Real Estate Investing Terminology

If you’re into real estate of any kind, here is a list of common real estate investing terminology.

Accessory Structure- building other than the principal structure that is used for purposes incidental to those of the principal structure; e.g., garage, barn, storage shed

Acre- unit of measuring land, equivalent to 43,560 sq. ft.

Appraisal– detailed document giving an opinion of value of real estate using uniform standards of practice and accepted valuation approaches; it is prepared by an appraiser possessing requisite certification, education and field experience; some jurisdictions permit individuals without any type of real estate license to be certified as appraisers

Building Envelope- that area of a parcel remaining after marking off the front, rear and side yard setbacks required by a particular zoning classification; portion of the parcel within which a structure can be built

Building Lot- parcel of vacant land separately deeded and having all the approvals necessary

Comprehensive Plan– document used by local, county and regional bodies in the land planning process that contains a statement of objectives, projections and short and long-term planning strategies and goals

Conditional Use– use allowed by municipal governing body in accordance with specific standards and after a public hearing

Deed Restriction– any written provision that places limitations or conditions on some aspect of use of the property, such as size, location or height of structures, materials to be used in structure exterior, activities carried out on the property, or restrictions on future subdivision or land development

Due Diligence- any process used to conduct research and investigation

Easement– conditional or qualified right granted by one property owner to permit another to cross or use the property for a specific purpose, such as the construction of a driveway or the installation of signage or utility lines; title to the easement area is not conveyed to the recipient of the easement

Equitable Owner- person or entity acquiring by contract an ownership interest in a property but not the actual title to it, as in buyers prior to the date title is transferred but subsequent to the full signing of a purchase contract

Flag Lot– lot lacking the requisite minimum lot width or frontage on an existing or proposed street, having direct access to the street through a narrow leg or land; sometimes known as a “land lot”

Final Plan- the subdivision or land development plan as to which final approval has been given by the municipality and other reviewing agencies

Floodplain– land areas adjoining streams or ponds subject to being flooded over some period of time (e.g., 500 years, 100 years, 10 years, etc.); in land development, usually taken to mean the 100-year flood

Frontage– the width of a parcel running along an existing or proposed street

Governing Body– officials elected by residents of a municipality whose powers and responsibilities are defined by state laws

Improvements– used in land development to include curbs, sidewalks, streets, storm water management, utility systems – everything on or off site except the building of structures

Land Development & Land Development Approval– synonym for subdivision or construction of a property; municipal and other approval of plan for the future development of a parcel that is kept as an entirety and not subdivided into individuals lots (typically non-residential property)

Land Planning– process undertaken at local, county and regional levels of government to project and provide for future land use needs on a broad range of issues, such as housing, commercial and other non-residential facilities, roads and transportation, schools and utilities

Lien– monetary right or interest in real estate held by one other than the owner of the property – e.g., mortgage lien

Moratorium– stoppage of some regulated activity by a governmental agency imposed in government’s exercise of its police powers to protect the public health, safety or welfare

Non-Conforming– a lot, structure or use that does not comply with the current zoning requirements but which was legal under the prior zoning; e.g., a 50’ wide lot in a zoning district that used to permit 50’ lot widths but which now requires 100’ of frontage on a street

Ordinance -law enacted by local governments

Planning Commission- common name for the municipal, county and regional planning bodies charged with formulating policies, strategies and recommendations concerning land use of property in their respective geographic areas

Preliminary Plan– in some jurisdictions, the first set of land development or subdivision plans submitted to a municipality in the approval process

Record Owner– owner named in a property deed whether or not it is recorded in the jurisdiction in which the property is located

Restrictive Covenants– any written provision that places limitations or conditions on some aspect of use of the property, such as size, location or height of structures, materials to be used in structure exterior, activities carried out on the property, or restrictions on future subdivision or land development

Rezoning– change granted by municipal governing body of zoning classification of a property

Setbacks– collectively, the areas of the front, rear and side yards of a parcel, the dimensions of which are defined by zoning classification in the zoning ordinance, where buildings are not permitted to be placed or constructed

Sketch Plan– to-scale plan of a parcel, prepared to illustrate a concept or development configuration; sometimes required as the first step in the subdivision and land development approval process

Special Exception– use allowed by municipal zoning board in accordance with specific standards and after a public hearing

Subdivision– the act of dividing a parcel into two or more separately deeded parcels so that title to each of them may be conveyed independently of the other; subdivision approval is the official permission granted by the municipal governing body to the dividing of the parcel and enabling the owner to record the plan of subdivision in the county courthouse

Subdivision & Land Development Ordinance– law enacted by a municipality regulating the subdivision and development configuration of property; deals with design standards for improvements and generally, everything that will have to be done to the property except the building of vertical structures

Subdivision Plans– collectively, a set of plans submitted by the applicant for subdivision approval; alternatively, the first sheet in the set of plans that is recorded after all of the municipal requirements have been satisfied

Topography– contours of a parcel measured in feet above sea level

Variance– relief granted by municipal zoning board from some requirement of a zoning ordinance as it relates to a specific property, such as a change in requirements for setbacks, height or lot width

Wetlands– environmentally sensitive areas of a parcel possessing the statute-defined conditions of vegetation, soil and hydrology

Yard- unoccupied space on a lot; front, rear and side yards are those areas measured from the front, rear and side boundaries respectively of the parcel, as defined by the zoning provisions for that zoning classification, where structures cannot be built

Zoning– function of government’s police power to regulate, restrict and control the use of land within its jurisdiction

Zoning Classification– defined category of land use; e.g., Village Commercial, Highway Commercial and Regional Shopping Center might be names of zoning classifications used for sub-categories of commercial use while R-1, AG and C Residential would apply to types of residential use

Zoning District geographic boundary on the zoning map of all land area having the same zoning classification

Zoning Map map showing the boundaries of zoning district in a municipality