Lake Tahoe real estate: The foreign language of real estate |

Lake Tahoe real estate: The foreign language of real estate

Lisa Wetzel and Jim Valentine
Special to the Sun-Bonanza

Real estate has its own vocabulary adding to the mystery of the process to the newcomer. Add to that the fact that many real estate words come from foreign languages and you’ve got the makings of a communication challenge.

With the emotion of a typical residential transaction, the last thing Buyers and Sellers want is the need for a translator to understand what is going on. Knowing the meaning of some of the key or common words or phrases in real estate can help smooth things out.

Here are some examples:

Force majeure: an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled. Similar to and used with “act of God.” In most building contracts when they are talking about completion dates. A force majeure is an allowable reason for finishing the project past the agreed on completion date.

“With the emotion of a typical residential transaction, the last thing Buyers and Sellers want is the need for a translator to understand what is going on.”

Lis pendens: a suit pending. A lis pendens is recorded with the County Recorder to give constructive notice that a lawsuit is pending.

Cul de sac: literal translation from French is “bottom of the bag.” Used in real estate to describe a street closed at one end. Metes and Bounds: is not a children’s game. It is a way of describing land boundary lines by listing the compass directions and distances of the boundaries with their terminal points and angles.

Lien: Anglo-French origin with roots in Latin. A legal claim that someone has on the property of another person until a debt has been paid back. A Deed of Trust to secure a loan is a lien. Liens affect the title and must be cleared off on transfer, or assumed by the other party if that is allowed per the terms of the lienholder.

Amortize: from Middle English, Anglo French and Vulgar Latin, all referencing to kill and death. As you amortize your loan you “kill it off,” paying it down in installments. Root words also gave us a type of loan used in the eastern U.S., a mortgage. We use the word with Buyers asking them how long they want to amortize their loan for, i.e.- 15 or 30 years?

Caveat: is a warning, or caution, while “Caveat Emptor” means “let the buyer beware,” both rooted in Latin. In the old days of “gotcha” real estate Caveat Emptor was the buyer’s nemesis leading up to the many disclosure laws and forms that we now have to protect the Buyer.

Hypothecate: is from Medieval and Late Latin and Greek where the root word is to pledge. When you hypothecate you pledge as security without delivery of title or possession. In real estate when you use your property to secure a loan you hypothecate it by pledging it as security and keeping the title and possession of it.

Habendum Clause: is in deeds and usually begins with the phrase “to have and to hold.” From there it provides a description of the ownership rights of the transferee to the property, the person receiving it.

Escrow: is from the Anglo-French 1590s word escrowe, meaning scrap, rag, tatter. It originally was a deed delivered to a third person until a future condition is satisfied. That led to the use today of deposit held in trust or security. The Buyer gives the escrow holder their money, the Seller gives them their deed and when the conditions have been satisfied releases them accordingly. The escrow officer is a disinterested third party to the transaction.

Our Advice: Ask if you don’t understand. There are a lot of words that are used throughout the process when you are buying or selling a home. All deeds have a Habendum Clause.

If you get a loan it is usually amortized and secured by a Deed of Trust on your property that you hypothecate to secure it. And so it goes. It is done every day, and the words can be really strange.

Don’t be bashful. If someone says a word you don’t understand have them define it for you so you can understand what is going on in the property context. 

Communication is essential in real estate. Be sure you understand what is being communicated to you. You’ll be amazed how many people in the business don’t actually understand what they are parroting.

Like listening to your auto mechanic, or lawyer, you don’t need to know the business to understand what they are saying when they say it clearly in an orderly manner. The same applies to real estate.

Lisa Wetzel & Jim Valentine, CDPE, SFR, work for RE/MAX Realty Affiliates in the Carson Valley. Visit or call 775-781-5472 for information.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.