The Alphabetical List of Real Estate Terms

ABSTRACT – An abbreviation of the cardinal aspects of all recorded deeds, mortgages, leases and other instruments affecting the title to a particular piece of land.

ADVERSE POSSESSION – The unauthorized occupation of land belonging to another, by a person who does not have the consent of the owner. Said occupier is said to hold possession adversely to the rights and interests of the owner. In most states, by operation of law, title to the land becomes vested in such occupier after a fixed number of years of peaceful occupancy.

AGREEMENT – A legally binding compact made between two or more persons.

APPOINTMENT OF SUBSTITUTE TRUSTEE – The trustee named in the deed of trust carries out the foreclosure action. While the original trustee named in the deed of trust may institute the foreclosure, the lender will generally appoint an individual, firm, or company that is experienced in foreclosure matters to be substituted in place of the original trustee.

ASSIGNEE – For example, the person who receives ownership of a contract or a mortgage by transfer from another.

ASSIGNMENT – (1) The act of transferring ownership of something from one person to another. (2) The instrument or paper by which one person transfers ownership of a right or an object to another.

ASSIGNOR – For example, the person who transfers ownership of a contract or mortgage to another.

ATTORNEY’S OPINION – The written statement of an attorney setting forth what he believed to be the condition of a real estate title.

BANKRUPTCY – A proceeding in U.S. District court wherein assets of a debtor unable or unwilling to pay his debts are applied by an officer of the court in satisfaction of creditor claims.

BENEFICIARY – A person who is entitled to receive funds or property under the terms and provisions of a will or trust or insurance policy.

CHAIN OF TITLE – Beginning with a conveyance out of an original source of title such as a government, each succeeding deed, will or other medium which conveys and transfers the title to succeeding owners constitutes a link in the chain of title. The chain of title is the composite of all such links.

CONDEMNATION – (1) The taking of private property for a public purpose, with compensation to the owner under the right of eminent domain.  Governmental units Railroads and utility companies have the right to condemn and take private property.  (2) The destruction by government of private property that imperils the life, health or safety of the public

CONTRACT – Same as “agreement”, but usually more formal.

CONVEYANCE – The transfer of title to property from one person to another.

DEDICATION – The setting aside of certain land by the owner and declaring it to be for public use.  Example: streets, sidewalks and parks.

DEED – An instrument, of various forms, by which title to real estate is conveyed from one party to another.

DEED OF TRUST: A type of secured real estate transaction that some states use instead of mortgages. A deed of trust involves three parties: a lender, a borrower, and a trustee. The lender gives the borrower money. In exchange, the borrower gives the lender one or more promissory notes. As security for the promissory notes, the borrower transfers a real property interest to a third-party trustee. Should the borrower default on the terms of her loan, the trustee may take full control of the property to correct the borrower’s default.

DEED RESTRICTION – A covenant contained in a deed imposing limits on the use or occupancy of the real estate or the type, size, purpose or location of improvements to be constructed on it.

DEED WITHOUT WARRANTY: This is simply a deed that does not contain any covenant of warranty. A deed without warranty may convey all the right, title, and interest of the grantor at the time of its execution, as fully as one with a warranty, as the covenant of warranty adds nothing to the deed insofar as it operates as a conveyance of an existing right. A deed without warranty will pass after acquired title like general and special warranty deeds do, but on a different theory.

DEVISE – A gift of real estate made by a will.


DEVISEE – One who is given real estate under a will.

EASEMENT – A right held by a person to enjoy or make limited use of another’s real property.

EGRESS – The right to a path or right-of-way over which a person may leave or go away from his own real estate.

ENCUMBRANCE – A claim, right, or lien upon the title to real estate, held by someone other than the real estate owner.

ESTATE – (1) A sizable piece of rural land usually with a large house and other pretentious improvements. (2) The whole of one’s possessions, especially all of the property, assets, debts, and liabilities left by a deceased or bankrupt person. (3) The nature and extent of an owner’s rights in real estate.

ESTOPPEL – A legal restraint which stops or prevents a person from contradicting or reneging on his previous position or previous assertions or commitments.

ET UX – Abbreviations of Latin “et uxor” meaning “and wife”. Joe Doaks et ux means Joe Doaks and wife.

ET VIR – A Latin term meaning “and husband.” Jane Allen et vir means Jane Allen and husband.

EXECUTE – (1) To create and make valid a real estate instrument. A deed is said to be executed when it is signed, sealed, witnessed and delivered. (2) To perform or do whatever is required.

FEE SIMPLE – The highest degree of ownership which a person can have in real estate. An interest in real estate which gives the owner unqualified ownership and full power of disposition.

GENERAL WARRANTY – A warranty provision in a deed or mortgage or other real estate instrument containing all of the common law items of warranty. Also known as a full warranty.

GRANTEE – One to whom a grant is made.

GRANTOR – One who makes a grant.

GUARDIAN – A person who is legally responsible for the care and management of the person or property of one who is legally incompetent to manage his own affairs.

HEIR – A person who inherits or who is entitled to inherit real estate by provisions of law or under the provisions of a will.

HOMESTEAD – (1) Property designated by the head of a family as his home, which is protected by law from forced sale to pay his debts. (2) Land claimed by a settler under the National Homestead Act. (3) Under some state laws, the real estate upon which one’s home is situated.

IMPROVEMENT LIENS – Liens imposed by municipalities on real estate which has been directly benefited by municipal improvements such as the construction of streets, sidewalks and sewer lines. Such liens secure payment of the proportionate costs of such improvements.

INDEX – (1) An alphabetical listing in the public records of the names of parties to recorded real estate instruments together with the book and page number of the record. (2) The listing in abstract and title plants of recorded real estate instruments in groups according to land descriptions, known as a geographic index. (3) The alphabetical listing in abstract and title plants, by names of the parties, of all recorded instruments which affect but do not describe particular real estate, such as judgments, powers of attorney, wills and probate proceedings. Such indexes are known by various names such as General Index, Judgment Index, and Name Index.

INGRESS – The right or permission to enter; also the means or place of entry such as a right-of-way across adjoining land.

INTERESTS – Estates, rights, or legal claims in and to real estate.

INTESTATE – Dying without leaving a legal will.

JOINT TENANTS – Two or more persons who hold title to real estate jointly, with equal rights to share in its enjoyment during their respective lives with the provision that upon the death of a joint tenant, his share in the property passes to the surviving tenants, and so on, until the full title is vested in the last survivor. A joint tenant cannot legally sell or encumber his interest without the consent or joinder of all of the other joint tenants.

JUDGMENT – A conclusion or determination by a court of law usually awarding the payment of money or relief of some kind to one of the parties to a lawsuit.

LAND – The solid ground of the earth as distinguished from the sea.

LEASE – An agreement granting the use or occupancy of land during a specified period in exchange for rent.


LEASEHOLD – (1) Property held by lease. (2) The estate or interest in real estate created by a lease.


LESSEE – A tenant holding a lease.


LESSOR – One who gives a lease to a lessee.


LIEN – The liability of real estate as security for payment of a debt. Such liability may be created by contract, such as a mortgage, or by operation of law, such as a mechanics lien.


LIFE ESTATE – An estate of ownership in real estate which exists only during the term of a certain person’s life.


LIS PENDENS – A pending lawsuit. A lis pendens notice is legal notice to the world that a lawsuit is pending.

MECHANIC’S LIEN – A lien on real estate, created by operation of law, which secures the payment of debts due to persons who perform labor or services or furnish materials incident to the construction of buildings and improvements on the real estate.


METES AND BOUNDS – A land description in which boundaries are described by courses, directions, distances, and monuments.

PARTITION – In title industry parlance, a lawsuit between joint owners of real estate in which the court either divides the property between them or orders the property sold and divides the proceeds between them.


PARTY WALL – A wall built along the boundary line of adjoining properties and shared by the respective property owners or tenants.


PERSONAL PROPERTY – Temporary or movable property as distinguished from real estate.


PLAT BOOK – One in a set of books in the public records in which maps, plats, and copies of surveys are recorded.


POWER OF ATTORNEY – A legal instrument authorizing one to act as another’s agent or attorney.


PROBATE – A legal procedure in which the validity and probity of a document, such as a will, is proven.


PROPERTY – (1) Something tangible or intangible capable of being owned and controlled. (2) Lands or chattels in which a person owns some right, title, or interest to the exclusion of all others.


PUBLIC RECORDS – The transcriptions in a recorder’s office of instruments which have been recorded, including the indexes pertaining to them.

QUIET TITLE SUIT – A lawsuit brought by an owner of real estate for the purpose of cancelling, wiping out, and putting a quietus upon supposedly immaterial, inconsequential, and unenforceable claims and interests which cloud his title.

QUIT CLAIM DEED – A deed which does not imply that the grantor holds title, but which surrenders and gives to the grantee any possible interest or rights which the grantor may have in the property.

REAL ESTATE – Land, including all inherent natural attributes and any man-made improvements of a permanent nature placed thereon.


REAL PROPERTY – See Real Estate.


RECORDING – The act of a recorder of receiving and transcribing, in a book or on film of the public records, instruments affecting the title to real estate.


RELEASE – (1) To relieve from debt or security or abandon a right, such as the release of a mortgage lien from a part or all of the land mortgaged. (2) The instrument affecting a release.


RELEASE OF LIEN – (1) The instrument by which a lien is released from the real estate which it encumbers. (2) The act of releasing a lien.


REMAINDER – An estate or interest in land which comes into being upon the termination of an existing estate or interest. When a grantor conveys a life estate to “A” with remainder to “B”, it means that “A” has a part of the absolute title and “B” has the remainder. Also, that “A” will own the property during his natural life, but at his death, instead of the property going to “A’s” heirs or devisees, it goes to “B”.


RESTRICTIONS – Often called restrictive covenants. Provisions in a deed or other instrument whereby an owner of land prohibits or restricts certain use, occupation, and improvement of the land.


REVERSION – (1) The return of an estate or interest to a grantor or lessor after the grant or lease has expired. (2) The interest retained by a fee simple owner of real estate after granting a terminable estate or interest in such property to another. For example, when a fee simple owner gives a lease to a tenant, the interest which the owner has left is known as the reversion. (3) A provision accompanying restrictive covenants in a deed, which provision stipulates that in the event the restrictions are violated, title to the property shall revert to the grantor.


REVERTER CLAUSE – (See Reversion (3).)


RIGHT OF WAY – (1) The right to pass over property owned by another, usually based upon an easement. (2) A path or thoroughfare over which passage is made. (3) A strip of land over which facilities such as highways, railroads, or power lines are built.

SPECIAL WARRANTY DEED – A deed which warrants the title only with respect to acts of the grantor and the interests of anyone claiming by, through, or under him.

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS – A statute setting a time limit on the enforcement of a right or on the collection of a debt in certain cases.

SUBORDINATION – Giving a lien or interest an inferior status. For example, an existing mortgage may be subordinated to the lien of a new construction loan mortgage in which case the construction loan mortgage becomes a prior lien.

SUIT – Usually meaning a lawsuit

TAX LIEN – The lien which is imposed upon real estate by operation of law which secures the payment of real estate taxes.


TENANT – (1) Usually one who holds possession of real estate under a lease. (2) In a broader sense, one who holds or possesses lands and tenements by any kind of title.


TENANTS IN COMMON – Two or more persons in whom title to a single piece of real estate is vested in such a manner that they have a common or equal right to possession and enjoyment of the property, but each holds a separate individual interest or estate in the property. Each owner may sell or encumber his respective interest or dispose of it by will, and if he dies without leaving a will, his heirs inherit his undivided interest.


TESTATE – Having made a legally valid will and leaving it at death.


TITLE – (1) A combination of all the elements that constitute the highest legal right to own, possess, use, control, enjoy, and dispose of real estate or an inheritable right or interest therein. (2) The rights of ownership recognized and protected by the law.

WARRANTY – In a broad sense, it is an agreement or undertaking by a seller to be responsible for present or future losses of the purchaser occasioned by deficiency or effect in quality, condition, or quantity of the thing sold. In a stricter sense, it is the provision or provisions in a deed, lease, or other instrument conveying or transferring an estate or interest in real estate under which the seller becomes liable to the purchaser for defects in or encumbrances on the title.

WARRANTY DEED – A deed containing one or more title covenants.

WILL – (1) An instrument executed by a competent person, in the manner prescribed by law, whereby he makes disposition of his property to take effect on and after his death. (2) A holographic will is a will entirely written and signed by the testator in his own handwriting. In some states some of the legal requirements regarding the execution of wills do not apply in cases of holographic wills. (3) A nuncupative will is one made orally before witnesses, usually during the testator’s last hours of life. Under English law, sailors and soldiers may make nuncupative wills any time during their military service.

ZONING ORDINANCES – Laws passed by local governments regulating the size, type, structure, nature and use of buildings. Zoning ordinances, often referred to as zoning laws and zoning regulations, are divided into two classes: (1) those which regulate the height or bulk of buildings within certain designated zones or districts – in other words, those which relate to structural and architectural design, and (2) those which prescribe the type of buildings which may be constructed, and the use to which buildings within certain designated zones or districts may be put.