Key Concepts in Real Estate: Land, Real Estate and Real Property



In this article, we will focus on three fundamental concepts: Land, Real Estate, and Real Property. These terms form the foundation of the real estate industry and are crucial for both real estate professionals and buyers and sellers. We will explore their definitions, physical characteristics and associated rights, as well as their relevance to real estate ownership.


Land is a fundamental resource in the real estate business. It includes the surface, everything that is naturally attached to it, the subsurface and the air space above the surface. This resource is immobile, indestructible and non-homogeneous. Its location is fixed and cannot be moved from one place to another. This means that the location of the earth is permanent and does not change over time.

Land = surface, all natural things attached to it, subsurface, and air above the surface.

Real Estate

Real estate, in its broadest sense, includes land and all permanent improvements made thereon. This includes any structure or building built on land. Real estate is a broader concept than land, encompassing both the land itself and permanent human additions.

Real estate = land + manmade permanent attachments

Real Property

Real ownership is an extension of real estate and refers to the legal rights associated with ownership of real estate. These rights are often described as the “bundle of rights.” Owners of real estate have certain rights that are protected by the United States Constitution.

Real property = real estate + bundle of rights

Constitution guarantees private ownership of real property.

Physical Characteristics of Real Estate

  1. Immobility (Immobility): The earth is immobile and cannot be moved from one place to another. Its location is permanent and fixed.
  2. Indestructibility (Indestructibility): The earth is indestructible as it extends below the surface and into the sky. Unlike improvements on land, such as buildings, the land itself does not depreciate.
  3. Non-homogeneity (Non-homogeneity): Each plot of land is unique due to its location. No two parcels of land are identical, meaning each property has its own distinctive characteristics.


  • land cannot be moved from one site to another; its location is forever fixed


  • land is permanent and cannot be destroyed since by definition it extends below ground and into the sky
  • since land is permanent, it does not depreciate
  • only improvements depreciate and are insurable


  • land is non-homogeneous; no two parcels of land are exactly the same since they have a different location

Land versus Real Estate

Real Estate as Property

The bundle of rights

Q ossession
T transfer
AND xclusion
AND ncumberable

Real Property Rights

Real property rights are divided into several categories:

  1. Airspace Rights (Airspace = air rights): These rights refer to space above the earth's surface and are relevant, for example, in the construction of skyscrapers and communication towers.
  2. Surface Rights (Surface (of the earth) = surface rights): These rights include the right to use and own the surface of the land. Owners of real estate have the right to build on the surface and make improvements.
  3. Subsurface Rights (Subsurface = subsurface or mineral rights): These rights cover the subsurface of the earth and can include the extraction of minerals, oil and gas.
  4. Water Rights (Water Rights): Water rights are divided into two main categories: the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, which gives the state control over water use, and riparian and coastal rights, which apply to water courses. water and bodies of water.
  • Doctrine of Prior Appropriation
    – state controls water usage
    – state grants usage permits
  • Riparian rights (rivers and streams)
    – applies to rivers and streams
    – if waterway is navigable: owners own land to water's edge
    – if waterway is not navigable: owners own land to midpoint of waterway
  • Littoral rights (lakes and seas)
    – applies to seas and lakes
    – abutting property owners own to high water mark
    – state owns underlying land

Memory Tip: R : River Riparian L:Lake littoral

Real Property (Real Property) vs. Personal Property

The distinction between real property and personal property is based on how an object is attached to the land and the owner's intentions. Items permanently attached to land are considered real property, while movable objects are considered personal property.

Real property

  • Land: Earth
  • Fixtures: Installations
  • Attachments: Attachments

Personal property

  • Chattels: Movable property
  • Trade fixtures: Accessories for commerce
  • Emblems: Pending fruits

Differentiation criteria: item is real or personal property depending on why, how item is attached to the real estate. Depends on the owners'

  • intention; adaptation; functionality; relationship of parties; contract provisions

Trade fixtures

  • personal property items temporarily attached to real estate in order to conduct business


  • plants or crops that are considered personal property despite being attached to land


  • real to personal property referred to as severity
  • personal to real property referred to as affixing

Factory-built housing – mobile homes and manufactured homes

  • units are real or personal property: real if permanently attached to ground; otherwise personal

Regulation of Real Property Interests

Real estate regulation is complex and covers multiple levels:

  1. Federal Regulation: The federal government grants property rights and controls broad land use standards. It also regulates anti-discrimination laws and environmental issues, such as flood zones and fair housing laws. – grants rights of ownership – controls broad land usage standards – regulates anti-discrimination laws
    – examples: land grants; federal flood zones; fair housing laws; FHA; EPA
  2. State Regulation: Each state has its own regulations that govern the real estate industry. This includes licensing laws, water rights and development regulations. – governs real estate business – sets regional usage standards – examples: licensing laws; water rights; development regulation
  3. Local Regulation: Local governments tax real estate and control specific land use through zoning and building permits. – levies real estate taxes – controls specific usage – examples: property assessing; zoning; building permits; tax levies
  4. Judicial Regulation: Courts apply the law and case law in real estate disputes. – applies case law and common law to disputes – contrasts with statutory law

Differences Between Legal Title and Equitable Title in Real Estate (Legal Title v. Equitable title)

Legal Title

The term "Legal Title” (Legal Title) refers to the complete and total ownership of real estate from a legal point of view. When someone holds Legal Title, they have all the absolute rights associated with the property. These rights include possession, use, transfer, exclusion, and the ability to encumber property. In other words, they have the authority to occupy the property, determine its use, sell or transfer it, prevent others from entering or using it, and use it as collateral for loans or mortgages.

Legal title

  • full legal ownership of property and the bundle of rights as they apply to it
  • contrasts with equitable title

In contrast to this, the “Equitable Title” (Equitable Title) refers to an interest or claim in property that may not give full ownership rights but is still significant. It is often associated with situations where certain contractual conditions must be met in order for the holder of Equitable Title to acquire full Legal Title. For example, if someone is purchasing a property through a retention of title sales contract or lease option agreement, they may have Equitable Title until all terms and conditions of the contract are met. Once these conditions are met, the Equitable Title holder can obtain full Legal Title to the property.

Equitable title

  • an interest that gives a lienholder or buyer the right to acquire legal title to a property if certain contractual conditions occur

Property Features

Properties can be categorized based on various characteristics. One of the main differentiations is the distinction between “Real Property” (Real Property) and “Personal Property” (Personal Property).

Real Property vs. Personal Property

Real Property

The term "Real Property” encompasses the land, along with any permanent structures or improvements attached to it. This can include houses, buildings, fences, trees and more. These attachments are often called “fixtures.”

Personal Property

On the other hand, "Personal Property” consists of elements that are not permanently attached to the land or structures. These items are also known as “chattels” (movable property). While personal property may be involved in a real estate transaction, it is not considered part of the property itself.

Tangible Property vs. Tangible Property Intangible Property

Another way to categorize property is to determine whether it is tangible or intangible.

Tangible Property

It refers to physical assets that can be touched, seen and felt. In the context of real estate, land and the structures on it are tangible property.

Intangible Property

Includes assets that lack physical presence. Examples in real estate may include easements, leases, or mineral rights. These rights and interests are related to the use of land but do not involve a physical object.

In summary, understanding the characteristics of property, the differences between Legal Title and Equitable Title, and the distinction between real property and personal property, as well as between tangible and intangible property, is essential in real estate transactions and the rights proprietary.


The concepts of Land, Real Estate and Real Property are fundamental to understanding ownership and the rights associated with land and improvements. These concepts are not only essential for real estate professionals, but also for buyers and sellers involved in real estate transactions. By understanding these fundamentals, we can make informed decisions in the exciting world of real estate.

Legal and Tax Disclaimer

Please be advised that the content presented in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The articles and information provided here are written from the perspective of a real estate agent affiliated with Keller Williams, and do not represent legal or tax counsel.

As the author, I am a licensed real estate professional under Keller Williams, holding Brokerage DRE License Number: #02197031. However, it is important to note that my expertise is in the field of real estate, and not in legal or tax matters. The insights and opinions shared on this blog are based on my experiences and knowledge in the real estate industry and should be treated as general guidance rather than definitive legal or tax advice.

For specific legal or tax concerns relating to any real estate transactions or investments, readers are strongly encouraged to consult with a qualified attorney or tax advisor who can provide tailored advice based on your individual circumstances and the latest legal and regulatory requirements.

The information on this blog is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind, and I, along with Keller Williams and its affiliates, disclaim all liability for any loss, damage, or misunderstanding arising from reliance on the information contained herein.

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