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Real Estate Terms

Real Estate Glossary
Buying a home can be an exciting and daunting experience. There are many terms and acronyms that you may be unfamiliar with, such as mortgage options, credit reports, loan applications, contracts, points, appraisals, change orders, inspections, warranties, walk-throughs, settlement sheets, escrow accounts, recording fees, insurance, and taxes.

This glossary will help you better understand the terms commonly used in the real estate and mortgage marketplace. By understanding these terms, you will be better prepared to navigate the home-buying process and make informed decisions.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): The cost of a loan or other financing as an annual rate. The APR includes the interest rate, points, broker fees, and certain other credit charges a borrower is required to pay.

Annuity: An amount paid yearly or at other regular intervals, often at a guaranteed minimum amount. Also, a type of insurance policy in which the policyholder makes payments for a fixed period or until a stated age, and then receives annuity payments from the insurance company.

Application Fee: The fee that a mortgage lender or broker charges to apply for a mortgage to cover processing costs.

Appraisal: A professional analysis used to estimate the value of the property. This includes examples of sales of similar properties.

Appraiser: A professional who conducts an analysis of the property, including examples of sales of similar properties in order to develop an estimate of the value of the property. The analysis is called an “appraisal.”

Appreciation: An increase in the market value of a home due to changing market conditions and/or home improvements. mortgage to cover processing costs.

Arbitration: A process where disputes are settled by referring them to a fair and neutral third party (arbitrator). The disputing parties agree in advance to agree with the decision of the arbitrator. There is a hearing where both parties have an opportunity to be heard, after which the arbitrator makes a decision.

Assessed Value: Typically, the value placed on a property for the purpose of taxation.

Assessor: A public official who establishes the value of a property for taxation purposes.

Asset: Anything of monetary value that is owned by a person or company. Assets include real property, personal property, stocks, mutual funds, etc.

Assignment of Mortgage: A document evidencing the transfer of ownership of a mortgage from one person to another.

Assumable Mortgage: A mortgage loan that can be taken over (assumed) by the buyer when a home is sold. An assumption of a mortgage is a transaction in which the buyer of real property takes over the seller’s existing mortgage; the seller remains liable unless released by the lender from the obligation. If the mortgage contains a due-on-sale clause, the loan may not be assumed without the lender’s consent.

Assumption: A homebuyer’s agreement to take on the primary responsibility for paying an existing mortgage from a home seller.

Assumption Fee: A fee a lender charges a buyer who will assume the seller’s existing mortgage. Automated Underwriting: An automated process performed by a technology application that streamlines the processing of loan applications and provides a recommendation to the lender to approve the loan or refer it for manual underwriting.

Balance Sheet: A financial statement that shows assets, liabilities, and net worth as of a specific date.

Balloon Mortgage: A mortgage with monthly payments often based on a 30-year amortization schedule, with the unpaid balance due in a lump sum payment at the end of a specific period of time (usually 5 or 7 years). The mortgage may contain an option to “reset” the interest rate to the current market rate and to extend the due date if certain conditions are met.

Balloon Payment: A final lump sum payment that is due, often at the maturity date of a balloon mortgage.

Bankruptcy: Legally declared unable to pay your debts. Bankruptcy can severely impact your credit and your ability to borrow money. 

Before-tax Income: Income before taxes is deducted. Also known as “gross income.”

Biweekly Payment Mortgage: A mortgage with payments due every two weeks (instead of monthly).  

Bona fide: In good faith, without fraud.  

Bridge Loan: A short-term loan secured by the borrower’s current home (which is usually for sale) that allows the proceeds to be used for building or closing on a new house before the current home is sold. Also known as a “swing loan.”

Broker: An individual or firm that acts as an agent between providers and users of products or services, such as a mortgage broker or real estate broker. See also “Mortgage Broker.”  

Building Code: Local regulations that set forth the standards and requirements for the construction, maintenance, and occupancy of buildings. The codes are designed to provide for the safety, health, and welfare of the public.  

Buydown: An arrangement whereby the property developer or another third party provides an interest subsidy to reduce the borrower’s monthly payments typically in the early years of the loan.  

Buydown Account: An account in which funds are held so that they can be applied as part of the monthly mortgage payment as each payment comes due during the period that an interest-rate buydown plan is in effect.  

Cap: For an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), a limitation on the amount the interest rate or mortgage payments may increase or decrease. See also “Lifetime Payment Cap,” “Lifetime Rate Cap,” “Periodic Payment Cap,” and “Periodic Rate Cap.”  

Capacity: Your ability to make your mortgage payments on time. This depends on your income and income stability (job history and security), your assets and savings, and the amount of your income each month that is left over after you’ve paid for your housing costs, debts, and other obligations.  

Cash-out Refinance: A refinance transaction in which the borrower receives additional funds over and above the amount needed to repay the existing mortgage, closing costs, points, and any subordinate liens.  

Certificate of Deposit: A document issued by a bank or other financial institution that is evidence of a deposit, with the issuer’s promise to return the deposit plus earnings at a specified interest rate within a specified time period.  

Certificate of Eligibility: A document issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) certifying a veteran’s eligibility for a VA-guaranteed mortgage loan.  

Chain of Title: The history of all of the documents that have transferred title to a parcel of real property, starting with the earliest existing document and ending with the most recent.  

Change Orders: A change in the original construction plans ordered by the property owner or general contractor.  

Clear Title: Ownership that is free of liens, defects, or other legal encumbrances.  

Closing: The process of completing a financial transaction. For mortgage loans, the process of signing mortgage documents, disbursing funds, and, if applicable, transferring ownership of the property. In some jurisdictions, closing is referred to as “escrow,” a process by which a buyer and seller deliver legal documents to a third party who completes the transaction in accordance with their instructions. See also “Settlement.”  

Closing Agent: The person or entity that coordinates the various closing activities, including the preparation and recordation of closing documents and the disbursement of funds. (May be referred to as an escrow agent or settlement agent in some jurisdictions.) Typically, the closing is conducted by title companies, escrow companies, or attorneys.  

Closing Costs: The upfront fees charged in connection with a mortgage loan transaction. Money paid by a buyer (and/or seller or other third party, if applicable) to effect the closing of a mortgage loan, generally including, but not limited to a loan origination fee, title examination and insurance, survey, attorney’s fee, and prepaid items, such as escrow deposits for taxes and insurance.  

Closing Date: The date on which the sale of a property is to be finalized and a loan transaction completed. Often, a real estate sales professional coordinates the setting of this date with the buyer, the seller, the closing agent, and the lender.  

Closing Statement: See “HUD-1 Settlement Statement.”  

Co-borrower: Any borrower other than the first borrower whose name appears on the application and mortgage note, even when that person owns the property jointly with the first borrower and shares liability for the note.   Collateral: An asset that is pledged as security for a loan. The borrower risks losing the asset if the loan is not repaid according to the terms of the loan agreement. In the case of a mortgage, the collateral would be the house and real property.  

Commission: The fee charged for services performed, usually based on a percentage of the price of the items sold (such as the fee a real estate agent earns on the sale of a house).   Commitment Letter: A binding offer from your lender that includes the amount of the mortgage, the interest rate, and repayment terms.  

Common Areas: Those portions of a building, land, or improvements and amenities owned by a planned unit development (PUD) or condominium project’s homeowners’ association (or a cooperative project’s cooperative corporation) that are used by all of the unit owners, who share in the common expenses of their operation and maintenance. Common areas include swimming pools, tennis courts, and other recreational facilities, as well as common corridors of buildings, parking areas, means of ingress and egress, etc.  

Comparable: An abbreviation for “comparable properties,” which are used as a comparison in determining the current value of a property that is being appraised.  

Concession: Something given up or agreed to in negotiating the sale of a house. For example, the sellers may agree to help pay for closing costs.  

Condominium: A unit in a multi-unit building. The owner of a condominium unit owns the unit itself and has the right, along with other owners, to use the common areas but does not own the common elements such as the exterior walls, floors, and ceilings or the structural systems outside of the unit; these are owned by the condominium association. There are usually condominium association fees for building maintenance, property upkeep, taxes and insurance on the common areas, and reserves for improvements.  

Construction Loan: A loan for financing the cost of construction or improvements to a property; the lender disburses payments to the builder at periodic intervals during construction.  

Contingency: A condition that must be met before a contract is legally binding. For example, home purchasers often include a home inspection contingency; the sales contract is not binding unless and until the purchaser has the home inspected.  

Conventional Mortgage: A mortgage loan that is not insured or guaranteed by the federal government or one of its agencies, such as the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), or the Rural Housing Service (RHS). Contrast with “Government Mortgage.”  

Conversion Option: A provision of some adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans that allows the borrower to change the ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage at specified times after loan origination.  

Convertible ARM: An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) that allows the borrower to convert the loan to a fixed-rate mortgage under specified conditions.  

Cooperative (Co-op) Project: A project in which a corporation holds title to a residential property and sells shares to individual buyers, who then receive a proprietary lease as their title.  

Cost of Funds Index (COFI): An index that is used to determine interest rate changes for certain adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans. It is based on the weighted monthly average cost of deposits, advances, and other borrowings of members of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco.  

Counter-offer: An offer made in response to a previous offer. For example, after the buyer presents their first offer, the seller may make a counteroffer with a slightly higher sale price.  

Credit: The ability of a person to borrow money, or buy goods by paying over time. Credit is extended based on a lender’s opinion of the person’s financial situation and reliability, among other factors.  

Credit Bureau: A company that gathers information on consumers who use credit. These companies sell that information to lenders and other businesses in the form of a credit report.  

Credit History: Information in the files of a credit bureau, primarily comprised of a list of individual consumer debts and a record of whether or not these debts were paid back on time or “as agreed.” Your credit history is called a credit report when provided by a credit bureau to a lender or other business.  

Credit Life Insurance: A type of insurance that pays off a specific amount of debt or a specified credit account if the borrower dies while the policy is in force.  

Credit Report: Information provided by a credit bureau that allows a lender or other business to examine your use of credit. It provides information on money that you’ve borrowed from credit institutions and your payment history.  

Credit Score: A numerical value that ranks a borrower’s credit risk at a given point in time based on a statistical evaluation of information in the individual’s credit history that has been proven to be predictive of loan performance.  

Creditor: A person who extends credit to whom you owe money.  

Creditworthy: Your ability to qualify for credit and repay debts.  

Debt: Money owed from one person or institution to another person or institution.  

Debt-to-Income Ratio: The percentage of gross monthly income that goes toward paying for your monthly housing expense, alimony, child support, car payments, and other installment debts, and payments on revolving or open-ended accounts, such as credit cards.  

Deed: The legal document transferring ownership or title to a property  

Deed-in-Lieu of Foreclosure: The transfer of title from a borrower to the lender to satisfy the mortgage debt and avoid foreclosure. Also called a “voluntary conveyance.”  

Deed of Trust: A legal document in which the borrower transfers the title to a third party (trustee) to hold as security for the lender. When the loan is paid in full, the trustee transfers the title back to the borrower. If the borrower defaults on the loan the trustee will sell the property and pay the lender the mortgage debt.  

Default: Failure to fulfill a legal obligation. A default includes failure to pay on a financial obligation but also may be a failure to perform some action or service that is non-monetary. For example, when leasing a car, the lessee is usually required to properly maintain the car.  

Delinquency: Failure to make a payment when it is due. The condition of a loan is when a scheduled payment has not been received by the due date but is generally used to refer to a loan for which payment is 30 or more days past due.  

Depreciation: A decline in the value of a house due to changing market conditions or lack of upkeep on a home.  

Discount Point: A fee paid by the borrower at closing to reduce the interest rate. A point equals one percent of the loan amount.  

Down Payment: A portion of the price of a home, usually between 3-20%, not borrowed and paid up-front in cash. Some loans are offered with zero down payments.  

Due-on-Sale Clause: A provision in a mortgage that allows the lender to demand repayment in full of the outstanding balance if the property securing the mortgage is sold. Earnest Money Deposit: The deposit to show that you’re committed to buying the home. The deposit usually will not be refunded to you after the seller accepts your offer unless one of the sales contract contingencies is not fulfilled.  

Easement: A right to the use of, or access to, land owned by another.  

Employer-Assisted Housing: A program in which companies assist their employees in purchasing homes by providing assistance with the down payment, closing costs, or monthly payments.  

Encroachment: The intrusion onto another’s property without right or permission.  

Encumbrance: Any claim on a property, such as a lien, mortgage, or easement.  

Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA): A federal law that requires lenders to make credit equally available without regard to the applicant’s race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, or marital status; the fact that all or part of the applicant’s income is derived from a public assistance program; or the fact that the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. It also requires various notices to consumers.  

Equity: The value of your home above the total amount of the liens against your home. If you owe $100,000 on your house but it is worth $130,000, you have $30,000 of equity.  

Escrow: An item of value, money, or documents deposited with a third party to be delivered upon the fulfillment of a condition. For example, the deposit by a borrower with the lender of funds to pay taxes and insurance premiums when they become due, or the deposit of funds or documents with an attorney or escrow agent to be disbursed upon the closing of a sale of real estate.  

Escrow Account: An account that a mortgage servicer establishes on behalf of a borrower to pay taxes, insurance premiums, or other charges when they are due. Sometimes referred to as an “impound” or “reserve” account.  

Escrow Analysis: The accounting that a mortgage servicer performs to determine the appropriate balances for the escrow account, compute the borrower’s monthly escrow payments, and determine whether any shortages, surpluses, or deficiencies exist in the account.  

Eviction: The legal act of removing someone from real property.  

Exclusive Right-to-Sell Listing: The traditional kind of listing agreement under which the property owner appoints a real estate broker (known as the listing broker) as the exclusive agent to sell the property on the owner’s stated terms, and agrees to pay the listing broker a commission when the property is sold, regardless of whether the buyer is found by the broker, the owner or another broker. This is the kind of listing agreement that is commonly used by a listing broker to provide the traditional full range of real estate brokerage services. If a second real estate broker (known as a selling broker) finds the buyer for the property, then some commission will be paid to the selling broker.  

Exclusive Agency Listing: A listing agreement under which a real estate broker (known as the listing broker) acts as an exclusive agent to sell the property for the property owner, but may be paid a reduced or no commission when the property is sold if, for example, the property owner rather than the listing broker finds the buyer. This kind of listing agreement can be used to provide the owner with a limited range of real estate brokerage services rather than the traditional full range. As with other kinds of listing agreements, if a second real estate broker (known as a selling broker) finds the buyer for the property, then some commission will be paid to the selling broker. Executor: A person named in a will and approved by a probate court to administer the deposition of an estate in accordance with the instructions of the will.  

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): A consumer protection law that imposes obligations on (1) credit bureaus (and similar agencies) that maintain consumer credit histories, (2) lenders and other businesses that buy reports from credit bureaus, and (3) parties who furnish consumer information to credit bureaus. Among other provisions, the FCRA limits the sale of credit reports by credit bureaus by requiring the purchaser to have a legitimate business need for the data, allows consumers to learn the information on them in credit bureau files (including one annual free credit report), and specifies a procedure for challenging errors in that data.  

Fair Market Value: The price at which property would be transferred between a willing buyer and willing seller, each of whom has a reasonable knowledge of all pertinent facts and is not under any compulsion to buy or sell.  

Fannie Mae: A New York stock exchange company. It is a public company that operates under a federal charter and is the nation’s largest source of financing for home mortgages. Fannie Mae does not lend money directly to consumers but instead works to ensure that mortgage funds are available and affordable, by purchasing mortgage loans from institutions that lend directly to consumers.  

Fannie Mae-Seller/Servicer: A lender that Fannie Mae has approved to sell loans to it and to service loans on Fannie Mae’s behalf.  

Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Loan Limit: The current 2006 Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac loan limit for a single-family home is $417,000 and is higher in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Fannie Mae loan limit is $533,850 for a two-unit home; $645,300 for a three-unit home; and $801,950 for a four-unit home. Also referred to as the “conventional loan limit.”  

Federal Housing Administration (FHA): An agency within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that insures mortgages and loans made by private lenders.  

FHA-Insured Loan: A loan that is insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

First Mortgage: A mortgage that is the primary lien against a property.