50 Real Estate Terms Every Buyer Needs to Know

You don’t need a real estate license to find your dream home, but it does help to become familiar with real estate jargon you might encounter during the process. When searching for a home or applying for a mortgage, you may hear your real estate agent or lender use any of the terms or acronyms below.

Keep this four-part guide handy — you’ll be fluent in the language of home buying before you know it.

When you’re searching for a home

Approved for short sale: A term that indicates that a homeowner’s bank has approved a reduced listing price on a home, and the home is ready for resale.

Buyers market: Market conditions that exist when homes for sale outnumber buyers. Homes sit on the market a long time, and prices drop.

Comparative market analysis (CMA): An in-depth analysis, prepared by a real estate agent, that determines the estimated value of a home based on recently sold homes of similar condition, size, features and age that are located in the same area.

Comps: Or comparable sales, are homes in a given area that have sold within the past six months that a real estate agent uses to determine a home’s value.

Days on market (DOM): The number of days a property listing is considered active.

Listing price: The price of a home, as set by the seller.

Multiple listing service (MLS): A database where real estate agents list properties for sale.

Sellers market: Market conditions that exist when buyers outnumber homes for sale. Bidding wars are common.

Short sale: The sale of a home by an owner who owes more on the home than it’s worth. The owner’s bank must approve a lower listing price before the home can be sold.

When you’re applying for a mortgage

Back-end ratio: One of two debt-to-income ratios that a lender analyzes to determine a borrower’s eligibility for a home loan. The ratio compares the borrower’s monthly debt payments to gross income.

Depository institutions: Banks, savings and loans, and credit unions. These institutions underwrite as well as set home loan pricing in-house.

Debt-to-income ratio (DTI): A ratio that compares a home buyer’s expenses to gross income.

Housing ratio: One of two debt-to-income ratios that a lender analyzes to determine a borrower’s eligibility for a home loan. The ratio compares total housing cost (principal, homeowners insurance, taxes and private mortgage insurance) to gross income.

Loan estimate: A three-page document sent to an applicant three days after they apply for a home loan. The document includes loan terms, monthly payment and closing costs.

Loan-to-value ratio (LTV): The amount of the loan divided by the price of the house. Lenders reward lower LTV ratios.

Origination fee: A fee, charged by a broker or lender, to initiate and complete the home loan application process.

Pre-approval: A thorough assessment of a borrower’s income, assets and other data to determine a loan amount they would qualify for. A real estate agent will request a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter before showing a buyer a home.

Pre-qualification: A basic assessment of income, assets and credit score to determine what, if any, loan programs a borrower might qualify for. A real estate agent will request a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter before showing a buyer a home.

Underwriting: A process a lender follows to assess a home loan applicant’s income, assets and credit, and the risk involved in offering the applicant a mortgage.

When you’re shopping for a mortgage

Conventional loan: A home loan not guaranteed by a government agency, such as the FHA or the VA.

Down payment: A certain portion of the home’s purchase price that a buyer must pay. A minimum requirement is often dictated by the loan type.

Fannie Mae: A government-sponsored enterprise chartered in 1938 to help ensure a reliable and affordable supply of mortgage funds throughout the country.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA): A government agency created by the National Housing Act of 1934 that insures loans made by private lenders.

FHA 203(k): A rehabilitation loan backed by the federal government that permits home buyers to finance money into a mortgage to repair, improve or upgrade a home.

Foreclosure: A property repossessed by a bank when the owner fails to make mortgage payments.

Freddie Mac: A government agency chartered by Congress in 1970 to provide a constant source of mortgage funding for the nation’s housing markets.

Mortgage broker: A licensed professional who works on behalf of the buyer to secure financing through a bank or other lending institution.

Mortgage interest rate: The price of borrowing money. The base rate is set by the Federal Reserve and then customized per borrower, based on credit score, down payment, property type and points the buyer pays to lower the rate.

Piggyback loan: A combination of loans bundled to avoid private mortgage insurance. One loan covers 80% of the home’s value, another loan covers 10% to 15% of the home’s value, and the buyer contributes the remainder.

Principal, interest, property taxes and homeowners insurance (PITI): The components of a monthly mortgage payment.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI): A fee charged to borrowers who make a down payment that is less than 20% of the home’s value. The fee, 0.3% to 1.5% of the yearly loan amount, can be canceled in certain circumstances when the borrower reaches 20% equity.

Points: Prepaid interest owed at closing, with one point representing 1% of the loan. Paying points, which are tax deductible, will lower the monthly mortgage payment.

When you’ve chosen a home

American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI): A not-for-profit professional association that sets and promotes standards for property inspections. Look for this accreditation or something similar when shopping for a home inspector.

Cash-value policy: A homeowners insurance policy that pays the replacement cost of a home, minus depreciation, should damage occur.

Closing costs: Fees associated with the purchase of a home that are due at the end of the sales transaction. Fees may include the appraisal, the home inspection, a title search, a pest inspection and more. Buyers should budget for an amount that is 1% to 3% of the home’s purchase price.

Contingencies: Conditions written into a home purchase contract that protect the buyer should issues arise with financing, the home inspection, etc.

Earnest money: A security deposit made by the buyer to assure the seller of his or her intent to purchase.

Escrow account: An account required by a lender and funded by a buyer’s mortgage payment to pay the buyer’s homeowners insurance and property taxes.

Escrow state: A state in which an escrow agent is responsible for closing.

Home inspection: A nondestructive visual look at the systems in a building. Inspection occurs when the home is under contract or in escrow.

Homeowners insurance: A policy that protects the structure of the home, its contents, injury to others and living expenses should damage occur.

In escrow: A period of time (30 days or longer) after a buyer has made an offer on a home and a seller has accepted. During this time, the home is inspected and appraised, and the title searched for liens, etc.

Title insurance: Insurance that protects the buyer and lender should an individual or entity step forward with a claim that was attached to the property before the seller transferred legal ownership of the property or “title” to the buyer.

Transfer taxes: Fees imposed by the state, county or municipality on transfer of title.

Under contract: A period of time (30 days or longer) after a buyer has made an offer on a home and a seller has accepted. During this time, the home is inspected and appraised, and the title is searched for liens, etc.

Walkthrough: A buyer’s final inspection of a home before closing.

When you own a home

Equity: A percentage of the home’s value owned by the homeowner.

Homeowners association (HOA): The governing body of a housing development, condo or townhome complex that sets rules and regulations. They charge dues used to maintain common areas.

Property tax exemption: A reduction in taxes based on specific criteria, such as installation of a renewable energy system or rehabilitation of a historic home.

 The government’s legal claim against property when the homeowner neglects or fails to pay a tax debt.

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