Real estate is the modern term for land and anything that is permanently affixed to it. Fixtures include buildings, fences, and things attached to buildings, such as plumbing, heating, and light fixtures. Property that is not affixed is regarded as personal property. For example, furniture and automobiles are items of personal property.
The sale and lease of real estate in the United States are major economic activities and are regulated by state and federal laws. The two major types of real estate transactions are commercial and residential. Commercial real estate involves the sale and lease of property for business purposes. Residential real estate involves the sale and rental of land and houses to individuals and families for daily living.
The sale of residential property is heavily regulated. All states require real estate agents and brokers, who earn a commission from the owner of real estate for selling the property, to be licensed. To obtain a license, a person must have a high school diploma, be at least eighteen years old, and pass a written test on real estate principles and law.
Since the 1970s, home buyers have been given additional protection under the law. Many states and municipalities require a seller of real estate to file a truth-in-housing statement. A seller must disclose any problems with the home, such as a wet basement or the presence of termites, on this statement. Failure to disclose this information can result in the revocation of the purchase agreement or a lawsuit by the buyers against the seller for fraud. In addition, some laws require an inspector to visit the property to determine if there are any problems.
Most purchases of residential real estate require the buyer to obtain a mortgage from a bank or other lending institution. The lending institution receives a security interest on the real estate, which means that if the borrower defaults in paying back the mortgage, the institution can foreclose on the property and resell it to pay off the mortgage debt.
The federal government enacted the Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act of 1974 (RESPA) (12 U.S.C.A. § 2601 et seq.) to ensure that the buyer of residential real estate is made aware of the many costs associated with the sale. RESPA mandates that a federally insured lending institution give the buyer advance notice of all the costs to be paid on the date of closing the transactions. These costs typically include the cost of property surveys, appraisals, title searches, brokers' fees, and administrative and processing charges.