Real Estate Terms and Definitions

Welcome to Schorr’s Law Dictionary! A source for real estate terms, definitions, and explanations. You may find the terminology used by industry professionals to be confusing or overwhelming. That is why we have created this dictionary - to help you better understand the language of real estate and make informed decisions when it comes to your real estate needs and real estate disputes.

Our dictionary is a valuable resource that covers a wide range of real estate terms, from basic concepts like "appraisal" and "mortgage" to more specialized terminology like "easement" and "title insurance."

We strive to make our dictionary user-friendly and easy to navigate, with clear definitions and examples of how each term is used in the context of real estate. For more information, you can often click through to a blog posts that goes into greater detail on the term, issue or concept.

So, whether you are looking to brush up on your real estate vocabulary or simply curious about the terminology used by industry and legal professionals, we invite you to explore Schorr’s Law Dictionary and deepen your understanding of this complex and dynamic field.

A

Abstract of Judgment

A post judgment lien against real property that the debtor currently owns, or may try to purchase in the future. This is recorded in the county recorder’s office in every county where the debtor may now own or later acquire property.

Related Blog- Abstract of Judgment


Adverse Possession

The legal process by which someone gains legal title to real property by the actual, open, hostile, and continuous possession of it and payment of taxes on it for 5 years.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Adverse Possession Attorney


Arbitration

A method of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties’ disputes are resolved through a private arbitration hearing in front of typically a retired judge. Similar to a court trial, witnesses and evidence are presented to a neutral arbitrator who acts in a similar capacity as a judge would in the trial.

Related Blog- Why Arbitration Can Be Better than Litigation?


B

Beneficiary

A person who inherits or benefits from a trust. It is someone for whose benefit a trust is created. A person or entity can be a beneficiary of a revocable trust, irrevocable trust, or even a deed of trust.


Bona Fide Purchaser in Value (Without Notice)

A party who purchases real property without any knowledge of outside claims to the title, or encumbrances impacting the land. The buyer takes the property “free and clear” of any claims to title provided the buyer did not know about these claims and the buyer was not on notice of these claims via publicly recorded documents which provide the buyer with constructive notice.


Boundary Disputes

Disputes between neighboring owners of real estate concerning the property boundary lines and whether either owner has the right to extend beyond their legal property lines.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Boundary Disputes Attorney


Broker

A broker is the person the principal designates to buy or sell property in California. All real estate agents in California have to have a supervising broker in order to buy and sell real estate.


Buyer’s Agent

The agent in a real estate purchase and sale deal who represents the buyer. The buyer’s agent is often called the selling agent, which can be confusing. The agent actually selling the property is then called the listing agent.

Bylaws

Bylaws are typically the covenants, conditions and restrictions in planned communities otherwise known as Home Owners Associations. Typically, a developer creates a series of rules (bylaws) that are recorded against the entire community as CC&Rs.


C

Cloud on Title

A claim or encumbrance that affects the ownership of a property. It can be a lien, an easement, or a competing claim to ownership.


Community Property

All of the assets acquired by a married couple during the marriage which are presumed to be owned equally upon divorce.

Related Blog- Community Real Property: Spouse or Domestic Partner Joint Ownership


Contingencies (Real Estate)

A clause found in a real estate purchase and sale agreement that grants buyers (and sometimes sellers) the ability to back out of a sale, without penalty, if those contingency terms are not met.


D

Deed

A legal document that transfers ownership of a piece of property from one party to another. It is a legal tool that is used when owners of real property transfer, sell or give real property to another (the grantee) by executing a writing instrument (the deed) that satisfies statutory requirements. There are various forms of deeds including quitclaim deeds, grant deeds, warranty deeds, and easement deeds.


Deed of Trust

A legal document in which the borrower (trustor) conveys a lien on a piece of property to a trustee as security for a loan from a lender (beneficiary).


Dominant Tenement

A parcel of real property that is benefitted by an easement over a neighboring property. This parcel benefits from the easement.


Default Provision

A contractual clause outlining conditions either party may face if they fail to perform their listed obligations.


E

Easement

The non-exclusive right to use or access someone else's property for a specific purpose.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Easement Disputes


Easement Appurtenant

A type of easement that is attached to a specific piece of property and benefits another property.


Easement by Necessity

A type of easement that is granted when a property is landlocked and the owner needs access to a public road or utility.


Easement by Prescription

A type of easement that is acquired through open and continuous use for a certain period of time, without the owner's permission.


Easement in Gross

A type of easement that benefits a specific person or entity rather than a specific piece of property.


Eminent Domain

The power of the government or its agent to take private property for public use, with just compensation to the property owner.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Eminent Domain Attorney


Encumbrance

A limit on how the owner can use real estate. It can come in the form of a lien, lease, easement or other claim impacting title.


Equitable Easement

A type of easement established to address fairness and equity in specific situations where the court, sitting in equity, balances the relative hardships to the parties in deciding whether to allow an encroachment to remain. A key factor is that the party seeking the equitable easement cannot have been negligent in allowing the encroachment in the first place.


Equitable Servitude

In the context of real property, it describes a non-possessory interest in land that operates much like a covenant running with the land or like a restriction on the use of land.


Eviction

The legal process by which a landlord removes a tenant from a rental property.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Eviction Attorney


Escrow

A third party intermediary who holds documents, money, and or an asset such as real property until contractual conditions agreed upon by a grantor and grantee have been fulfilled. In real estate escrow typically holds the title to the seller’s real property until the buyer pays funds sufficient to purchase the property.

Know More: What Is the Function of Escrow?


Estoppel Certificate

A signed and sword legal document from a tenant where the tenant declares their understanding of the present state of the tenancy. The document establishes the lease agreement from the tenant’s perspective. The tenant is then estopped or barred from contradicting this statement in the future.


Exclusive Use Provisions

A clause used in commercial leases to grant or prohibit a tenant from a specific use within a common property such as a plaza, or shopping center. The exclusivity provisions are used to limit the number or type of tenants who may be offering a particular product or service that may conflict with the interests of the common property, or another tenant. For example, a common exclusive use provision could be the right to sell coffee or have a coffee shop so as to prohibit other coffee shops from coming into the same business center.

Know More: Commercial Lease Counseling – Exclusive Use Provisions


F

Fiduciary Duty

A duty owed by trusted advisors, agents and family members to the principal. The duty is generally the duty of the utmost care, to put yourself in the shoes of the person you owe the duty to, and to avoid any self dealing. This duty is common in real estate in that agents and brokers owe fiduciary duties to their clients.


First in Time First in Right

First in time is a concept in California race notice statutes. These statutes, which help decide lien priority on real property, provide that the person who records an item first, has lien priority or is first in right.


Foreclosure

The legal process by which a lender takes possession of a property when the borrower defaults on their mortgage loan.


G

General Warranty Deed

A type of deed in which the grantor warrants that they have good title to the property and will defend it against any legal claims.


Grant Deed

A legal tool that “grants” an interest in real property to the grantee.


Grantor

The person or entity who conveys property by a deed.


Grantee

The person or entity to whom property is conveyed by a deed.


H

Heggstad Petition

A probate petition to add a property to a trust after a person dies with a trust but where an asset was inadvertently not placed in the trust.

Related Blog- Heggstad Petition: Putting Property Into a Trust After Death


Homeowners Association (HOA)

An organization of homeowners in a planned community or condominium development that is responsible for enforcing covenants and restrictions and maintaining common areas.


Homestead Exemption

This provides a certain amount of equity in a property that is immune from judgment collection provided certain formalities are observed by the debtor.

Related Blogs: Increase of the California Homestead Exemption


I

Interpleader

This is the process where a third party who is holding funds deposits those funds with the court so as to avoid being the middle man in the dispute between the two parties asserting ownership claims to the funds. For example, if two parties are fighting over funds held in escrow, escrow could choose to interplead the funds by having them deposited with the court.


Inverse Condemnation

A legal concept entitling a property owner to seek compensation when their property is damaged or its valuation is negatively affected by direct or indirect actions of a government agency or utility.


J

Joint Tenancy

In California, this is a way of holding title to a property where two or more individuals own the property together with equal rights of ownership. The key to joint tenancy is that when one owner dies the remaining owners automatically receive the deceased person’s ownership interest in the property.


Judgment

A court determination of respective rights between parties that are enforceable through the court system. Even though it is a piece of paper it opens the door to collection steps and enforcement of judgment tools.


K

Key Money

  1. Commercial Real Estate: In the context of commercial leases, key money is an upfront payment that a tenant might agree to pay to a landlord to secure a lease on a particularly desirable property. This term is more commonly used in some markets than others and can represent a premium paid for the right to lease a space, often in highly competitive or desirable locations.
  2. Residential Real Estate (Especially in Certain International Markets): Key money can also refer to a non-refundable payment made by a tenant to a landlord or a previous tenant to secure a rental property. This practice is more common in some countries than others. For example, in Japan, “key money” (reikin) is a customary payment made to a landlord as a gesture of goodwill when renting an apartment or house.

L

Lease

A legal agreement between a landlord and tenant that gives the tenant the right to occupy a property for a specific period of time or periods of time in exchange
for rent.


Landlocked

A term used to describe a piece of property that has no access to a public road or utility.


Letter of Intent

This is a deal points memo that is often used in commercial leasing and purchase and sale transactions where the parties begin to negotiate terms of the deal. It can be binding or non-binding.

Related Blog: Letters of Intent (LOI): 5 Key Issues to Know 


Lis Pendens

A legal notice that is recorded with the county assessor’s office, notifying the public that a lawsuit affecting the title to a piece of property is pending. The notice establishes the priority of the lawsuit and makes the property subject to the lis pendens typically not marketable for sale or refinance.


Lien

A legal claim against a piece of property that must be satisfied before the property can be sold or transferred.


Litigation Guarantee

This is a title policy on a litigation. You can actually buy title insurance that provides litigant protection on the identification of lien holders on a property.

Related Blog: Litigation Guarantees: An Overview


M

Mechanics Lien

A type of lien that can be recorded against a property by anyone who supplied labor or materials for the improvement of that property, to secure payment of a claim. When recorded, a mechanics lien has priority over any subsequent lien, mortgage, or trust deed.

Related Blog: Mechanic’s Liens In California – Rights and Responsibilities


Mediation

The use of a third party disinterested person to help the parties mutually agree upon a resolution of a dispute. Mediation is not-binding, meaning that there is no resolution of the dispute unless the parties all agree to resolve the dispute. Mediation typically takes place with a retired judge or an attorney.


Mortgage Amortization

Paying off debt over a period of time in equal payments.

Related Blog: What is Mortgage Amortization?


Municipality

A city.


N

Non-Conforming Use

This is use that would not be allowed under current building guidelines but was allowed when the property was originally built under the then existing codes and guidelines. This is what is commonly referred to as “grandfathered in”.


Nuisance

Anything that causes discomfort, harm, or obstructs the rights and free usage of property.


O

Offer

An offer is a formal attempt to enter a binding deal. For example, in residential real estate transactions the buyer will present an initial offer to buy a seller’s home.


P

Partition Action

A lawsuit that comes about when two or more owners of real property cannot agree on whether or how to sell the property.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Partition Attorney


Power of Attorney

A legal instrument designed to appoint and give someone authorization to act on your behalf in medical, financial, and other affairs.

Related Blog- Power of Attorney in Real Estate Transactions


Probate

The legal process by which a person's will is proved to be valid and their assets are distributed according to the terms of the will.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Probate Litigation Attorney


Public Utility Easement

Easements that are expressly dedicated for public utility purposes.

See blog: What is a Public Utility Easement?


Q

Quitclaim Deed

A document that is used to convey some interest in property from one person to another.

See Related Blog- How to File a Quitclaim Deed in California


Quiet Title Action

A legal process in which a property owner (Plaintiff) seeks to confirm, clarify, and “quiet” any competing claims to a specific real property or interest in that property by other parties (Defendants).

See Related Blog- Quiet Title Action Overview


R

Revocable Living Trust

A legal instrument that you put your assets into and is administered for your benefit during your lifetime.

See Related Blog- What are Wills and Revocable Living Trusts?


Reverse Mortgage

A type of loan that is generally procured by elderly homeowners where the lender makes payments to the borrower based on the value or equity in the borrower’s owner-occupied principal residence.

See Related Blog- What is a Reverse Mortgage?


S

Specific Performance

A common remedy for a failed purchase and sale of real property.

Visit Our Practice Area Page- Specific Performance


Sheriff’s Instructions

When you get a judgment against a defendant the judgment is not self-executing. What that means is if the defendant does not voluntarily pay, the plaintiff has to take steps to enforce the judgment. One step is to get a writ from the court which allows the judgment creditor to go after money or property. After you obtain a writ, you then send the writ to the Sheriff’s office with instructions (Sheriff’s instructions) on what to do with the write. In other words, the Sheriff’s office becomes the enforcement agent of the court and the judgment creditor.


Survey

A map used to define the boundary lines of a property based on the county records and legal descriptions of said property.

See Related Blog- What is a Record of Survey?


Servient Tenement

A parcel of real property subject to an easement or burdened with an easement.


T

Tenancy in Common

an interest in real or personal property that is owned by several persons, though not in a joint ownership or in partnership

See blog: Joint Tenancy vs Tenancy in Common


Transfer on Death Deed

A future conveyance that provides that a certain person will get the property upon their transferor’s death.

Related Blog- 5 Things to Know about a Transfer on Death Deed


Transmutation of Community Property

Refers to the change in the character of property from community property to separate property.


Trust

An arrangement that creates fiduciary relationship to property that is held and administered by one party for the benefit of another.

See Related Blog- What is a Trust?


Trustee

A trustee is an individual, or a firm that holds and administers property or assets, that have been set aside in a trust, for the benefit of a third party.


U

Unlawful Detainer

A lawsuit initiated by a commercial or residential landlord where the landlord seeks to evict a tenant. The Unlawful Detainer court has the ability to process these claims on an expedited basis when possession of the property is still at issue.


Unrecorded Deed

An unrecorded deed is simply a deed that never gets recorded in the county recorder’s office. The deed is still effective but it may not establish priority and does not put the world on notice of its existence they way a recorded deed does. The failure to record a deed means that a subsequent purchaser can purchase or encumber the property often without being subject to the terms of the unrecorded deed if they do not otherwise have notice of it.


Upzoning

This is a change in zoning rights in a particular jurisdiction to increase the amount of development that is allowed - to broaden development rights.


V

Variance

A variance is an exception to the zoning law. This occurs where the owner can demonstrate a need for relief from the strict application of the zoning laws.


Vendor

A vendor in the real estate context is typically a seller of real estate - the seller themselves. A vendor in the construction context may simply be someone who worked on the property.


Vested Rights

A vested right is when the persons has an absolute right to do something or own something. This means that there are no conditions before you can exercise the right.


Vesting Title

This is how legal title is held and recorded at the county recorder’s office. There are many ways individuals, entities, trusts and other organizations can take title. The manner in which title vests often controls ownership rights.


W

Waiver

Waiver is the intentional relinquishment of a known right. In the law, if someone waives something that means they give up the ability to enforce the thing that they have waived. In real estate deals, for example, a buyer usually waives a contingency. That means the buyer gives up the right to back out of a deal due to the thing the buyer waives.


Will

A type of instrument used to prepare when planning how to distribute your assets when you pass away.

Related blog- What are Wills and Revocable Living Trusts?


Writ

A written command in the name of a court or legal authority to act, or keep from acting, in some way.


X


Y


Z

Zero - Lot Lines

A zero lot line property is a property that has a physical structure built out all the way to the property line. In other words, zero lot line properties have no setbacks.


Zoning

Are a series of laws or ordinances that set forth how real property can be held and developed. For example a zoning designation of R(1) would generally mean that only single family homes are allowed. R(2) would allow for a duplex on a lot.

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