Real Estate Law Terminology

Navigating your way through legal documents and proceedings is complex. Here are some terms you might come across during your purchase or sale of real estate property to help you pilot the process.

Bar Association

An organization of lawyers developed to promote professional competence and to enforce standards of conduct. There are two types: the integrated bar qualifying the lawyer to the state’s highest court and the local bar organized and run on a local level. In Tennessee, every lawyer must be authorized to practice law in Tennessee by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Clear Title

Refers to the title of real property, addresses the lawful ownership and is free of claims or disputes. Disputes could include something like a lien on the property. For more information about a clear title click here.

Closing

The closing on a real property is the final step in the transaction. During the closing, all documentation, insurance policies, financing documents are exchanged and signed. Remaining funds are paid. Who handles the closing process depends on location, but often is led by a title company, escrow holder, or a real estate attorney.

Closing Attorney

The role of the closing attorney is multi-faceted, and the attorney often represents the mortgage lender. The attorney oversees the closing transaction and ensures all parties understand what they are signing. Along the way, the closing attorney can help make recommendations and guide parties through the decision making process. Some responsibilities include but are not limited to are:

  • Title examination
  • Obtaining title insurance
  • Reviews documents
  • Distributing money
  • Coordinating multiple parties

Cooperative Housing

An association that owns a group of housing and the common areas used by the residents. The individual residents own a share of the property allowing them to reside in the apartment or townhouse as if they owned the property themselves.

Deed

The physical document that transfers the ownership of real estate from one party to another. The deed will describe the real property, the name of the transferring party, and the name of the receiving party. The deed must be signed by the grantor.

Deed of Trust

A document utilized in some states that pledges a real property to secure a loan. The property listed in the deed of trust serves as the collateral for the full repayment of the agreed loan amount.

Defective Title

When a title to a property does not list the correct holder or there is an encumbrance found on the title that is not made clear on the deed. Encumbrances include judgments or liens.

Easement

Easement refers to the right of one party to use or access another party’s property for a specific purpose. Easements are explicitly drawn for adjoining properties and are typically done in the best interest of all parties involved. They are created through deeds to be recorded. While one party might be allowed access to the property, the rights of the property remain with the owner. Reasons for drawing up an easement would be to access a shared road, sewer (above and below ground), electricity lines, or if you need to cross over one property to get to the point of entry.

Earnest Payment

A form of payment made during a real estate transaction to prove the buyer’s interest in procuring a property. Earnest payments are given alongside a purchase and sale agreement. Typically, failure to comply with the agreement results in the earnest payment being kept by the recipient.

Encroach

The act of building a structure as a whole or in parts across another. This may happen due to an incorrect survey of the property or by miscalculations from the builder/owner.

Encroachment

When a building, structure, or fence is on a neighbor’s property.

Equitable Lien

Is court ordered and put in place to prevent the unjust enrichment of a property owner. Equitable liens can be used when someone else wrongfully acquired a property or invested money in renovations when they were under the impression they had ownership of the property.

Escrow

In Tennessee, an escrow is an account holding important funding for a real estate purchase. Managed by a third party escrow agent, the account is retained until all the conditions to the agreement have been met.

Escrow Agent

The person or possible entity who oversees the documents and funds of a real estate transfer. The escrow agents act on behalf of all parties involved in the transaction.

Escrow Instructions

Written instructions between the buyer and seller of real property and given to the escrow agent. Typically, these instructions are agreed upon and prepared by the escrow agent.

Estate

1) all property and money owned by a single person or persons
2) possessions of one who has died and is distributed to heirs/beneficiaries in accordance to the deceased’s will.

Estate by Entirety

Joint ownership of a title between husband and wife. Both individuals have equal rights to the entire property. Upon the death of one spouse, the other has rights to the title by right of survivorship.

Estate Tax

A federal tax placed on a deceased person’s assets when they transfer to the new heirs and beneficiaries.

Eviction

The act of expelling or forcing someone out of a property. Also referred to as expulsion. Usually is in reference to a tenant of a property.

Exception in Deed

A notation in the deed of title to real property that states specific interest or life estates is not included in the transfer of ownership.

Foreclosure

When a property is sold by the mortgage holder when the borrower fails to pay off the debt. After the sale, the amount made from the sale is paid to the lender.

Foreclosure Sale

The action of the property being sold in a public auction after the foreclosure takes place. The lender may make a bid on the property using the unpaid promissory note toward the payment. By doing so, it results in a bargain purchase.

Greenbelt Law

Also known as The Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act of 1976, Greenbelt Law allows for land in Tennessee to be taxed on its current use rather than its market value. The law is designed to remove the burden of property taxes to help maintain farm and forest land and to preserve open space for the enjoyment of the public. The law limits 1,500 acres per owner, per county.

Horizontal Property Regimes (HPR)

Acquiring the rights to the house and ground underneath it. However, the yard and the land surrounding the property are often communal spaces and do not belong to the property owner. HPRs are common with cooperatives and condominiums.

“in lieu”

A formal way of stating “instead” in legal documents.

Landlocked

When a property has no public entry/exit and the property owner is expected to cross another’s property. If this situation presents itself, then sometimes an easement may be used to cross over the part of the property that must be used by the other party.

Landlord

A person or entity that owns a property or an estate in property and rents it out in exchange for money. The person who is renting the property is referred to as the tenant.

Landlord and Tenant

An association of law between the landlord and the tenant. The law addresses the rights of both the owner and the renter.

Landlord’s Lien

The rights given to a landlord to sell personal property left by the tenant as reimbursement for unpaid rent or damages to the property. Specific procedures required by Tennessee law must be followed.

Lease

A written agreement where the owner allows a renter to use the property for an agreed upon time period. The lease will describe the premises, the penalties for late payments, and what will happen upon termination.

Leasehold

Refers to the property in the lease agreement. It is also used to describe when real property is improved upon by one party and leased long-term to the building’s owner.

Lien

Any official claim against property or funds to obtain payment. Also can be the formal document signed by the party that is owed money. A lien allows for the sale of the property if necessary.

Lienor

The person who holds the lien or the other person’s money.

Lis Pendens

It’s a Latin term that translates to “suit pending.” It’s a formal document written to inform parties that a lawsuit has been filed concerning real property. Once drafted, it’s filed with the County Register of Deeds who gives notice to the defendant.

Premises

Premises refers to the land and the building/structures on it. Legally, premises means “all that has hereinabove been stated.”

Quiet Title

The process required to determine the ownership of a property. If a dispute arises about the ownership of a property, an interested party may pursue a quiet title lawsuit to seek a court order declaring ownership of the property.

Quiet Title Action

The action of filing a quiet title lawsuit. The quiet title lawsuit is to determine the real ownership of the property.

Quitclaim Deed

Often made to between parties well-known to each other like spouses and relatives, a quitclaim transfers an interest in real property without any warranties.

Real Estate

The land and any buildings that are situated upon the land.

Real Estate Contract

Also known as a purchase agreement, a real estate contract is a document drafted between parties addressing the sale of real estate. In the purchase agreement, details outline the obligations of the buyer and seller before a title is transferred over during the closing process.

Real Estate Investment Trust

Also known as REIT, it’s an investment opportunity where an organization finds investors and buys real property. The organization gives the investor money through a percentage of the property or by the loan secured.

REALTOR®

Not to be confused with the terminology “real estate agent,” the term REALTOR® is a trademark owned by the National Association of Realtors and protected by federal law.

Realty

Real, fixed property. Can be used in place of “real estate.”

Senior Lien

Is the first lien placed on a property before other liens. When compared to the other liens, the senior lien will take priority.

Tax Sale

A forced sale of property by the government as a method to collect unpaid taxes.

Title

A title is the right to say you own a property and to use the property as you see fit. A title should not be confused with the deed. The deed is the actual document establishing ownership of the property. The term “title” is used to describe legal rights.

Title Agent

An agent who issues or is authorized to issue title insurance policies on behalf of a title insurance company. Also known as a title insurance agent. Title insurance agents, working in conjunction with title insurance companies, research information about a property. The research is used to identify any information that would impact the ownership and/ or transfer of ownership of the property.

Title Insurance Company

Also known as a title insurance underwriter, title insurance companies accept title insurance premiums, a portion of which is commonly remitted to the issuing title insurance agent, in exchange for issuing title insurance policies.

Title Insurance

An insurance policy issued by an insurance company. The purpose of title insurance is to protect the owner or lender or other person in case a problem arises with the title challenging that person’s interests in the real property. The coverage will pay for “damages” and legal fees.

Title Processor

Title processors work with participants in a real estate transaction to ensure paperwork is submitted correctly. They assist with documentation, preparation, and submission.

Title Report

A report that discloses information about the title to a property. The title report will normally disclose claims against the estate, liens, or other issues. A title company prepares a title report.

Title Search

The process of retrieving information and documents pertaining to real property. Information normally includes the chain of title, current ownership, property taxes due, judgments, and other liens.

Underwriter

The person/company that underwrites an insurance policy.

Warranty Deed

A formal document that guarantees a clear title to the buyer of the property.

Zoning

Relates to the division of areas (typically refers to city planning) to regulate the number of buildings and their use in the area.

1031 Exchange

Refers to IRC Section 1031 and allows investors to sell a property and reinvest the proceeds in a new property to defer capital gain taxes.

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