The term real estate is one that we probably all associate with property, particularly buildings and homes, perhaps land as well, but in every day use it is far more common across the pond in the US rather than here in the UK. However, in the legal sphere the term is in standard use in the area of law known as real estate law – the law applying to all matters relating to the property market.
The value of the property market itself is vast. Across developed countries in 2002, The Economist estimated the market to be worth $68billion (77% of which is the residential property market) therefore also valuing it at 17% more than the total financial assets of these countries. What’s more, for the individuals or companies involved in the market, property often amounts to their biggest single asset and in the case of residential property, more pertinently and emotively, their home. The laws surrounding real estate are therefore often complex and the stakes dealt with are high.
What is Real Estate
As mentioned above real estate in a broad sense equates to what we term as property in everyday parlance. More specifically however, it refers to what are known as immovable objects owned by a party as opposed to movable objects that that party can take with them. In reality this definition covers objects such as land, the buildings thereon and other static objects which are attached to the land (or buildings), including crops and other natural resources found on that land. Conversely the objects which are not static come under the banner of possessions.
In addition to the physical elements of property the term also covers the rights that come with the ownership of that land such as the right to access it (or the air space above it), to mine it, to fish it etc.
In some legal contexts, and particularly in the UK, the term can be supplanted with the term real property (or just property) and instead real estate can be used, for example under probate law, more specifically to refer to a person’s share in property or real property at the time of their death.
What Does Real Estate Law Concern
Real estate law is therefore the area of law that deals with these estates/properties, the immoveable objects that are attached to them, any interests in them and the rights that come with them, although it can reach slightly outside of this (immovable object) brief when dealing with legal issues surrounding portable homes such as boats, caravans and mobile homes.
It comes under the wider area of law know as property law (although there are also many overlaps with contract law in practice), which itself concerns the rights that people have to objects that belong to people, and falls mostly under common law (law determined by precedents). The other area(s) of property law not covered by real estate law relate to the (non-fixed) possessions mentioned above or as they can otherwise be known chattels.
The law deals with both the commercial and residential property sectors; that is property owned by commercial enterprises for commercial use and property owned by private individuals or commercial enterprises for residential use respectively.
Within both of these sectors firms practicing real estate law will handle cases relating to the following:
Property transactions – including the buying, selling and leasing of property. The work done here by law firms to facilitate these transactions is termed conveyancing.
Development/construction – whether it be the construction of a new office block or an extension to a residential property
Ownership and occupancy disputes – the rights of tenants and landlords and matters relating to public housing, squatting, cooperative housing or shared apartments buildings etc.
Planning – the rights of land and building owners relating to land use
Rights of passage – rights of public to access or traverse land
Property investment – investment into property/real estate based funds or shares in investment syndicates.