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Real Estate Terms

This list of Real Estate Terms are for information only.



Select the first letter of the word from the list above to jump to the appropriate section of the glossary or just scroll down to the appropriate section.


- A -


The voluntary relinquishment of rights of ownership or another form of interest (an easement) by failure to use the property over an extended period of time. (see related subject Escheat)

Abstract (Of Title)

A written history of the title to a property including every owner and every claim since its original owner. It is the result of a title search and indicates all legal claims to the property.

Acceleration Clause

Condition in a mortgage that may require the balance of the loan to become due immediately, if regular mortgage payments are not made or for breach of other contract conditions.


Refers to a legal term denoting acceptance of an offer. A buyer offers to buy and the seller accepts the offer


A measure of land, equal to 160 square. rods (43,560 square.feet.). An acre is approximately 209' x 209'.


A formal declaration before an authorized official (usually a notary public) by a person who has executed a document, that he did in fact execute (sign) the document


Something added. A list or other items added to a document, letter, contract, escrow instructions, etc.

Alienation Clause

A clause within a loan instrument calling for a debt in its entirety upon the transfer of ownership of the secured property. Also called a "due on sale" clause.


Acts of behalf of another, representing that person's interests and serving as an intermediary.


A payment plan which enables the borrower to reduce their debt gradually through monthly payments of principal.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

The total cost or finance charge for a loan per year, expressed as a percentage of the loan amount. It is the sum of the interest and any other fees, such as discount points, compared to the amount of the loan. The lender is required by the Truth-In-Lending Act to disclose the APR using a procedure prescribed by the federal government.


A report made by a qualified person (or appraiser) which states their opinion of the estimated value and quality of the property as of a given date.

Appraised Value

An estimate of property value, made by a qualified expert.

Assessed Value

Value placed on property by the tax assessor. Usually not the same value figure as the "Appraised Value".


The valuation of property for the purpose of levying a tax, or the amount of the tax levied.


One appointed by the local government entity to assess property for taxation.


A transfer or making over to another the whole of any property, real or personal, or of any estate or right therein. To assign is to transfer.

Assumable Mortgage

A mortgage that can be assumed by another without changing any conditions or interest rates of the original contract.

Assumption of Mortgage

An obligation undertaken by the purchaser of property to be personally liable for payment of an existing mortgage. In an assumption, the purchaser is substituted for the original mortgagor in the mortgage instrument and the original mortgagor is to be released from further liability in the assumption, the mortgage lender consent is usually required.


Seizure of property by court order, usually done in pending law suit to make property available in case of judgment.

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- B -

Balloon Payment

The final installment paid at the end of the term of a note; used only when preceding installments were not sufficient to pay off the note in full.

Bill of Sale

An instrument used to transfer personal property

Blanket Mortgage (Trust Deed)

A single mortgage or trust deed which covers more than one piece of real estate


An insurance agreement by which one party is insured against loss or default by a third party. In the construction business a performance bond ensures the interested party that the contractor will complete the project. A bond can also be a method of financing debt by a government or corporation which is interest-bearing and has priority over stock in terms of security.


Violation of an obligation in a contract

Binder or "Offer to Purchase"

A preliminary agreement, secured by the payment of earnest money, between a buyer and seller as an offer to purchase real estate. A binder secures the right to purchase real estate upon agreed terms for a limited period of time. If the buyer changes their mind or is unable to purchase, the earnest money is forfeited unless the binder expressly provides that it is to be refunded.

Broker, Associate

Each real estate business or brokage must have a licensed Broker who is responsible for the operation of the business. Since there can only be a single Broker for each brokage those real estate agents that have satisfied the licensing requirements for a Broker are listed as Associate Brokers.

Broker, Real Estate

An individual licensed by the state to conduct the business of buying, selling and managing real estate properties and land. He/She normally receives a commission for their services of bringing together buyers and sellers, owners and tenants, in exchange agreements. Each Real Estate business must be headed by a Real Estate Broker. Real Estate Agents must "hang their license" with a Broker in order to conduct business.

Building Code

A set of stringent local municipal, state and national laws that control the construction of buildings, design, materials and other similar factors

Building Line or Setback

Distances from the ends and/or sides of the lot beyond which construction may not extend. The building line may be established by a filed plat of subdivision, by restrictive covenants in deeds or leases, by building codes, or by zoning ordinances.


Items that are not movable, such a stoves, ovens, microwave ovens, dishwashers.


A reduction in the interest rate or monthly payments accomplished by payment of an additional fee. The reduced interest rate may hold for all or part of the loan term.

Buyers Market

When sellers have more homes for sale than there are interested buyers

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- C -

Capital Gains

A term used for income tax purposes which represents the gain realized from the sale of an asset less the purchase price and deductible expense.


An appraising term used in determining value by considering net operating income and a percentage of reasonable return on investment.

Cash Flow

The owner's spendable income after operating expenses and debt service is deducted

Chain Of Title

A history of conveyances and encumbrances affecting the title as far back as records are available

Certificate of Reasonable Value

Issued by the Veterans Administration (VA) to qualifying veterans, the document states the maximum amount of principal it will guarantee for a mortgage loan.


One who employs another's services, as in an attorney, real estate agent, insurance agent, etc.


In the sale of real estate it is the final moment when all documents are executed and recorded and the sale is complete. Also a general selling term where a sales person is attempting to sell something and the buyer agrees to purchase

Certificate of Title

A certificate issued by a title company or a written opinion rendered by an attorney that the seller has good marketable and insurable title to the property which he is offering for sale. A certificate of title offers no protection against any hidden defects in the title which an examination of the records could not reveal. The issuer of a certificate of title is liable only for damages due to negligence. The protection offered a homeowner under a certificate of title is not as great as that offered in a title insurance policy. (See Clear Title)

Clear Title

When the seller holds the only legal claim to the property and no one holds any demands on that seller for the property (i.e. there are no defects or encumbrances), he has a clear title. In contrast, a marketable title and an insurable title may include some minor claims on the property, but they are insignificant to the transfer of the property.

Closing (or Day Of Closing)

The final step of the sale transaction in which the title to, or ownership of, real estate is transferred from the owner to the buyer.

Closing Costs

Costs, in addition to the price of the property itself, that are due at closing. They normally include origination fees, discount points, attorney's fees, costs for title insurance, surveys, recording documents and prepayments of real estate taxes and/or insurance premiums held by the lender.These costs are in addition to price of the property and are items prepaid at the closing.

Closing Statement

A list of the final accounting of all Moines of both buyer and seller prepared by an escrow agent which notes all costs each must pay at the completion of a real estate transaction.

Cloud (On Title)

An outstanding claim or encumbrance which adversely affects the marketability of title.


Money paid to a real estate agent or broker by the seller as compensation for finding a buyer and completing the sale. Usually it is a negotiated percentage of the sale price- - normally, 6 to 7 percent on houses, 10 percent on land.

Common Area

That area owned in common by owners of condominiums and planned sight development homes within a subdivision.

Community Property

Both real and personal property accumulated by a husband and wife after marriage through joint efforts of both living together.


A declaration by governing powers that a structure is unfit for use.

Conditional Sales Contract

A contract for the sale of property where the buyer has possession and use, but the seller retains title until the conditions of the contract have been fulfilled. Also known as a land contract.

Co-Op Housing

An apartment building or a group of dwellings owned by a corporation, the stockholders of which are the residents of the dwellings. It is operated for their benefit by their elected board of directors. In a cooperative, the corporation or association owns title to the real estate. A resident purchases stock in the corporation which entitles him to occupy a unit in the building or property owned by the cooperative. While the resident does not own their unit, he has an absolute right to occupy their unit for as long as he owns the stock.


Individual ownership of a dwelling unit and an individual interest in the common areas and facilities which serve the multi- unit project.


Anything of value given to induce someone into entering into a contract.

Construction Loan

The short-term financing of improvements on real estate. Once the improvements are completed a 'take out" loan for a longer term is usually issued.


A condition upon which a valid contract is dependent. For example; the sale of a house is contingent upon the buyer obtaining adequate financing.


An agreement between two or more parties, written or oral, to do or not to do certain things. It is strongly recommended that all contracts and/or agreements be only in written. Oral contracts and/or agreements are difficult to enforce.

Convey or Conveyance

To transfer an interest in real estate to another party (usually the conveyance involves a transfer of property taxes paid by the corporation from your income tax).


In the construction industry, a contractor is one who contracts to erect buildings or portions of them. There are also contractors for each phase of construction: heating, electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, etc.

Conventional Mortgage

A mortgage loan not insured by HUD or guaranteed by the Veterans Administration. It is subject to conditions established by the lending institution and State statutes. The mortgage rates may vary with different institutions.

Counter Offer

An offer in direct response to an offer and may contain any proposed set of conditions that would modify the original offer to make it acceptable.


Agreements written into deeds and other instruments stating performance or non-performance of certain acts or noting certain uses or non-uses of property.

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- D -


A formal written document by which title to real property is transferred from one owner to another. Sometimes the deed is also called a title document. The deed should contain an accurate description of the property being conveyed, should be signed and witnessed and should be delivered to the purchaser at recording. There are two parties to a deed: the grantor and the grantee. (See also deed of trust, general warranty deed, quitclaim deed, and special warranty deed.)

Deed of Trust

Deed of Trust is used in place of a mortgage or a deed to secure debt. While there are only two people involved in a mortgage, the borrower and the lender, there are three people involved in a deed of trust: the borrower, the lender and the trustee. Here, the borrower transfers the legal title for the property to the trustee who holds the properly as a security for the debt. If the borrower pays the mortgage as agreed, the trustee gives the legal title to the owner. If the borrower does not pay the mortgage as agreed, the trustee can sell the property.


Failure to make mortgage payments as agreed to in a commitment based on the terms and at the designated time set forth in the mortgage or deed of trust.In the event of default, the Mortgage may give the lender the right to accelerate payments, take possession and receive rents, and start foreclosure. Defaults may also come about by the failure to observe other conditions in the mortgage or deed of trust.


Decline in value of a house due to wear and tear, adverse changes in the neighborhood, or any other reason.

Down Payment

The amount of money to be paid by the purchaser at closing and is applied against the purchase price.

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- E -

Earnest Money

The deposit money given to the seller or their agent by the potential buyer upon the signing of the sales agreement to show that they are serious about buying the property. If the sale goes through, the earnest money is applied against the down payment. If the sale does not go through, the earnest money will be returned or forfeited depending upon the circumstances and the written sales agreement.

Easement Rights

A right- of- way granted to a person or company authorizing access to or over the owner's land. An electric or water company obtaining a right- of- way across private property to install overhead lines or underground pipe are common examples. They now can enter the easement area to perform maintenance etc.

Economic Obsolescence

Loss of useful life and desirability of a property through economic forces, such as change in zoning, changes in traffic flow, etc., rather than deterioration.


An obstruction, building, or part of a building that intrudes beyond a legal boundary onto neighboring private or public land, or a building extending beyond the building line.


A legal right or interest in land that affects a good or clear title, and diminishes the land's value. It can take numerous forms, such as zoning ordinances, easement rights, claims, mortgages, liens, charges, a pending legal action, unpaid taxes, or restrictive covenants. An encumbrance does not legally prevent transfer of the property to another. A title search should reveal the existence of such encumbrances, and it is up to the buyer to determine whether they want to purchase with the encumbrance, or what can be done to remove it.


The value of a homeowner's unencumbered interest in real estate. Equity is computed by subtracting from the property's fair market value the total of the unpaid mortgage balance and any outstanding liens or other debts against the property. A homeowner's equity increases as they pay off their mortgage or as the property appreciates in value. When the mortgage and all other debts against the property are paid in full the homeowner has 100% equity in their property.

Escalation Clause

A clause in a lease providing for an increased rent at a future time due to increased costs to lessor, as in cost of living index, tax increases, etc.


The reverting of property to the state in the absence of heirs.


Funds paid by one party to another (the escrow agent) to hold until the occurrence of a specified event, after which the funds are released.

Escrow Account

A special bank account maintained by the tender or an escrow agent. Funds are set aside so that the lender can pay the taxes, hazard and mortgage insurance, HOA rents and other special costs on the mortgage or property as they come due. Each month a certain portion, called the escrow payment, of the monthly mortgage payment goes into this account.

Escrow Payment

Payments made to an escrow account.


The ownership interest of a person in real property. Is also used to refer to a deceased person's property. And often used to describe a large house with spacious grounds

Examination of Title

A review which reveals the previous owners and the encumbrances on a piece of real estate. To conduct this review, a settlement agent must search the public records or examine an abstract of title.

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- F -

Fair Market Value

An appraisal term. It is the price that you, the buyer, are willing to pay and that the seller is willing to accept for a piece of property. In arriving at the price, both you and the seller must be reasonably aware of the pertinent facts and be under no obligation to buy or sell.

Fee Simple

The largest possible interest in real estate. When you own property in fee simple, you enjoy substantial rights to it, and may dispose of it as you see fit. This may includes selling it, using it for any lawful purpose and leaving it to your heirs.


Items affixed to buildings or land usually in such a way that they cannot be moved without damage to themselves or the property, such as plumbing, electrical fixtures, trees, etc.


A legal term applied to any of the various methods of enforcing payment of the debt secured by a mortgage, or deed of trust, by taking and selling the mortgaged property, and depriving the mortgagor of possession.

Front Footage

The linear measurement along the front of a parcel. That portion of the parcel which fronts the street or walkway.

Functional Obsolescence

Loss in value due to out-of-date or poorly designed equipment while newer equipment and structures have been invented since it's construction.

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- G -

General Warranty Deed

A deed which conveys not only all the grantor's interests in and title to the property to the grantee, but also warrants that if the title is defective or has a "cloud" on it (such as mortgage claims, tax liens, title claims, judgments, or mechanic's liens against it) the grantee may hold the grantor liable.


That party in the deed who is the buyer or recipient.


That party in the deed who is the seller or giver.

Ground Lease

A lease of vacant land

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- H -

Hazard Insurance

Protects against damages caused to property by fire, windstorms, and other common hazards.

Home Owners Association (HOA)

An association of homeowners within a community formed to improve and maintain the quality of the community. An association formed by the developer of condominiums or planned developments.


U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Office of Housing/Federal Housing Administration within HUD insures home mortgage loans made by lenders and sets minimum standards for such homes.

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- I -


A charge paid for borrowing money. (See mortgage note)


A person who dies without leaving a will

Involuntary Lien

A lien which attaches to property without the consent of the owner such as tax liens as opposed to voluntary liens such as mortgages.

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- J -

Joint Tenancy

Joint ownership by two or more persons with right of survivorship. Upon the death of a joint tenant, their interest does not go to their heirs, but to the remaining joint tenants.

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- K -

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- L -


A contract between the owner of real property, called the lessor, and another person referred to as the lessee, covering all conditions by which the lessee may occupy and use the property.

Lease With Option To Purchase

A lease where the lessee has the option to purchase the leased property. The terms of the purchase option must be set forth in the lease.

Legal Description

The surveyed geographical identification of a parcel of land


One who contracts to rent property under a specified lease agreement.


An owner who contracts to lease to a lessee.


A claim by one person on the property of another as security for money owed. Such claims may include obligations not met or satisfied, judgments, unpaid taxes, materials, or labor.

Life Estate

A estate in real property for the life of a person


A contract between the property owner and a Real Estate Broker to sell the owner's property

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- M -

Marketable Title

A title that is free and clear of objectionable liens, clouds, or other title defects. A title which enables an owner to sell their property freely to others and which others will accept without objection.

Mechanic's Lien

A lien created by statute on a specific property for labor or materials contributed to an improvement on that property.


A contract, lien or claim against real property given by the buyer to the lender as security for money borrowed.

Mortgage Commitment

A written notice from the bank or other lending institution saying it will advance mortgage funds in a specified amount to enable a buyer to purchase property.

Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP)

The amount the borrower is required by the lender to pay for mortgage insurance. It helps protect the lender in cases of default. It is required by lenders when the down payment is less than 20% (or some other specified percentage) for conventional loans and for all FHA loans. The premium is paid periodically either to a private mortgage insurance company or to the FHA which insures residential mortgage loans. Currently FHA insured mortgages require a payment that represents an annual rate of one- half of one percent paid by the mortgagor on a monthly basis. The payment is normally a portion of the mortgage payment that is set aside in the escrow account.

Mortgage Note

A written agreement to repay a loan. The agreement is secured by a mortgage, serves as proof of an indebtedness, and states the manner in which it shall be paid. The note states the actual amount of the debt that the mortgage secures and renders the mortgagor personally responsible for repayment.

Mortgage (Open- End)

A mortgage with a provision that permits borrowing additional money in the future without refinancing the loan or paying additional financing charges. Open- end provisions often limit such borrowing to no more than would raise the balance to the original loan figure.


The lender in a mortgage agreement.


The borrower in a mortgage agreement.

Multiple Listing Service (MLS)

An organization of brokers, whereby all members have an equal opportunity to find a buyer for the listed properties.

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- N -

Negative Amortization

When monthly payments are not enough to cover interests costs, they are added to the principal balance, and you may end up owing more than when you started. This is most likely to occur with ARMsthat have payment caps.

Notary Public

One who is authorized by federal or local government to attest authentic signatures and administer oaths.


A written instrument acknowledging a debt and promising payment

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- O -


A presentation of a proposed contract, agreement or offer to purchase.


A right given, for consideration, to purchase or lease property upon stipulated terms within a specific period of time

Origination Fee

Application fee(s) for processing a proposed mortgage.

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- P -


A map or chart of a lot, subdivision or community drawn by a surveyor showing boundary lines, buildings, improvements on the land, and easements.


Sometimes called "discount points." A point is one percent of the amount of the mortgage loan. For example, if a loan is for $25,000, one point is $250. Points are charged by a lender to raise the yield on their loan at a time when money is tight, interest rates are high, and there is a legal limit to the interest rate that can be charged on a mortgage. Buyers are prohibited from paying points on HUD or Veterans Administration guaranteed loans (sellers can pay, however). On a conventional mortgage, points may be paid by either buyer or seller or split between them.

Power of Attorney

A document that gives the authority to act in another person's behalf, at their request. The person granted such authority is called the attorney-in-fact.

Preliminary Title Search

A title search conducted by a title insurance company before it commits itself to insure the rights in property ownership.


Payment of mortgage loan, or part of it, before due date.

Prepayment Penalty

Mortgage agreements often restrict the right of prepayment either by limiting the amount that can be prepaid in any one year or charging a penalty for prepayment.


The basic element of the loan as distinguished from interest and mortgage insurance premium. In other words, principal is the amount upon which interest is paid.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

Insurance provided by a private company helping to protect the mortgage lender against mortgage default. Generally, the insurance is required by the lender when the down payment is less than 20'% of the properly value. The tender requires the borrower to pay the insurance premiums.

Purchase Agreement

An agreement between buyer and seller denoting price and terms of the sale. (see Sales Agreement)

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- Q -

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- R -

Real Estate Agent

A state licensed person who works under the direction of a Real Estate Broker selling and renting real estate.

Real Estate Broker

An individual licensed by the state to conduct the business of buying, selling and managing real estate properties and land. He/She normally receives a commission for their services of bringing together buyers and sellers, owners and tenants, in exchange agreements. Each Real Estate business must be headed by a Real Estate Broker. Real Estate Agents must "hang their license" with a Broker in order to conduct business.


A Real Estate Agent or Broker holding membership in a real estate board affiliated with the National Association Of Realtors®.


A legal document that identifies the ownership of real property that is recorded in a book of public records. When property is sold, the deed is recorded. This gives notice of home ownership to all other interested parties.


The process of the same mortgagor paying off one loan with the proceeds from another loan.

Restrictive Covenants

Private restrictions limiting the use of real property. Restrictive covenants are created by deed and may "run with the land," binding all subsequent purchasers of the land, or may be "personal" and binding only between the original seller and buyer. The determination whether a covenant runs with the land or is personal is governed by the language of the covenant, the intent of the parties, and the law in the State where the land is situated. Restrictive covenants that run with the land are encumbrances and may affect the value and marketability of title. Restrictive covenants may limit the density of buildings per acre, regulate size, style or price range of buildings to be erected, or prevent particular businesses from operating or minority groups from owning or occupying homes in a given area. (This latter discriminatory covenant is unconstitutional and has been declared unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

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- S -

Sales Agreement

Sometimes called a Purchase Agreement A contract in which a seller agrees to sell and a buyer agrees to buy, under certain specific terms and conditions spelled out in writing and signed by both parties.

Seller's Market

When there are more buyers looking for more houses than sellers have offered for sale.

Setback or Building Line

Distances from the ends and/or sides of the lot beyond which construction may not extend. The building line may be established by a filed plat of subdivision, by restrictive covenants in deeds or leases, by building codes, or by zoning ordinances. IE: A setback may state that no structures may exist closer than 30 feet of a roadway.

Special Assessments

A special tax imposed on property, individual lots or all property in the immediate area, for road construction, sidewalks, sewers, street lights, etc.

Special Lien

A lien that binds a specified piece of property, unlike a general lien, which is levied against all one's assets. It creates a right to retain something of value belonging to another person as compensation for labor, material, or money expended in that person's behalf. In some localities it is called "particular" lien or "specific" lien. (See lien.)

Special Warranty Deed

A deed in which the grantor conveys title to the grantee and agrees to protect the grantee against title defects or claims asserted by the grantor and those persons whose right to assert a claim against the title arose during the period the grantor held title to the property. In a special warranty deed the grantor guarantees to the grantee that they have done nothing during the time that they have held title to the property which has, or which might in the future, impair the grantee's title.


A map or plat made by a licensed surveyor showing the results of measuring the land with its elevations, improvements, boundaries, and its relationship to surrounding tracts of land. A survey is required by the lender to assure that a building is actually sited on the land according to its legal description.

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- T -

Tenancy by the Entirety

The co-ownership of real estate by a married couple. Upon the death of one spouse, the other automatically owns the entire property.

Tenancy in Common

When two or more people are legally granted interest in the same property, they hold a tenancy in common. The interest need not be equal nor created at the same time as in joint tenancy. If one of them dies, the others do not automatically own their interest, as they would in a joint tenancy. their interest passes to their heirs.


As generally used, the rights of ownership and possession of particular property. In real estate usage, title may refer to the instruments or documents by which a right of ownership is established (title documents), or it may refer to the ownership interest one has in the real estate.

Title Defect

Any legal right to a property claimed by a person other than the owner. Examples may include unpaid real estate taxes or claims to the property such as those of an unknown heir.

Title Insurance

Protects the insured up to a specified amount against losses arising from claims against the property due to a title defect. A mortgagee's (e.g. lender's) title insurance policy does not protect the owner. Owner's coverage may be purchased to protect the owner's equity interest.Protects lenders or homeowners against loss of their interest in property due to legal defects in title. Title insurance may be issued to a "mortgagee's title policy." Insurance benefits will be paid only to the "named insured" in the title policy, so it is important that an owner purchase an "owner's title policy", if he desires the protection of title insurance.

Title Search or Examination

An examination of public records, laws and court actions to make sure that the seller is the legal owner and to disclose all other claims or encumbrances on the property affecting its ownership.


A party who is given legal responsibility to hold property in the best interest of or "for the benefit of" another. The trustee is one placed in a position of responsibility for another, a responsibility enforceable in a court of law. (See deed of trust.)

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- U -

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- V -

Variable Interest Rate

A fluctuating interest rate which can go up or down depending on the going market rate.

Voluntary Lien

A voluntary lien by the owner such as a mortgage, as opposed to involuntary liens (taxes).

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- W -


To relinquish, or abandon. To forego a right to enforce or require anything.

Wrap-Around Mortgage

A second mortgage which is subordinate to but includes the face value of the first mortgage.

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- X -

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- Y -

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- Z -

Zoning Ordinances

Local governments establish and can sometimes change the types of land usage that affect any property in their area. The basic zoning categories are: residential, commercial and industrial. To build a business on property zoned for residences, you must request and wait until the property is re-zoned for business use.

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