condominiums or planned developments, and required by statute in some states. The builders participation as well as the duties of the association are controlled by statute.
HUD – Closing statement. Lists all transfers between the Buyer and Seller as well as closing costs and Buyer’s lender’s fees, if any. In a refinance, lists all costs between the Lender and Borrower.
Joint Tenancy – An undivided interest in property, taken by two or more joint tenants. The interests must be equal, accruing under the same conveyance, and beginning at the same time. Upon the death of a joint tenant, the interest passes to the surviving joint tenants, rather than to the heirs of the deceased.
Joint Ownership – Property owned by more than one person or entity.
Judgment – The decision of a court of law. Money judgments, when recorded, become a lien on real property of the defendant.
Land – A general term which includes the ground and those things of a permanent nature such as trees, crops, oil and minerals in the ground, unless specifically excepted.
Landlocked Parcel – A parcel of land surrounded entirely by privately owned land, with no access to a public right of way (road).
Lease – An agreement by which an owner of real property gives the right of possession to another, for a specified period of time and for a specified consideration.
Loan Policy (or Lender’s Policy) – A title insurance policy insuring a mortgagee, or beneficiary under a deed of trust, against loss caused by invalid title in the borrower, or loss of priority of the mortgage or deed of trust.
Marketable Title – Title which can be readily marketed (sold) to a reasonably prudent purchaser aware of the facts and their legal meaning concerning liens and encumbrances.
Metes and bounds – Description of land by boundary lines, with their terminal points and angles. Originally referred to distance, bounds to direction.
Mortgage – (1) To pledge as security, real property for the payment of a debt. The borrower (mortgagor) retains possession and use of the property. (2) The instrument by which real estate is pledged as security for the repayment of a loan.
Notary Public – One who is authorized by the state or federal government, to administer oaths, and to attest to the authenticity of signatures.
Owner Policy – Title insurance for the owner of property, rather than a lienholder.
Power of Attorney – An authority by which one person (principal) enables another (attorney in fact or agent) to act for him.
Refinance – Securing new financing on a property you presently own.
Survey – The measurement of the boundaries of a parcel of land, its area and sometimes, its topography.
Tax Exemption – Freedom from payment of property or other taxes, granted to religious, educational, and similar organizations. Partial property tax exemptions are granted in some states to individuals, such as veterans and senior citizens.
Tax Lien – A lien for nonpayment of property taxes. Attaches only to the property upon which the taxes are unpaid.
Tenancy by the Entirety – A form of ownership by husband and wife, whereby each owns the entire property. In the event of the death of one, the survivor owners the property without probate.
Tenancy in Common – An undivided ownership in real estate by two or more persons. The interest need not be equal, and, in the event of the death of one of the owners, no right of survivorship in the other owners exist.
Tide Lands – Lands which are covered at the highest point of the tide. These lands are state property and cannot be used for private purposes. Even though the tide may be lower over a period of years, the land still remains state property.
Title – The evidence one has right of possession of land.
Title Insurance – Insurance against loss resulting from defects of title to a specifically described parcel of real property. Defects may run to the fee (chain of title) or to encumbrances.
Title Search – A review of all recorded documents affecting a specific piece of property to determine the present condition of title.