The term real estate generally refers to ownership or use of land. Real estate law is a branch of civil law that covers the right to possess, use, and enjoy land and the permanent man-made additions attached to it. Real estate law directly or indirectly impacts most of us on a daily basis, affecting homeowners, renters, landlords, home buyers and home sellers.
In the United States, every state has exclusive jurisdiction over the land within its borders. Each state has the power to determine the form and effect of a transfer of real property in its jurisdiction. As a result, state law requirements vary significantly from state to state.
Real Property & Personal Property
There are generally two types of property: real property and personal property. Most of the legal concepts and rules associated with both types of property are derived from British common law. Back then, "real property," often shortened to just property, generally referred to land and fixtures upon land. In modern times, real estate has become an American umbrella term for buying, selling, renting and using land.
Specifically, real property is land and ordinarily anything erected on, growing on, or affixed to it, including buildings and crops. The term land, in its general usage, includes not only the face of the earth but everything of a permanent nature over or under it, including minerals, oil, and gases.
Personal property, meanwhile, is anything other than land that can be the subject of ownership, including stocks, money, notes, intellectual property as well as intangible property.
Real Estate Sales & Purchases
When a piece of property is sold, real estate brokers or agents are often hired by the seller to obtain a buyer for property. Real estate brokers, agents and salespeople are licensed and regulated by local state laws.
A real estate agreement between a buyer and seller of real estate is governed by general principles of contract law and individual state laws. The sale or transfer of real property is almost always required to be in writing. It is often required in real estate contracts that the title to the property sold be "marketable." An attorney or a title insurance company is frequently employed to investigate a title's legal marketability.
In order to pass title, a deed with a proper description of the land must be executed and delivered. Some states require that the deed be officially recorded to establish ownership of the property and/or provide notice of its transfer to subsequent purchasers.
Landlord / Tenant and Land Use Laws
In addition to the purchase or sale of lands, states typically regulate the renting or leasing of property for residential or commercial purposes. Such laws cover a range of practices, such as how security deposits are handled, evictions, and more.
State and local laws may also have a substantial effect on how owners use their property. Zoning and environmental laws affect development and construction projects. Further, community or homeowner association rules affect the use of property in many modern residential communities. FindLaw's Real Estate Center has in-depth information on buying a home, refinancing a home, selling a home, avoiding foreclosure, and more. You can find out what you need to know about renter's rights, finding the right mortgage, home equity loans, foreclosure, and a host of other real estate issues.