Mortgage and Real Estate Terms

Glossary of Mortgage
and Real Estate Terms


Click on a letter from the list above to jump to the
appropriate section of the glossary.
After you are finished, use your browser’s back button to return to your previous page.


This glossary defines mortgage and real estate terms as they are commonly used. These terms may have different connotations in different locales and when used in a different context. This glossary should only be used as general guide and not relied upon to make decisions about real estate or financing. Before making any decisions, it is always advisable to contact a real estate professional, attorney, or mortgage professional for guidance.
Back to Top

– A –

Abstract (or Abstract Of Title)
A summary of the public records relating to the title to a particular property.
An attorney or title insurance company reviews an abstract of title to determine whether
there are any title defects which must be cleared before a buyer can purchase clear,
marketable, and insurable title. The abstract also identifies encumbrances, easements and
covenants that affect the property. Also known as a Title Report.

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 conditions
of the mortgage. Many states have statutes which limit the enforcement of these

Agreement of Sale
Known by various names – such as contract of purchase, purchase contract,
purchase agreement, purchase & sales agreement, or sales agreement – according to
local custom. This is a written contract in which a seller agrees to sell and a buyer
agrees to buy the subject property. This contract spells out specific terms and conditions
of the agreement and is signed by both parties.

The reduction of debt by regular payments of principal and interest which are
sufficient to pay-off the loan entirely by its maturity date.

An expert judgment or estimate of the quality or value of real estate as of a
given date.

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. T mortgagee’s consent is required to release the
original mortgagor.

The original mortgagor should always obtain a written release from
further liability if he desires to be fully released under the assumption. Failure to
obtain such a release renders the original mortgagor liable if the person assuming the
mortgage fails to make the monthly payments.

An “Assumption of Mortgage” is often confused with
“purchasing subject to a mortgage.” When one purchases subject to a mortgage,
the purchaser agrees to make the monthly mortgage payments on an existing mortgage, but
the original mortgagor remains personally liable if the purchaser fails to make the
monthly payments. Since the original mortgagor remains liable in the event of default, the
mortgagee’s consent is not necessarily required for a sale subject to a mortgage.

Back to Top

– B –

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 his mind
or is unable to purchase, the earnest money is forfeited unless the binder expressly
provides that it is to be refunded.
Binder (Insurance)
Temporary evidence of insurance prior to getting the formal policy. In loan or real estate transactions, borrower needs to provide to escrow to prove to lender that insurance will be in effect on property upon close of the transaction.
(See Real Estate Broker or Mortgage Broker)
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.
Back to Top

– C –

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 nearly as great as that offered in a title
insurance policy.
The actual process whereby all parties to a real estate transaction conclude the
details of a sale or mortgage. This process includes the signing and transfer of documents
and the distribution of funds.
Closing Costs
The expenses which buyers and sellers normally incur to complete a transaction in
the transfer of ownership or mortgage of real estate. These costs are in addition to price
of the property and are items prepaid at the closing day. This is a general list of
buyer’s and seller’s expenses:

Loan Fees, Documentary Stamps on Notes, Cost of Abstract, Recording
Deed and Mortgage, Documentary Stamps on Deed, Escrow Fees, Real Estate Commissions,
Attorney’s Fees, Title Insurance, Survey Charge, Appraisal Fees, Inspection Fees.

The agreement of sale negotiated previously between the buyer and
the seller should state in writing who will pay each of the above costs or how they will
be split. Most areas have local customs that guide which party typically pays which

Closing Day
The day on which the formalities of a real estate sale are concluded. The
certificate of title, abstract, and deed are generally prepared for the closing by an
attorney or escrow officer and this cost charged to either buyer or seller. The buyer
signs the mortgage, and closing costs are paid. The final closing merely confirms the
original agreement reached in the agreement of sale.

Closing Statement
An accounting of funds made at the completion of every real estate transaction.

Cloud On Title
An outstanding claim, condition 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 percentage of the sale price — 5
to 7 percent on houses, and can be up to 10 percent on land.

The taking of private property for public use by a government unit with payment
of just compensation under the government’s power of eminent domain. Condemnation may also
be a determination by a governmental agency that a particular building is unsafe or unfit
for use.

A system of real estate ownership that includes individual ownership of a
dwelling unit and an interest in the common areas and facilities which serve the all
condominium units.

Contract of Purchase
(See Agreement of Sale)

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, road building, bridge and dam erection,
and others.

Conventional Mortgage
A mortgage loan not insured by HUD (FHA loans) or guaranteed by the Veterans’
Administration (VA loans). It is subject to conditions established by the lending
institution and State statutes. The mortgage rates may vary with different institutions
and between States.

Cooperative 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 his unit, he has an absolute right to occupy his unit for as long as he owns
the stock.

Back to Top

– D –

A formal written instrument by which title to real property is transferred. The
deed should contain an accurate description of the property being conveyed, should be
signed and witnessed according to the laws of the State where the property is located, and
should be delivered to the purchaser at closing day. 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
Like a mortgage, a security instrument whereby real property is given as security
for a debt. However, in a deed of trust there are three parties to the instrument: the
borrower (or trustor), the trustee, and the lender (or beneficiary). In such a
transaction, the borrower transfers the legal title for the property to the trustee who
holds the property in trust as security for the payment of the debt to the lender. When
the borrower satisfies the debt, the deed of trust becomes reconveyed to the borrower and
is extinguished. However, if the borrower defaults in the payment of the debt, the trustee
may sell the property at a public sale, under the terms of the deed of trust and within
statutory requirements. In most jurisdictions where the deed of trust is in force, the
borrower is subject to having his property sold without benefit of legal proceedings. A
few States have begun in recent years to treat the deed of trust like a mortgage.
Failure to make timely mortgage payments as agreed to an in accordance with the
terms in the mortgage or deed of trust. It is the borrower’s responsibility to remember
the due date and send the payment prior to the due date. In the event of default, the
mortgage may give the lender the right to accelerate payments, take possession, receive
rents and/or 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 real estate due to passage of time, physical deterioration,
loss of function or for other reasons. Depreciation also has technical meanings as it
relates to the valuation or real estate for tax purposes.
Documentary Stamps
A State tax, in the forms of stamps, required on deeds and mortgages when real
estate title passes from one owner to another. The amount of stamps required varies with
each State and in some States stamps are no longer used. In some States these are also
known as Transfer Taxes.
The amount of money to be paid by the purchaser to the seller upon the signing of
the agreement of sale, also known as Earnest Money. The downpayment may not be refundable
if the purchaser fails to buy the property without good cause. If the purchaser wants the
downpayment to be refundable, he should insert a clause in the agreement of sale
specifying the conditions under which the deposit will be refunded, if the agreement does
not already contain such clause. If the seller cannot deliver good title, the agreement of
sale usually requires the seller to return the downpayment and to pay interest and
expenses incurred by the purchaser.
Downpayment also refers to the difference between the sales price
and maximum mortgage amount. It is expressed as a dollar figure or a percentage of the
purchase price. For example, when a house is purchased for $100,000 and $90,000 is
borrowed to finance the purchase, then the downpayment is said to be 10% ($10,000).
Back to Top

– E –

Earnest Money
The deposit money given to the seller or his agent by the potential buyer upon
the signing of the agreement of sale to show that he is serious about buying the house. If
the sale goes through, the earnest money is applied against the downpayment. If the sale
does not go through, the earnest money will be forfeited or lost unless the binder or
offer to purchase expressly provides that it is refundable.
A right-of-way granted to a person or company which authorizes access to another
person’s land for a specific purpose. An electric company obtaining a right-of-way across
private property to install or maintain its electricity lines is a common example.
An obstruction, building, or part of a building or other improvement that
intrudes beyond a legal boundary onto neighboring land. A common example would be fences
or walls that are built on the other side of a property line and thereby
“encroach” on the neighbors property.
A legal right or interest in land that affects or limits complete ownership and control
over property. It can take numerous forms, such as zoning ordinances, easement rights,
claims, mortgages, liens, charges, a pending legal action, unpaid taxes or restrictive
convenants. An encumbrance does not necessarily prevent transfer of the property to
another, but may diminish its value. A title search will usually reveal the existence of
such encumbrances, and it is up to the buyer to determine whether he wants to purchase the
property with the encumbrance.
The value of a homeowner’s interest in real estate over and above all liens.
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 he pays down his 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 his property. This is often called owning a property
“free and clear” of liens.
The deposit of the purchase agreement, funds, deeds or other instruments with a
neutral third party to carry out the provisions of the agreement. An escrow company or
attorney usually acts as the escrow agent and completes the transaction as instructed by
the parties.
Back to Top

– F –

FICO Score
A credit rating generated by an automated processing of a credit report. Mortgage
lenders utilize the score to assist with the credit decision. Higher scores are indicative
of better credit. Many situations can negatively effect ones score, including: delinquent
accounts, history of late payments, collection accounts, bankruptcy, limited credit
history, high credit card/credit line balances. Additionally, other credit report
inquiries reduce ones score.
The procedure whereby property is sold to pay for the debt owed on a mortgage or
deed of trust because of non-payment or other default by the borrower. Foreclosure
proceedings are initiated by the lender filing a lawsuit against the borrower (judicial
foreclosure) or through private action by the lender according to the terms of the
mortgage or deed of trust (non-judicial foreclosure).
Back to Top

– 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.
Back to Top

– H –

Hazard Insurance
Protects against damages caused to property by fire or other common hazards.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Federal Housing
Administration (FHA) is a division of HUD which insures home mortgage loans made by
lenders and sets minimum standards for such homes.
Back to Top

– I –

As it relates to loans, a charge paid for borrowing money over for a period of
Also, to have an interest in real estate means to have a
partial ownership or a right to a share of the real estate.
Interest Only Loan
A non-amortizing loan in which the lender receives only interest during the term
of the loan and the principal is repaid at maturity.
Interest Rate
The percentage of loan amount borrowed which is charged by the lender for use of
the money. Interest rates are usually expressed as the percentage per year.
Back to Top

– J –

Back to Top

– K –

Back to Top

– L –

A type of encumbrance which makes a specific property the security for the
payment of a debt or other obligation. Common forms of liens are mortgages and deeds of
trust, but liens can also be placed against property for taxes or judgments.
Back to Top

– M –

Marketable Title
A title that is free of objectionable liens, easements, clouds, or other title
defects. A title which enables an owner to sell his property freely to others and which
others will reasonably accept without objection.
Maturity (or Maturity Date)
The date a loan becomes payable in full. This is most often the due date of the
final payment of a loan.
Generally speaking, a mortgage is a lien against real property given by a buyer
or property owner to the lender as security for money borrowed. In the event of
non-payment of the loan or other default, the property may be sold by foreclosure to
satisfy the debt. Mortgage foreclosure procedures are primarily dictated by statute in the
property’s jurisdiction.
Mortgage Broker
A licensed middle man or agent who represents borrowers and/or lenders in mortgage
financing transactions. Brokers’ fees for their services are usually charged on a
commission basis upon the loan closing. Broker’s often charge other fees in addition to
their commissions to offset specific costs associated with originating a loan.
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 a house.
Mortgage Insurance
Guaranty insurance that protects conventional lenders from losses on a portion of a
particular loan. Also known as MI, PMI or Private Mortgage Insurance.
Mortgage Insurance Premium
With FHA loans, the payment made by a borrower to the lender for transmittal to
HUD to help defray the cost of the FHA mortgage insurance program and to provide a reserve
fund to protect lenders against loss in insured mortgage transactions. In FHA insured
mortgages this represents an annual rate of one-half of one percent paid by the mortgagor
on a monthly basis.
Mortgage Note
A written agreement to repay a loan that is secured by a mortgage. The note
serves as proof of indebtedness, states the actual amount of the debt that the mortgage
secures and enumerates the terms of repayment.
Mortgage (Open-End)
A mortgage note with a provision that permits borrowing additional money in the
future without refinancing the loan. Open-end provisions often limit such borrowing to no
more than would raise the balance to the original principal amount.
The lender in a mortgage agreement.
The borrower in a mortgage agreement.
Back to Top

– N –

Back to Top

– O –

Back to Top

– 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. Plats are generally
kept as records of the county, parish or other local government entity.
Points (also Discount Points)
An amount of money paid to a lender to obtain a loan at a certain interest rate.
A point is one percent of the principal amount of the loan. For example, if a loan is for
$100,000, one point is $1,000. Points are paid at closing.
Buyers are prohibited from paying points on FHA or VA guaranteed
loans; however sellers can pay. On a conventional mortgage, points may be paid by either
buyer or seller or split between them.
Payment of mortgage loan, or part of it, before due date. Mortgage agreements
often restrict the right of prepayment either by limiting the amount that can be prepaid
in any one year or charging a prepayment penalty. The Federal Housing Administration does
not permit such restrictions in FHA insured mortgages.
The amount of money borrowed, the amount of the loan. Principal is the amount
upon which interest is paid.
Also, principal is a term used to describe a party to a real estate
transaction. Buyers and sellers are principals in real estate transactions, real estate
brokers and agents are not.
Purchase Agreement
See Agreement of Sale.
Back to Top

– Q –

Quitclaim Deed
A deed which relinquishes any interest in a particular property which the grantor
may have. A quitclaim deed is often executed to clear the title when the nature of a
grantor’s interest in a property is questionable. By accepting such a deed the buyer
assumes all the risks because the deed makes no warranties as to the title held by the
grantor. Quitclaim deeds may transfer full ownership in a property or no interest at all.
Back to Top

– R –

Rate Lock
A guarantee that the mortgage lender honors a specific rate for a specific period of time. The loan must fund during the rate lock period to obtain the specified rate. Rate locks protect borrowers from rate fluctuations during the loan process.
Real Estate Broker
A licensed middle man or agent who represents buyers and/or sellers in real
estate transactions. Brokers’ fees for their services are usually charged on a commission
The process where a borrower pays-off one loan with the proceeds from another
loan. A property can be refinanced with a new loan from the current holder of the mortgage
or from a new lender.
Restrictive Covenants (or Covenants)
Private restrictions limiting the use of real property. Restrictive covenants may
bind all subsequent purchasers of the land or may be binding only between the original
seller and buyer. Restrictive covenants may affect the property’s value and marketability
of title. Restrictive covenants are used for many purposes and may limit the use of the
property, regulate size, style or price range of buildings to be erected, or prevent
particular businesses from operating or activities occurring. Covenants are widely used
today because of the proliferation of privately planned communities which use them as a
tool to control and guide future development.
Back to Top

– S –

Sales Agreement
See Agreement of Sale.
Special Assessments
A special tax imposed on property, individual lots or all property in the
immediate area, for road construction, sidewalks, sewers, street lights, or other public
projects that benefit particular property owners.
In the context of condominium and private community association,
special assessments are charges to property owners, over and above their customary
periodic payments, to fund special projects
Special Warranty Deed
A deed in which the grantor warrants or guarantees the title only against defects
arising during grantor’s ownership of the property and not against title defects existing
before the time of the grantor’s ownership.
State Stamps
See Documentary Stamps
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 sometimes required by the lender to assure him that a building
is actually sited on the land according to its legal description.
Back to Top

– T –

The lawful ownership of particular property.
In common real estate usage, title may refer to the actual documents or deeds by which a right of ownership is established.
Title Insurance
An insurance policy that protects lenders or property owners up to a specified
amount from certain types of loss of interest in property due to legal defects in title.
Title Search (or Title Records Examination)
A check of the title records to establish that the buyer is purchasing a property
from the legal owner and to determine all of the liens, assessments, claims, convenants,
or other encumbrances or restrictions that would affect the title to the property. The
results of the search are expressed in a Title Report or Abstract. The primary purpose of
the search is to establish whether the property has marketable title.
A party who is given legal responsibility to hold and administer property for the
benefit of another (the beneficiary). Trustee’s are obligated to act in the best interest
of the beneficiary.
Back to Top

– U –

Back to Top

– V –

Back to Top

– W –

Back to Top

– X –

Back to Top

– Y –

Back to Top

– Z –

Act of city, county or other local authorities specifying how property may be
used in specific areas. Also know as Land Use Plans.
Back to Top