Real Estate

Real Estate in the United States

Real Estate Definition

Landed property, Including all estates and interests in lands which are held for life (according to the definition of Real Estate based on the Cyclopedic Law Dictionary) or for some greater estate, and whether such lands be of freehold or copyhold tenure. Wharton. See more about Real Estate in the legal Dictionaries.

Legal Materials

Westlaw has a database for real estate news articles (RPNEWS). Lexis has a file of articles from real estate trade journals (REALTY;PUBS), including Shopping Center World (NEWS;SHOPCW).

The Jack Brouse Real Estate Library at New York University’s Real Estate Institute has an excellent collection of resources in very practical areas such as: shopping centers, hotels, coops & condos, REITS, among others. They are open to the public, a terrific resource if you can get there. Check out their Research Guides and/or search their Catalog to identify useful materials.

The Real Estate Research Institute posts abstracts of real estate-related research papers on the Internet. You can buy the full articles from the Institute.

Land Records: Many states, cities and counties now post images of deeds, mortgages and other land records online. If you can’t find a government site, or if you need more information, try Zillow, which is free. Fee-based land records services include Data Tree’s DocEdge service and/or Lexis. If you just need deeds, Westlaw has a deed image database (DEEDIMAGES). Otherwise, you will probably have to send someone to the local Recorder of Deeds office to get copies of land records.

The National Conservation Easements is compiled by a nonprofit organization called the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities, Inc. The database is not comprehensive, but is potentially useful for searching.

For additional information about a property, check the relevant tax assessor’s database (usually either state-wide or for the particular county).

See also “Title Searches,” below.

Foreclosure: Many states post information on foreclosure actions, either in separate databases or in their regular docket databases (see “Docket Sheets” and “Liens” in this legal Encyclopedia). Westlaw offers a selection of “pre-foreclosure databases” with records of lis pendens notices, default notices and notices of sheriff’s sales (RPF-ALL to search all the available states; RPF-xx for an individual state).

Landlord-Tenant: Landlord-Tenant law is generally governed by state law. The leading treatise in the field is Friedman on Leases (PLI), but there are also many state specific treatises (e.g., Maryland Landlord-Tenant Law). You can find state-specific L&T treatises by by looking in Searching the Law: The States by Francis R. Doyle (last published in 2003) or by searching the online catalog of a law school or government law library in that state.

To determine whether a landlord has a duty to mitigate the damages in the case where the tenant defaults, see Appendix 16A of Friedman on Leases and/or the article, “Landlord’s duty, on tenant’s failure to occupy, or abandonment of, premises, to mitigate damages by accepting or procuring another tenant” (75 A.L.R.5th 1).

Note: The “Tanbook” is the nickname for a desk book officially title, New York Landlord-Tenant Law (LexisNexis).

Leases, Commercial: For a review of the relevant law in each state, see the State-by-State Guide to Commercial Real Estate Leases (Aspen Publishers). Insider’s Best Commercial Lease Clauses (Vendome Group) is good for forms. The Commercial Lease Law Insider (now by the Vendome Group, formerly Brownstone Publishers) is a good periodical for current awareness. Aspen and Vendome both have additional publications on the topic.

Pollution: You can identify all the pollution sources in a city, county or zip code in the U.S. using the EPA’s Envirofacts Quick Start! search.

REITs: The National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT) posts lots of REIT-related information, especially in the “Documents on Demand” section. The site also has a bibliographic database called RealSource that lets you search for journal articles related to all aspects of real estate, but you have to get a password (which takes 24-hours and I think costs money if you go beyond the 30-day trial period). Standard & Poor’s rates stock and debt issued by REITs. Subscribers can get deep data on REITs from the CRSP/Ziman Real Estate Database.

Sale Prices: Many states and municipalities provide free searches to find records of real property sales, including sale prices; BRP Publications posts annotated links to many of these Web sites (choose the state and then find the “Real Estate” links). For private homes, you can also use Zillow. In addition, all the fee-based databases discussed in the “Title Searches” section, below, also provide sale prices.

On the city-wide or national level, the leading measure of U.S. home prices is Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller home price index. Data is posted back to 1987. Figures are also available from the Office of Federal Housing Oversight (OFHEO), which covers homes financed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which reports the aggregate price of homes sold (rather than whether the price of an individual home would go up or down).

Title Searches: You can generally find out who owns a parcel of property by using one of the several public records databases offering real estate ownership & sales records. Many states and municipalities post free databases online (see, e.g., the “Property” links on or BRP Publications). Otherwise, leading fee-based vendors include Accurint, Lexis and These vendors also have databases with lien, mortgage and foreclosure information.

For more sophisticated results, you can try pulling a History and Vesting Report from DocEdge.

For the most current and reliable information, however, send a professional title searcher to the relevant Recorder-of-Deeds’ office for a comprehensive search.

Valuation: The materials used by appraisers to accurately value real estate are published by Marshall & Swift. For a quick estimate of a property’s value many people use Zillow, but we recommend focusing on the “comparable sales” and, if possible, visiting the homes. If you look up the last sale price for a residential property (see “Sale Prices,” above), the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Home Price Index Calculatorwill figure the current price based on average property values.

Main Topics of Real Estate

This entry in the American Encyclopedia has been organized to address the following topics, among others:

  • Real Estate : Boundary/Property/Title Disputes
  • Real Estate : Buying and Selling/Mortgages
  • Real Estate : Condominiums/Co-ops
  • Real Estate : Contractors/Liens
  • Real Estate : Easements
  • Real Estate : Foreclosure
  • Real Estate : Homeowner’s Liability/Safety
  • Real Estate : Housing Discrimination
  • Real Estate : Insurance (Homeowners and Renters)
  • Real Estate : Landlord/Tenant Rights
  • Real Estate : Neighbor Relations
  • Real Estate : Renters’ Liability
  • Real Estate : Timeshares
  • Real Estate : Trespassing
  • Real Estate : Zoning

Real Estate in Foreign Legal Encyclopedias

For starting research in the law of a foreign country:

Link Description
Real Estate Real Estate in the World Legal Encyclopedia.
Real Estate Real Estate in the European Legal Encyclopedia.
Real Estate Real Estate in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia.
Real Estate Real Estate in the UK Legal Encyclopedia.
Real Estate Real Estate in the Australian Legal Encyclopedia.

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See Also

  • Real Estate Agent
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Real Estate Appraisal
  • Real Estate Brokers
  • Real Estate Investment Trusts
  • Real Estate Tax Judgment Sales
  • Real Estate Tax Judgment Sales Redemption
  • Certificates Of Real Estate Value
  • Real-estate Broker
  • Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act Of 1974
  • Neighborhood Real Estate Trusts
  • Purchase Money Real Estate Mortgages
  • Real Estate Investment Trust
  • Adjustment Of Charges And Income (Real Estate)
  • Estate Planning
  • Docket Sheets
  • Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation
  • Federal National Mortgage Association
  • Liens
  • Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits (REMICs)
  • Parking Lots and Parking Garages
  • Rent Control
  • Rent Stabilization
  • Trade Journals
  • Unit Trusts

Further Reading

Real Estate: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Real Estate. This part provides references, in relation to Real Estate, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Real Estate by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Real Estate and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Real Estate or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Real Estate and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Real Estate. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Real Estate should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Real Estate when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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