This is the second article (see the first one here) in our series on the specific terms and phrases you can encounter during a real estate transaction. The language of escrow and the real estate transaction doesn’t need to be a stumbling block; once you know the terms, these words become what they are meant to be – valuable tools to help smooth the road to a successful transaction.


This is a clause in the sales contract that says something must happen before the sale goes through. The sale is contingent on this event, in other words. Common contingencies are the arrangement of financing, a successful home inspection or wood pest inspection, or a roofing or sewer report. Negotiate contingencies carefully, as they can cause the failure of a deal.


The Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 is important if you are buying a property from a person or corporation that is not US-resident. It is up to you to find out if the seller is a foreigner. FIRPTA rules state that the buyer must withhold 10% of the realized sale price for tax purposes. A common exception is if you are buying a personal residence for under $300,000. Talk to your broker or escrow officer, who will know all the details.


The California version of FIRPTA, this legislation requires the withholding of a percentage of the sales price for most California real estate transactions. Talk to your realtor or escrow officer to get a full explanation of how this law affects your transaction.


An easement is an allowance, written into the property’s title, for another person or company to have access to a portion of the land for some purpose. Often an easement allows access to power lines or utilities running through the property. A registered easement gives the other party legal access, and restricts what the owner can do on that piece of the property.


An encroachment is any structure or physical thing that intrudes on somebody else’s space. This could be a neighbor’s building or fence encroaching on your land, your building or other structure encroaching on your neighbor, or your structure encroaching on city or state property. Encroachments must be agreed upon before building, resolved if discovered, or removed if objected to.

Watch for more terminology posts in the months ahead.

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