Real Estate Terms You Should Know When Selling A House

Even those with experience can have a hard time navigating the real estate process, regardless of whether or not they’re buying or selling. There are plenty of rules, laws, expectations, and processes that you need to be aware of. So for anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time working in real estate, it can feel very daunting. That’s why it’s so important to do your homework beforehand, not just when it comes to your house but how the entire home buying process will work. The more you understand and can see coming, the less likely it is that you’ll be tripped up by something you didn’t expect. Whether you’re buying, selling, or investing, here are 10 real estate terms you need to know.

Common Real Estate Terms


Whether you’re buying or selling a house on the open market, you’re probably going to be dealing with real estate agents. Sometimes they might be described as Realtors, which is a real estate agent who is also a member of the National Association of Realtors.couple listing their home with a real estate agent

You’ll want to understand the different types of agents you’ll come across. The buyer’s agent represents the party trying to buy the property. The listing agent represents the party selling the house or property. It is possible that one party or both of them will decide not to work with an agent but that is a rarity unless the person is themselves an expert. There are so many aspects to a real estate transaction that requires expertise and someone who understands how to navigate the rules and regulations. 

It’s important to note that one agent should never represent both parties in a real estate transaction. That’s a conflict of interest and does not put you in the best position to get the most out of the transaction.


A home appraisal is how you determine a piece of real estate’s value. Appraisals are going to take place in every real estate transaction and can determine whether or not the final sale price is appropriate given the location, condition, and features of the property. If the appraisal varies greatly from the agreed-upon value of the home, it can force the deal to be renegotiated or even canceled. Appraisals are also used during refinance transactions as a way to determine if the lender is providing the appropriate amount of money.


Sometimes referred to as a purchase and sale contract or purchase contract, this is the document that outlines the terms of the property sale. Once both the buyer and seller agree on a price and terms, a property is said to be “under contract.” Contracts are often dependant on things such as the appraisal, inspection, and financing approval. They can also be amended given the results of inspections or contingencies in favor of the party who sees a value decrease.

couple about to sign a contract to sell their houseClosing Costs

Closing costs can be a nebulous term but they basically include all of the expenses and fees above and beyond the purchase price that you will have to pay before closing on the sale. They are varied depending on your municipality, but often include attorney fees, title search fees, title insurance, taxes, homeowners insurance, and others. Some closing costs are considered negotiable with the entities that get them as well as with between the seller and buyer. Often, a buyer will ask the seller to cover some closing costs to entice them to buy the house. 

The specific amount you’ll pay in closing cost varies depending on the size of the loan, local tax laws, and other factors, but is usually around two to five percent of the purchase price. So if someone purchased a house for $300,000, they can expect closing costs to be in the $6,000 – $15,000 range. 

Earnest Money

Earnest money is often confused as the down payment but that’s not exactly correct. Earnest money is, in essence, a good-faith gesture from the buyer to let the seller know that you are very serious about buying the house. There are numerous factors involved with ensuring that the earnest money provided satisfies the seller. The buyer is also given a set of requirements that the seller needs to meet in order to keep the earnest money. If those requirements are not met, the buyer can often get back some or all of that earnest money.


Escrow in real estate terms is meant to be a third party who acts as an unbiased central control on the real estate transaction to ensure both parties stay accountable. Once both sides of the transaction have agreed to all terms and gone under contract, a third party (the escrow)  is brought in to handle the process. Escrow ends up managing many aspects of the sale from here on out, including the transfer of buyer’s loan documents and property taxes, ensuring that the title does not have any liens, and transferring ownership once all of the requirements are met. 


In any real estate transaction, a licensed inspector will visit the property and creates a report that outlines its condition and also notes any necessary repairs needed to meet the contract requirements. A buyer will do their own inspection as part of the contingencies in order to make sure the home is being sold as promised. Plus, their lender is going to require one as well. Based on the results, the buyer can ask the seller to cover things like repair costs or reduce the price overall. They may also decide not to buy the house if it is revealed there are extensive issues not previously disclosed. 


When a buyer decides that they want to purchase a house, they make an offer. The offer can be at the price the seller asks, it can be for less, or it can even be for more. It all depends on market conditions and whether or not other buyers are making offers as well. The buyer will usually have to provide proof that they can satisfy the full price and should be prepared to provide earnest money. If the seller accepts, that offer becomes the purchase contract. The seller can also make a counteroffer if they feel as though they want more money than the buyer is offering. Or they could reject the offer outright if they don’t like it or have a different offer they prefer.

Real Estate Investor

For lots of reasons, some sellers don’t want to list their property on the open market. There are so many costs, fees, and requirements that it can feel daunting and not worth the hassle. It could be because the house comes with conditions that make it hard to find a buyer (financial concerns, water damage, tenants who won’t leave). They may also need to sell their home quickly because of relocation or lifestyle change. A real estate investor (or direct home buyer) will purchase property for cash without the need for inspections, agent commissions, or listing fees. They also buy the house as-is, which means no need for repairs or renovations. And they will often make the deal within days, depending on how fast you need to sell.

Title & Title Insurance

The document that provides evidence as to who is the lawful owner of a property is called the title. Title insurance is what protects the owner of the property (as well as any lender on that property) from loss or damage that could come from liens or defects. Unlike most insurances that protect against what can happen, title insurance protects the holder from anything that may have happened previously and was unknown beforehand.

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