Glossary of Real Estate Terms

Welcome to our Real Estate Glossary. We hope that these definitions will help you to better understand the home buying and selling process.

Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM): a mortgage in which the interest rate is adjusted periodically based on a pre-selected index. Also sometimes known as a variable-rate mortgage.

Amortization: loan payment by equal installments of principal and interest, calculated to pay off the debt at the end of a fixed period.

Annual percentage rate (APR): the interest rate reflecting the cost of a mortgage as a yearly rate. It allows homebuyers to compare different types of mortgages based on the annual cost for each loan.

Appraisal: a document giving an estimate of a property’s fair market value; generally required by a lender before loan approval.

Assessment: a local tax levied against a property for a specific purpose, such as a sewer or street lights.

Balloon (payment) mortgage: usually a short-term fixed-rate loan which involves small payments for a certain period of time; after that time period elapses, the balance is due or is refinanced by the borrower.

Cap: a consumer safeguard on an adjustable-rate mortgage that limits how much a monthly payment or interest rate can increase or decrease.

Certificate of eligibility: document given to qualified veterans entitling them to Veteran’s Administration guaranteed loans. Obtained by sending DD-214 (Separation Paper) to the local VA office with VA form 1880 (request for Certificate of Eligibility).

Certificate of reasonable value (CRV): appraisal issued by the Veteran Administration showing a property’s current market value.

Closing: the meeting between the buyer, seller, and lender or their agents where the property and funds legally change hands.

Commitment: agreement, often in writing, between a lender and a borrower to loan money at a future date subject to the completion of paper work or compliance with stated conditions.

Construction loan: short term interim loan to pay for the construction of buildings or homes. Usually written to provide periodic disbursements to the builder as progress is made.

Contract sale or deed: contract between buyer and seller of real estate to convey title after certain conditions have been met.

Conventional loan: a private sector loan, one that is not guaranteed or insured by the U.S. government.

Credit report: documents an individual’s credit history, listing all past and present debts and the timeliness of their repayment.

Debt-to-income ratio: the ratio, expressed as a percentage, which results when a borrower’s monthly payment obligation on long-term debt is divided by their gross monthly income.

Deed of trust: in many states, a document used instead of a mortgage to secure the payment of a note.

Default: failure to make the monthly payments on a mortgage.

Delinquency: failure to make payments on time. This can lead to foreclosure.

Down payment: the portion of a home’s purchase price paid in cash and not part of the mortgage loan.

Earnest money: money given by a buyer to a seller as part of the purchase price to bind a transaction or assure payment.

Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA): a federal law requiring lenders to make credit equally available without discrimination by race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, marital status, or income from public assistance programs.

Equity: an owner’s financial interest in a property; calculated by subtracting the amount still owed on the mortgage from the fair market value of the property.

Escrow: an account held by the lender into which the homebuyer pays money for tax or insurance payments.

FHA: the Federal Housing Administration provides mortgage insurance to lenders to cover most losses when a borrower defaults; this encourages lenders to make loans to borrowers who might not qualify for conventional mortgages.

FHA loan: loan insured by the FHA open to all qualified home purchasers. While there are limits, they are generous enough to handle moderately priced homes almost anywhere in the country.

FHA mortgage insurance: a policy paid at closing to insure the loan with FHA.

Fixed-rate mortgage: mortgage with payments that remain the same throughout the life of the loan because the interest rate and other terms are fixed.

Foreclosure: a legal process in which mortgaged property is sold to pay the loan of the defaulting borrower.

Hazard insurance: form of insurance in which the insurance company protects the insured from specified losses, such as fire or windstorm.

Lien: a legal claim against property that must be resolved before the property is sold.

Loan-to-value (LTV) ratio: a percentage calculated by dividing the amount borrowed by the sales price or appraised value of the home to be purchased.

Lock-in: guarantees a specific interest rate if the loan is closed within a specific time.

Market value: the highest price that a buyer would pay and the lowest price a seller would accept on a property.

Mortgage insurance: a policy that protects lenders against some or most of the losses that can occur when a borrower defaults on a mortgage loan; usually required with a down payment of less than 20%.

Mortgage modification: an option that allows a borrower to refinance and/or extend the term of the mortgage loan thus reduce the monthly payments.

Origination fee: fee charged by a lender to prepare loan documents, make credit checks, inspect and sometimes appraise a property; usually a percentage of the loan’s amount.

Points: prepaid interest charged at closing by the lender. Each point equals 1 percent of the loan (e.g., 2 points on a $100,000 mortgage would be $2,000).

Prepayment: permits the borrower to make payments in advance of their due date, thus saving money on interest.

Prepayment penalty: charges for the early repayment of debt.

Principal: the borrowed amount, less interest or additional fees.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI): insurance paid by the borrower. This may be required by the lender when the down payment is less than 20%.

Realtor: a real estate agent or broker affiliated with the National Association of Realtors and its local and state associations.

Recording fees: money paid to the lender for recording a home sale with the local authorities, thereby making it part of public records.

Refinancing: paying off one loan by obtaining another; refinancing is generally done to secure better loan terms (like a lower interest rate).

RESPA: Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act allows consumers to review information on known or estimated settlement cost once after application and once prior to or at a closing. The law requires lenders to furnish the information after application only.

Second mortgage: a mortgage made subsequent to another mortgage and subordinate to the first mortgage.

Survey: a measurement of land, prepared by a registered land surveyor, showing the location of the land with reference to known points, its dimensions, and the location and dimensions of any buildings.

Title: a document that gives evidence of an individual’s ownership of land.

Title insurance: a policy, usually issued by a title insurance company, which insures a home buyer against errors in the title search. The cost of the policy is usually a function of the value of the property, and is often bome by the purchaser and/or seller.

Title search: a check of public records to be sure that the seller is the recognized owner of the real estate and that there are no unsettled liens or other claims against the property.

Truth-in-lending: a federal law requiring disclosure of the annual percentage rate charged to home buyers shortly after they apply for the loan.

VA loan: a long-term, low- or no-down payment loan to veterans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Verification of employment (VOE): a document signed by the borrower’s employer verifying his/her position and salary.