Legal Glossary

In recent years, there have been many changes in the way home purchases are financed. In order to understand the mortgage loan process, you must first know and understand the words commonly used.

A positive response to an offer or counteroffer. An acceptance may be “conditional,””express,” “implied” or “qualified.”

A person given authority by a proper court to manage and distribute the estate of a deceased person when there is no will.

Someone who acts on behalf of another for a fee, such as a real estate agent.

Alternative mortgage
Any home loan that does not conform to a standard fixed-rate mortgage. Such loans can include adjustable-rate, reverse annuity and graduated-payment mortgages.

Payment of a debt in equal installments of principal and interest, rather than interest only payments.

An estimate of value, as determined by an independent agent familiar with local real estate values.

“As-is” agreement
Certifies that a buyer accepts whatever physical condition a property is in at the time the contract is signed. May be controlled by state and local regulations.

The estimating of value of property for tax purposes. A levy against property in addition to regular taxes. Usually for improvements such as streets, sewers, etc.

Assumable mortgage
Can be taken over, by another borrower. Attractive when interest rates are rising, because the new borrower can assume the old loan and keep its original rate and terms.

When a buyer assumes the loan payments and obligations of the seller. If the purchaser defaults, however, both the buyer and seller are responsible for the debt.

Attorney at Law
An advocate, counsel, or official agent employed in preparing, managing, and trying cases in court. Must be licensed by the state.

An institution for savings, loans, checking accounts, and other services not all of which are found in savings and loan institutions. Banks are generally more active in construction loans rather than long term real estate financing

(1) One for whose benefit a trust is created. (2) in states in which deeds of trust are commonly used instead of mortgages, the lender (mortgagee) is called the beneficiary.

Bill of Sale
An instrument by which one transfers personal property.

Blanket Mortgage
A mortgage that covers more than one property owned by the same borrower. For example, a lender might issue a blanket mortgage to a borrower that covers both a primary and a second home, or the lender might issue a blanket mortgage to a builder to cover all of the lots in the builder’s subdivision.

A licensed real estate professional who, typically, represents the seller of a property. A broker’s duties might include determining market values, advertising properties for sale, showing properties to prospective buyers, and advising clients with regard to offers and related matters.

Buy-Sell Offer
An offer by one owner of a business or real estate to buy out the interest of anther owner of the same business or real estate (a partner or other shareholder), or to sell the offeror’s interest at the same price or proportionate price if unequal ownership. Example: A and B each own a 1/2 interest in lot 1. A offers to buy B’s interest for $10,000, or to sell A’s inters to B for $10,000. Theoretically very fair, since B has the option to buy or sell. However, B’s interest may be worth $12,000, but B is financially unable to buy A’s interest (also worth $12,000).

The maximum amount that the interest rate charged for an “adjustable rate” loan may change at each change date. Also, a cap is the maximum amount that an interest rate can change over its entire term.

Personal Property to ownership.

Clear title
A title to a property that is free of legal challenges to ownership.

Closing or Settlement
Usually a meeting of the parties to a transaction-the buyer and seller-or their representatives, during which documents are signed and exchanged, figures are agreed upon, money is paid to appropriate persons for services performed and title to the property is transferred from the seller to the buyer.

Closing costs
Costs associated with the purchase of a home that must be paid at the sale closing. These could include mortgage fees, title insurance, appraisal and inspection fees and points.

An addition to a will, which modifies the will by adding to it, subtracting from it, or clarifying it.

Comparative market analysis
A listing of recent home sales in the neighborhood, used as a basis for price comparison. This is prepared by a real estate agent. Also known as a “comp.”

A payment to make amends for the abridgement of rights or an injury. In condemnation, the payment for the taking of a person’s property without the owner’s consent

Piece of a large property that is owned as an individual unit. Ownership includes a non-exclusive interest in certain “common properties” controlled by the condominium organization.

A contractual provision that renders an agreement incomplete until a designated event (such as an inspection or an escrow payment) occurs.

Generally, almost any written agreement. Most commonly in real estate, assurances set forth (expressed) in a deed by the grantor or implied by law. Example: Covenant against encumbrances, covenant of right to convey, etc.

Abbreviation for “cooperative,” a portion of a large property whose owner has purchased exclusive rights to its use by buying a share of the corporation that owns the large property.

A general term encompassing any group of people “incorporating” by following statutory procedures. Most common type of corporation is a private one formed to carry on a business.

A person who assumes joint liability for a loan. The co-signer of a loan agreement is not necessarily, however, a co-owner.

A measurement of a person’s ability to pay bills on time. Several companies track individuals’ credit histories by detailing late or missed payments on loans, credit cards and other debts.

Credit report
Used by lenders to determine a potential borrower’s creditworthiness. Independent sources compile the report, which lists the borrower’s debts, liabilities and assets.

Money owing from one person to another.

Originally, one who was dying. Modernly, one who is dead.

A document that transfers real estate from one party to another. Officially recorded in government records.

Failure to meet all of the terms and conditions of the note or mortgage. Defaulting enables the lender to seek ownership of the property pledged as security for the loan.

Delinquent mortgage
Involves a borrower who is behind on payments. If the borrower cannot bring the payments current within a specified number of days,the lender may begin foreclosure proceedings.

Failure to meet all of the terms and conditions of the note or mortgage. Defaulting enables the lender to seek ownership of the property pledged as security for the loan.

Down Payment
Cash portion paid by a buyer from his own funds, as opposed to that portion of the purchase price which is financed.

A landowner can grant a second party the right to use land in a certain way. For example, if you need to cross your neighbor’s property to access your garage, you would ask your neighbor to grant you an easement. Easements may restrict changes a buyer can make to a property.

Anything belonging to one landowner that extends onto an adjacent landowner’s property is considered an encroachment. A fence that is a few inches over the property line is one example.

A problem with the title to a property that does not affect the transfer of ownership.

Surroundings. As an appraisal term, the characteristics of the area around a property which bear on the value of the property.

Delivery of a deed by a grantor to a third party for delivery to the grantee upon the happening of a contingent event. Modernly, in some states, all instruments necessary to the sale (including funds) are delivered to a third (neutral) party, with instructions as to their use.

Escrow Closing
In some areas, the closing does not involve the meeting of the parties. Instead, a person who has been designated by the parties as an “escrow agent” accomplishes all of the tasks necessary for a closing.

(1) The interest or nature of the interest which one has in property, such as a life estate, the estate of a deceased, real estate, etc. (2) A large house with substantial grounds surrounding it, giving the connotation of belonging to a wealthy person.

The actual cash value of property after all claims against the property have been paid.

One who is appointed under a will to carry out (execute) the terms of a will.

Fair Credit Reporting Act
A federal law that gives consumers the right to see their credit records and correct any mistakes.

One acting in a relationship of trust, regarding financial transactions

First mortgage
Primary mortgage on a property. When property is sold, the lender who issued the first mortgage will be paid first. If there is a second or third mortgage on the same property but proceeds of the sale are not enough to pay those loans off, the lenders who made those loans might not be able to recover their losses.

(1) A statutory right which could not be exercised in the absence of the statute, such as the statutes enabling persons to form a corporation. Since a corporation is created by the statue, it could not be formed except by the grant of the legislature. (2) A combination of individual ownership and central control. One may own a fast food restaurant, hotel, hardware store, etc., yet use the name of a national company. Each individual owner pays for the name use, advertising and may be required to make certain purchases (napkins, buns, etc.) from the national company. he individual benefits from the name and advertising. The real estate brokerage business was slow to use the franchise method, but now has many companies operating in this manner.

Fixed rate mortgage
Home loans whose interest rate will remain fixed for the entire loan term. About 75% of all home mortgages that exist at the time of this writing are fixed-rate mortgages.

A proceeding in or out of court, to extinguish all rights, title, and interest, of the owner(s) of property in order to sell the property to satisfy a lien against it.

Front ratio
The proportion of a purchaser’s income that lenders will allow for principal, interest, taxes and insurance on a property. Used in the evaluation of a loan application.

Full disclosure
A requirement that sellers fully disclose all known defects in a property when selling it.

Future Interest
A present interest, but only a future right to possession and enjoyment of the land, such as a remainder interest, reversionary interest, etc.

Graduated-payment mortgage
(GPM) is a loan that requires the borrower to make larger monthly payments as the years go by.In a typical GPM, the payment is unusually low in the first year or two of the loan but gradually rises until year three or five, at which time the payment levels-out and remains fixed for the life of the mortgage. Appeals to borrowers whose earning power will increase in lock-step with their required Monthly mortgage payments.

Growing-equity mortgage
A fixed rate mortgage that increases payments over a specific period of time. The extra funds are applied directly to the principal balance.

Guarantee mortgage
A loan guaranteed by a third party, such as a government institution.

One who is court appointed to manage the affairs of a minor or incompetent.

Inter vivos living trust
A trust established during the settler’s lifetime.

Any writing having legal form and significance, such as a deed, mortgage, lease, will, trust, etc.

Interest Rate
The cost of borrowing money, usually expressed as a percentage of the amount borrowed, for example, 10%.

A contract under which, for a consideration, one party (the insurer) agrees to indemnify another (the insured) for a possible loss under specific conditions. May be loss of life, health, property, or property rights.

Without leaving a will, or leaving an invalid will so that the property of the estate passes by the laws of succession rather than by direction of the deceased.

Joint Tenancy
An undivided interest in property, taken by two or more joint tenants. The interests must be equal, accuring under the same conveyance, and beginning at the same time. Upon the death of a joint tenant, the interest passes to the surviving joint tenants, rather than to the heirs of the deceased.

Judgment lien
An unpaid, court-ordered monetary judgment against a current or previous property owner.

An estate in realty held under a lease; an estate for a fixed term. Considered in many states to be personal property.

A permission, either express or implied.

Any claim against a property, including mortgages, unpaid taxes or repair bills or other unpaid charges. Prospective property buyers conduct a title search to determine whether any liens against the property exist. A lien must be filed or recorded with the local county government to be attached to a property title.

Limited Liability Company
A partnership consisting of one or more general partners who conduct the business and are responsible (liable) for losses, and one or more special (limited) partners, contributing capital and liable only up to the amount contributed.

Lis pendens
A dispute or matter which is the subject of ongoing or pending litigation. Politicians will sometimes refuse to discuss a matter or an issue which is “lis pendens” because they do not want their comments to be perceived as an attempt to influence a court of law.

Liquid Asset
Cash, or assets immediately convertible to cash.

Living Trust
A trust which is in effect during the life of the settlor, rather than upon his death (testamentary trust).

Mechanic’s lien
Any payment owned to a contractor for work done on the property.

Also called a “deed of trust” in some areas, a mortgage provides security to the lender by giving the lender an interest in the home until the loan is repaid. The various types of mortgages are discussed in the Real Estate section.

Mortgage Banker
A company providing mortgage financing with its own funds rather than simply bringing together lender and borrower, as does a mortgage broker. Although the mortgage banker uses its own funds, these funds are generally borrowed and the financing is either short term or, if long term, the mortgages are sold to investors (many times insurance companies) within a short time.

Mortgage lien
The unpaid balance on the mortgage loan.

Multifamily mortgage
A mortgage made on a multi-family dwelling with more than four families, typically an apartment building.

Multiple listing service
The multiple listing service, or MLS, is a local database that lists homes for sale. Member real estate agents can access the MLS and show listed homes to potential buyers.

Negative Amortization
When using Graduated Payment Mortgages, debt is accumulated during the early years of the loan and added to the principal in later years, causing the monthly payments to increase at a predetermined time.

A bid for a home purchase. Generally, it is made in writing. Offers may be withdrawn without penalty prior to acceptance or rejection; if accepted, the offer becomes binding.

The right to buy or sell property or sign a contract, based upon certain terms and conditions. Usually applicable to specific time frames during which the “option” may be exercised.

As defined by the Uniform partnership Act, “An association of two or more persons to carry on a co-owners, a business for profit.” The business must be lawful and the partners must agree to share in the profit or loss (but not necessarily equally.

Continuing forever. Legally, pertaining to real property, any condition extending the inalienability of property beyond the time of a life or lives in being plus twenty-one years.

A map that shows all boundaries of a piece of property.

A process whereby a potential home buyer secures a guaranteed mortgage approval before making an offer on a house. A lending institution guarantees in writing to grant a loan for a specified amount. Not to be confused with prequalification. (See the full article on preapproval.)

Some lenders “prequalify” mortgage applicants in less than an hour by performing cursory checks. Seldom can a lender fully check an applicant’s credit, asset and debt status this quickly, so final approval typically takes at least a few more days. Though such preliminary prequalifications may soon lead to a full preapproval, there is no guarantee until the applicant receives a letter, certificate or wallet-size card bearing the mortgage-holder’s name and maximum loan amount.

The amount of money that is actually borrowed. This excludes interest payments.

Originally, the proving that a will was valid. Modernly, any action over which probate court has jurisdiction – that being a court having jurisdiction of estates, whether of a deceased, a minor, or an incompetent person.

An amount equal to 1% of the loan. Points are changed by the lender to improve the lender’s return on a loan.

Prime Rate
The most favorable interest rates charged by a commercial bank on short term loans, (not mortgages).

Promissory Note
An agreement between the buyer and the lender that states the terms and conditions under which money is borrowed and how it is to be repaid.

Purchase-money mortgage
A mortgage that a borrower obtains to acquire a property, rather than to refinance an existing loan on a property the borrower already owns.

Rate-improvement mortgage
A loan with a clause that entitles a borrower to a one-time cut in the interest rate (if the market rates go down) without going through or paying for refinancing.

Recording Acts
State statutes enacted to cover the public recording of deeds, mortgages, etc., and the effect of these recordings as notice to creditors, purchasers, and other interested parties.

Recording fee
Fee charged by a government for entering into the public record a real estate purchase or sale.

Cancel or revoke of sale.

To cancel, annul, reverse, take back, etc.

Most commonly used to describe a use or uses prohibited to the owner of land. Restrictions are set forth by former owners in deeds or in the case of a subdivision, a declaration of restrictions is recorded by the developer. A limitation on use of the property by law (zoning ordinances) may also be termed a restriction.

Right of first refusal
A priority arrangement that grants a particular prospective buyer the first right to purchase a property, given certain agreed-upon conditions.

Savings and Loan Association
An association chartered to hold savings and make real estate loans. Federally insured and regulated. Active in long term financing, rather than construction loans.

Occurs when monthly payments allow a loan to be repaid, including principal and interest, over its terms without any balloon payments.

Settlement (Closing)
The process by which all financial dealings and contractual arrangements are completed for the buyer and seller. At the time of settlement, or closing, all debts are paid, adjustments made and money disbursed, and a deed is prepared in the new owner’s name.

Shared-appreciation mortgage
Mortgage that allows a lender or other party to share in the borrower’s profits when the home is eventually sold. For example, a lender might agree to provide a loan with an extremely low loan rate in exchange for 25 or 50 percent of the borrower’s eventual profit.

Sole Proprietorship
Individual ownership of a business as opposed to a partnership or corporation.

The passing of real property by will or inheritance, rather than by grant of a deed or any other form of purchase.

One who voluntarily binds himself to be oblicaged for the debt or obligation of another. For example: A co-maker of a note; an insurance carrier. Surety differs from guarantor, although commonly (and mistakenly) used interchangeably.

A professional examination of a property. A survey usually will reveal the size of a property, its boundary distances, ground contours and where improvements or alterations have been made.

A loan made directly from the seller to the buyer.

A manditory contribution of money to meet the expenses of a government, whether federal, state, or local.

Taxing District
An area over which a governmental body has authority to levy property taxex; may contain one or more assessment district.

Tax lien
A type of lien placed on a title when the owner has not paid property or assessment taxes or other state and federal taxes.

Tax basis
The value of your home for tax purposes.

The period of time during which a mortgage must be repaid, typically 15 to 30 years.

Testamentary Trust
A trust created by a will.

Having written a last will and testament.

Evidence of the right of property ownership; can be held solely, jointly, in common or in corporate or partnership form.

Title company
A company that performs and insures title searches. Usually selected by the seller, they sometimes work as a lender’s agent. Depending on the preferences of the seller, buyer and others involved in the sale, the closing might take place at the title company’s offices.

Title defect
Anything that is wrong with a title — including an easement, encroachment or lien — that has not been recorded with the city building department or the county recorder’s office.

Title insurance
Insurance that protects a property owner against defects to or claims against a property. Typically purchased by the buyer upon closing, sometimes as required by the lender. Title companies issue the policies.

Originally a house in the city as opposed to a country estate. More recently the term applies to a type of row house, whether planned unit developments or condominiums.

Trust Deed
An instrument used in many states in place of a mortgage. Property is transferred to a trustee by the borrower (trustor), in favor of the lender (beneficiary), and reconvened upon payment in full.

Public utility companies, under the control of the Public Utilities Commission, such as the telephone, gas, and electric companies.

Variable rate mortgage
Same as an adjustable rate mortgage; interest rates fluctuate with the market (such loans are usually tied to one index) and according to a schedule set out in the loan agreement. Introductory rates on adjustables are typically two to three percentage points below rates on fixed mortgages. If overall interest rates climb, the loan’s rate will rise and so will the borrower’s monthly payments. If rates fall, the loan’s rate and required monthly payment will also decline.

A final tour of a home after the sale closing in which any defects are noted.

A protection plan, generally paid for by the seller, that protects the buyer against major repair expenses and breakdowns. Warranties are assigned to specific items, usually major appliances or systems on the property.

A written expression of the desire of a person as to the disposition of that person’s property after death. Must follow certain procedures to be valid..

The division of a city or county by legislative regulations into areas (zones), specifying the uses allowable for the real property in these areas.

You will encounter many more legal terms. Do not be afraid to ask for a thorough explanation of each aspect of your transaction. One of the services an attorney can provide is to explain these terms. Also, the reference sections of most public libraries have materials to assist you.

Note – definitions have been extracted from transcripts from Joseph A. La Zara P.C. , Chicago Tribune Home Web site, Inman News Features and the Stewart Title Real Estate Dictionary.