Simplified List Real Estate Law Terms

(in order of appearance)

If you are one of the more than 1.5 million annual first-time home buyers (or even a fourth or fifth time buyer), it's completely natural to have questions. There are a lot of terms your real estate agent, loan officer and real estate attorney will throw around that you have no reason to know.

Here, I'll share some common terms you will likely see come up throughout the process. 

See any that I missed and still have questions? It's ok, call me.

Listing:  Advertisement of real estate

Pre-Qualification: Letter indicating amount of money buyer is qualified to borrowing based on initial conversation with mortgage professional. 

Pre-Approval: Letter indicating amount of money buyer is approved to borrow based on financial documents provided to mortgage professional. 

Offer: Formal written proposal from buyer to seller indicating what is being purchased, proposed purchase price, and key dates.

Loan Estimate: A formal written list of fees reasonably expected to pay as part of the borrowing process. 

Contingency: An event that needs to occur for the parties to be obligated.  A buyer’s contingency is to obtain financing.  

Initial Deposit:  Small amount of money ($500.00-$1,000.00) held as security of initial offer. 


Fixture: Anything physically connected to the real estate, the removal of which causes damage. Fixtures come with the property unless stated otherwise.   

Personal Property:  Items not connected to real estate, such as refrigerator, washer and dryer, but to be included with the sale of the real estate.  Personal property will be removed, unless stated otherwise. 

Contract: Upon acceptance of terms in offer, buyer and seller have a legal obligation to buy and sell real estate (respectively); to not perform that obligation holds a legal consequence.

Buyer’s obligations are subject to a satisfactory home inspection.  

Home Inspection:  A physical inspection of every part of the home, performed by a qualified professional lasting roughly 3-4 hours. 

Closing Cost Credit: Funds to be transferred from seller to buyer at the time of closing, occasionally negotiated as a result of outstanding items indicated in the home inspection. 

Purchase and Sale Agreement (P&S): The final comprehensive contract between buyer and seller including the terms of the offer and any changes as a result of the home inspection.

Escrow:  Money of one being held by another to be released under certain terms.  Typically, deposits are held by a Real Estate Brokerage or law office.   

Lender’s Application Disclosures:  Lender’s formal documents executed by buyer to finalize loan application. 

Buyer’s Application Supporting Documents:   Formal documentation supporting loan application, i.e. evidence of income, tax information, bank statements and other asset documentation.  

Earnest Money Deposit: The amount of buyer’s money held as security to be applied to the overall purchase price at closing. In the case of buyer’s breach of contract, the seller retains the deposit.  (Deposit is typically three to five percent of the purchase price.)


Down Payment:  The difference between the purchase price of real estate and the amount being financed to purchase.   (By Example, in a $200,000.00 purchase where the buyer is financing $175,000.00, a typical deposit being held in escrow is $10,000.00, delivered at the time of P&S; total down payment is $25,000.00, the remainder of $15,000.00 is to be delivered at closing.)

Appraisal:  The lender’s review of the Real Estate, determination of monetary value and compliance.

Title Exam:  Review of the legal ownership of the Real Estate for the previous 50 years. 


Plot Plan:  An overview of the structures as they exist upon the land, based on public records.

Settlement Agent:  The party responsible for holding and disbursing funds upon transfer of title.

Mortgage Commitment:  Lender’s written approval of buyer to purchase the Real Estate, subject to terms out of the buyer’s control.  

Clear to Close:  Lender’s final approval of items and terms in mortgage commitment. 

Closing Disclosure:  Formal written document containing final closing costs to Buyer received and acknowledged at least 3 days prior to closing. 


Walk-Through:  Final visit to real estate to ensure property is delivered per the P&S agreement.  

Broom Clean:  All personal property and debris removed from real estate.  

Closing:  The execution of documents and exchange of funds to transfer ownership of real estate.

Recording:  The filing of documents in the appropriate County Registry of Deeds, providing actual “notice” of the transfer of ownership.   In a standard transaction, upon recording, Buyer can move in, and money changes hands.