Real estate investing can be a great way to build and grow wealth. But before you start, it’s important to understand essential real estate investment terms and definitions associated with the real estate industry.
This article is a primer to common real estate investment terminology such as cash flow, equity, appreciation, leverage, and more to help you better understand the basics of real estate investing.
By learning these 125 essential real estate investing terms, you’ll gain the foundational vocabulary you need to become a successful real estate investor.
Read on and discover what you need to know about the most common real estate investing terminology!
Table of Contents
125 Important Real Estate Investing Definitions
A 1031 exchange is a tax deferment opportunity provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and classified as a like-kind exchange. Normally, when a real estate investor sells a property, they must pay tax on the profit at the time of sale. Like-kind exchanges under IRC Section 1031 empower investors to postpone paying tax on the profit if they quickly reinvest the profits into a similar property.
506(b) / RegD 506(b)
Rule 506(b) in Regulation D of the Securities Act permits accredited investors and up to 35 sophisticated investors to participate in an investment without limit. However, Rule 506(b) states that no advertising of deals is permitted, and capital can only be raised from investors with a pre-existing relationship with the deal sponsor.
506(c) / RegD 506(c)
Rule 506(c) in Regulation D of the Securities Act are offerings exclusively available to accredited investors without limit. 506(c) investment opportunities require more work to verify the accreditation of all the investors but grants the ability to publicly advertise the investments to raise capital.
Learn more about Rule 506(b) vs. 506(c).
Absorption Rate is a real estate investing term that measures the rate at which real estate properties are sold in a specific area during a given period. It is an essential metric for investors as it provides insight into how quickly investments are being purchased and sold and helps to gauge overall real estate market health. To calculate the absorption rate, divide the total number of properties sold in a given time frame by the total number of properties available for sale.
An Accredited Investor is an individual or organization that meets particular net worth and income thresholds defined by the SEC. To qualify, an individual must have a net worth of over $1 million (excluding their primary residence). Alternatively, you can earn $200,000 as an individual or $300,000 as a married couple in the past two years with reasonable expectations to earn the same (or more) in the upcoming year.
An Acquisition Fee refers to the fee charged by commercial real estate investment firms or investors when they purchase a deal. Acquisition fees are paid by passive investors in the deal and cover things like the administrative, marketing, and operations costs associated with investing in commercial real estate.
Active Real Estate Investing
Active real estate investing is a type of real estate investing wherein investors actively participate in the material decisions of acquiring, operating, and selling income-producing properties. Learn more about active real estate investing.
Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM)
An Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) is a type of mortgage loan in which the interest rate changes periodically, typically based on the movement of a designated financial index. ARMs usually have an initial period with a fixed rate, after which the rate is adjusted periodically for the remainder of the loan term, meaning the amount of the mortgage payment can change from one month to the next.
After-Repair Value (ARV)
After-Repair Value (ARV) describes the estimated current market value of a real estate property after repairs and improvements have been made. This number is used to help determine the maximum price investors should pay for a property and how much lenders are willing to lend.
Amortization / Amortization Schedule
Amortization is the act of paying off a loan with regular payments. The amortization schedule is a table that outlines the amount of each payment, how much of each payment goes towards interest vs. principal repayment, and the remaining loan balance after each payment.
An appraisal is the evaluation of a property’s value conducted by an independent third-party appraiser who is certified in real estate valuation. Appraisals are used to determine the fair market value of a property so buyers, sellers, and lenders have a third-party opinion to consider for their respective due diligence.
Appreciation is the increase in a property’s value. Appreciation can result from an investor adding value to a property via renovations or the natural increase of the surrounding real estate market’s value over time.
Asset Management Fee
An asset management fee refers to the fee active investors charge for managing properties. This fee is often a percentage of the total investment and covers administrative costs associated with successfully operating assets, such as overseeing property managers, managing renovations, etc.
Blind Pool Fund
Blind pool funds are funds where passive investors invest in a fund without having a direct say or knowledge of the exact properties being acquired with the funds. These investments rely heavily on the fund sponsors’ reputations and give syndicators flexibility when raising money, which allows them to find attractive deals with cash at their disposal.
Breakeven Occupancy Rate
The breakeven occupancy rate is the occupancy rate at which an investment property breaks even financially. For example, if a property has a breakeven occupancy rate of 70%, it means any occupancy rate above 70% generates a profit.
Bridge loans are short-term loans that bridge the gap between an investor’s existing capital and an upcoming acquisition. Bridge loans generally cover fees, operating costs, and other expenses until the investment is fully funded.
The BRRRR Method (which stands for “Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat”) is a real estate investing method that involves buying a property, renovating it, renting it out, and refinancing it to pull cash out of the deal, and then repeating the process with another property.
Building Classifications categorize investment properties based on their condition, location, rent, and building materials. Building classifications consist of four ratings: A, B, C, and D, where A is the highest rating, and D is the lowest.
Capitalization Rate (Cap Rate)
The Cap Rate provides the expected rate of return on an investment property depending on the revenue you estimate the property will generate. Learn more about Cap Rate.
A capital call refers to a fund manager asking investors for additional money to close a deal.
Capital Expenditures (CAPEX)
Capital Expenditures are costs to fund the operation of an income-producing property, such as renovations, technology upgrades, management tools, etc.
Capital Gains Tax
The capital gains tax is a tax on profits earned from investments when they are sold or exchanged for a different property. Capital gains taxes are typically based on the difference between the original purchase price and the sales price of the property.
Capital Improvements are investments that involve modifying a property to increase its value. These modifications are usually made to increase the resale value of the property and can range from replacing the roof to adding a deck.
The Capital Stack refers to the various sources of funding used to finance an investment property. This can include equity, debt, mezzanine loans, and other sources.
Cash flow is the net monthly income generated from investment properties. To calculate cash flow, subtract all expenses (including mortgage payments) from the monthly income from the property.
Cash on Cash Return
Cash on cash return is an investment measure that indicates the rate of return on an investment property based on the cash income it produces. To calculate cash on cash return, divide the net operating income from the property by the total cash invested. The higher the ratio, the greater the potential returns.
Closing costs are expenses associated with completing a real estate transaction. These closing costs can range from 2–5% of the purchase price, depending on the location and type of property being bought or sold.
Common Area Maintenance (CAM)
Common Area Maintenance (CAM) is the maintenance of the shared areas in a property leased by multiple tenants. This includes parking lots, lobbies, and other shared areas.
Contingency refers to a clause or condition in a contract that must be met before the agreement is finalized. For instance, a contingency clause may require that the buyer obtains financing or receives all requested documentation before closing on the property.
Cost Segregation Study
A cost segregation study is a tax-planning technique used by active investors to classify certain building assets as depreciable property. This allows investors to take advantage of accelerated depreciation methods, which can result in significant tax savings over time.
Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR)
The DSCR determines the ratio of a property’s net operating income to its debt service obligations. A DSCR of 1.2 or higher is generally considered a healthy ratio for an investment, indicating the property generates sufficient income to pay off its debt and other expenses. Learn more about Debt Service Coverage Ratio.
Debt to Income Ratio (DTI)
DTI measures an investor’s total debt obligations with their gross monthly income. The DTI is calculated by dividing the sum of all monthly debt payments by the borrower’s monthly gross income. A high DTI ratio can indicate an individual is unable to afford the additional debt.
Deferred maintenance includes repairs that are neglected or postponed for a long period of time. Deferred maintenance can include everything from carpets in need of being replaced to a broken garbage disposal that hasn’t been working for months.
Depreciation is the decrease in a property’s value over time. Utilizing depreciation can be an effective way for investors to maximize returns because the depreciation tax benefit is generally more significant than the cash flow generated by the property.
When an investor sells a property, any depreciation taken over the years must be “recaptured” by the IRS, meaning that they will be taxed on any gain from the sale of the property.
Distributions are investors’ payments from rental income or profits from property sales. These payments are typically distributed regularly, such as quarterly or annually.
Downside Protection is a risk management strategy investors use to protect against losses in case of market downturns or property value declines.
Due diligence is the process of researching and investigating a real estate investment before purchasing. The process includes analyzing financial statements and market data, inspecting the property, verifying zoning regulations, and more.
Earnest Money is money given to a seller by the buyer as a sign of good faith that they’re serious about a transaction. The money is usually held in an escrow account until the sale is finalized.
An easement is a legal agreement between two parties that grants one party the right to use the other party’s property for a specific purpose. Common easements in real estate include utility lines, driveways, and access roads.
Equity is the cash value of the amount of ownership you have in a property. If you own a property individually, it’s the difference between the current fair market value of the property and the mortgage balance or unpaid debt.
The Equity Multiple is one metric that measures the return on investment a property can generate. It is calculated by dividing the total equity gain on a property by the amount of money initially invested in the property. Investors can use the equity multiple to compare investments and determine which one has the highest ROI potential. Learn more about equity multiple.
Escrow is a neutral third party, such as a title company or bank, that holds funds or documents on behalf of two parties to facilitate the completion of a real estate transaction.
Fixed Rate Mortgage
A fixed-rate mortgage is a real estate loan with a fixed interest rate, so the monthly mortgage payment remains the same for the entire loan life. This type of mortgage is beneficial because it provides stability since the monthly payment and interest rate will stay the same regardless of market fluctuations.
Flipping is the process of purchasing a distressed property below market value and renovating it to resell it at a higher price.
A floating rate means the interest rate on the loan can change periodically, usually in response to changes in the market.
Forced Appreciation is when investors increase the value of a property by making improvements or adding features without relying on appreciation from the current market value. Common forced appreciation strategies include renovations, remodeling, and adding amenities.
Foreclosure is a formal legal process by which a lender or bank reclaims a property from a borrower who has not paid their mortgage. When a property goes through foreclosure, it may be sold at a public auction or a private sale.
General Partner is a term used to describe a person actively involved in a real estate investment. A general partner is typically responsible for managing the operations and business plan of a real estate investment.
Gross Operating Income
Gross operating income measures the total income generated by a real estate investment before operating expenses are deducted. It is a good measure of the potential profitability of a property.
Gross Rent Multiplier (GRM)
Gross rent multiplier is a measure used to establish the value of an income-producing property. It is calculated by dividing the property’s purchase price by its annual gross rental income. A higher GRM indicates a potential opportunity for investors to purchase a property at a discounted purchase price.
Hard Money is financing provided by private lenders secured by the purchased property. This type of loan typically comes with a higher interest rate and shorter repayment terms than traditional bank loans, making it more expensive but more accessible for investors to access funds quickly.
Holding Period is a term used to describe the time an investor holds onto a property before selling it. This period is usually set at the beginning of an investment and can vary from a few months to many years.
The phrase House Hacking is a real estate investing method in which an investor purchases a single-family home or small multi-family property, such as a duplex or triplex, living in one of the units while renting out the other.
Inspections are third-party property evaluations used to detect existing or potential problems with a property before finalizing the sale. Inspections can include physical assessments of a home’s structure, interior and exterior components, and environmental testing to identify potential hazards such as radon or lead.
An interest-only loan is a type of real estate financing that allows borrowers to pay the interest on their loan without paying any principal amount. This type of loan can benefit investors by providing low monthly payments for a period of time.
An interest rate is a percentage that lenders charge investors for borrowing money. Interest is typically charged as a percentage of the loan’s principal amount and is paid in addition to principal payments over the life of the loan.
Internal Rate of Return
The Internal Rate of Return (IRR) measures the value a property generates for the time period it’s owned and helps investors assess the potential risk of an investment.
An investment property is a piece of real estate purchased specifically for generating income or profit instead of personal use or enjoyment.
A joint venture (or JV) is a business venture between two or more parties that allows them to share the profits and risks of real estate investing. Joint ventures can benefit investors by enabling them to pool their resources and gain access to otherwise unavailable capital.
K-1 Tax Form
A K-1 tax form reports income, deductions, and credits for real estate investments. This form reports the income, losses, and deductions from the investment to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
A property owner (often of residential properties) who leases units to tenants and is responsible for collecting monthly rent, making repairs, resolving tenant disputes, and other duties associated with managing the property.
An agreement between a landlord/seller and tenant/buyer where the tenant/buyer can rent the property with an agreement to acquire the property at a predetermined price and time.
Letter of Intent
A letter of Intent (LOI) is a document used by licensed real estate agents and investors to outline the key terms of an agreement before entering into a formal contract. LOIs are submitted by the prospective buyer’s real estate agent and benefit the buyers and sellers because they allow them to negotiate key terms before committing to an entire contract.
A term used to describe taking on debt to purchase more properties than you could afford with cash alone. Leverage results in potentially greater returns if done correctly but also carries additional risks.
A limited partner is a real estate investor who contributes capital to investments but does not participate in the day-to-day operations. Limited partners are not liable for any debts incurred by the investment, but also have no control over the property.
Liquidity is the ability to convert investments into cash quickly without significant loss of value. Real estate investments can be more illiquid than other investments, which means it may take longer to convert them into cash than other securities like stocks.
Loan Origination Fee
A loan origination fee is typically a percentage of the loan amount paid by the buyers to cover the costs associated with processing loan payments, and underwriting a loan.
Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV)
The Loan Value Ratio (LTV) measures the debt an investor takes on when investing in real estate. It is calculated by dividing the loan amount used to purchase a property by the total value of the property.
Loan-to-Cost Ratio (LTC)
Loan-to-Cost Ratio (LTC) measures the financing of a project with the cost of a project. It is primarily used for new construction projects and is calculated by dividing the loan amount used to purchase a property by the total amount it costs to build the project.
Long-term rental is where an investor purchases a property and rents it out for an extended period, typically one year or more. This type of investment can benefit investors by generating consistent cash flow from the rental income and appreciating over time.
The market value is the current value of a property based on the current market conditions.
Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
A Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is an area designated by the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB). MSAs have a large population nucleus and adjacent communities with high social and economic integration. MSAs are often large cities and their surrounding suburbs.
A mortgage is a real estate loan used to purchase real estate, typically secured by the property as collateral.
A real estate professional that serves as an intermediary between borrowers and lenders to arrange mortgages. Mortgage brokers typically have access to a wide range of mortgage products, and they can help investors secure the best rate and terms available.
Net Operating Income (NOI)
The NOI is the income that remains after deducting all expenses. Net operating income is a valuable metric for real estate investors to consider when evaluating potential investments, as it can help them determine the overall profitability of the investment.
A NNN Lease (also referred to as a triple net lease or net-net-net lease) is a type of real estate lease where the tenant is responsible for paying all costs associated with the rental property. This includes taxes, insurance, maintenance, and any other expenses.
A non-recourse loan is a type of loan where borrowers are not personally liable for repayment. Nonrecourse loans benefit real estate investors by providing more security and peace of mind if an investment fails.
An off-market property is a property that is not actively listed for sale on the market. Off-market properties can be an excellent way for real estate investors to access potential investments that may otherwise be unavailable.
An operating agreement is a contract between the property owner and property manager responsible for overseeing the property’s day-to-day operations. The agreement outlines each party’s responsibilities and rights.
Operating expenses refer to the costs associated with owning and operating real estate, such as taxes, insurance, utilities, legal fees, maintenance, and repairs. These expenses can be used to calculate the net income of a property for cash flow purposes.
An operator in real estate investing is a term for an individual or organization that manages the day-to-day operations of an investment. An operator is an integral part of a successful real estate investing team, as they can help ensure the property is managed efficiently and follows local laws and regulations.
Opportunity Zones are economically-distressed communities identified by the federal government for long-term investment. These areas are eligible for tax incentives and other benefits that make them more attractive to investors.
An oversubscription is when the demand for an investment exceeds the supply. This typically occurs when properties are offered at low prices or when investors see the potential for high investment returns.
Passive income in real estate investing refers to the revenue generated from income-producing properties without the need for actively working on or managing the property. Passive income can come in the form of dividends, cash flow, distributions, and profits from sales.
Passive Real Estate Investing
Passive Real Estate Investing is a type of real estate investing that allows investors to profit from properties without actively managing them. This type of investing can be a great way for investors to earn passive income, without needing a significant amount of time or cash.
Points refer to the fee that a borrower pays to a lender to secure a loan. Points are typically calculated as a percentage of the total loan amount and can also be used to reduce the interest rate on a loan.
A preferred return is a profit distribution preference where the profits from a property are distributed to investors with a preferred return before others. Once the established rate of return on the preferred return stakeholders’ is reached, additional profits are shared amongst other investors.
A prepayment penalty is a fee that a borrower pays if they pay off their loan before the term ends. This penalty is designed to protect lenders from the potential losses that could be incurred if borrowers choose to pay off their loans early.
Principal refers to the amount of money that needs to be repaid on a loan.
Principal & Interest (P&I) Payment
The P&I number is a loan repayment figure that includes the principal amount owed and interest charges.
Private money is money loaned by private investors to purchase cash flowing real estate or development projects. Private money is generally more expensive than traditional financing but can be easier to secure for quick investment opportunities.
Private Placement Memorandum (PPM)
A Private Placement Memorandum (PPM) is a legal document that outlines the key details and information about an investment opportunity. It contains details such as the investment objectives, risk factors, and potential returns associated with the investment.
A pro-forma is an essential financial tool real estate investors use to assess potential investments. It is a projection of a real estate investment’s expected revenue and expenses over a specific time.
Property Management Fees
Property management fees refer to the costs paid to the person or team managing an income property. Management responsibilities include finding tenants, collecting monthly rent, and handling maintenance tasks.
Property taxes are levied at the state or county level and must be paid in addition to regular loan payments on properties owned within their jurisdiction. Property taxes pay for local infrastructure, staff, and amenities.
Ratio Utility Billing System (RUBS)
A Ratio Utility Billing System (RUBS) is a system where property owners bill tenants based on the number of utilities they use. This system helps ensure that tenants are paying their fair share of utilities.
Real Estate Broker
Real estate brokers are licensed real estate professionals who act as intermediary agents between buyers and sellers in real estate transactions. Brokers provide their clients with a wide range of services, from helping them find suitable properties to negotiating sales contracts, arranging finance, and advocating on their behalf throughout the process.
Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)
A REIT is a company that sells shares of the company to investors, acquires and manages income properties, and returns the profits from the properties to the company shareholders.
Refinancing is paying off one loan with funds from a new loan to utilize the benefits of the new loan. Benefits of a new loan can include lower interest rates, longer repayment periods, or other more beneficial terms.
Rent Roll is essentially a list of all the current tenants and their respective rental payments. This data helps determine the amount of income generated from a real estate investment.
Rental income is the money received from properties leased to tenants. Rental income is one of the primary sources of revenue for real estate investors and can provide a steady, inflation-adjusted source of income.
Real Estate Owned (REO) Property
An REO property is a property that a lender repossessed due to the borrower’s inability to repay their loan. These properties are typically sold through real estate auctions, real estate services, and realtor networks to recoup some of the losses incurred by the lender.
Return on Equity (ROE)
Return on Equity (ROE) measures the profitability of an investment relative to the amount of equity invested. ROE is calculated by dividing the total net income produced by an investment over its lifetime by the total equity invested in it.
Return on Investment (ROI)
ROI is the overall return an investor can expect from an investment. ROI is calculated as the net income generated from the investment divided by the total cost of owning the property (including taxes and other expenses).
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the primary regulator of the securities industry in the United States. Its mission is to protect investors and ensure that the markets remain vibrant and efficient by enforcing laws that promote fair dealing, full disclosure, and sound financial practices. The SEC oversees the activities of stock exchanges, broker-dealers, investment advisors, mutual funds, and other real estate-related companies.
Seller financing is when sellers provide financing for their buyers instead of relying on traditional forms like bank loans or mortgages. Seller financing can allow buyers to purchase a property without needing credit checks, down payments, and other conventional loan requirements. In most cases, sellers can still receive a monthly payment and take back their loan if the buyer defaults on payments. Learn how to buy commercial property with no money down.
The process of selling real estate for less than what is owed on the mortgage or other liens. Short sales are often used as an alternative to foreclosure because they can help homeowners avoid foreclosure’s severe financial and credit impacts. Short sales can also allow investors to purchase a property at a discounted price.
Short-term rentals are residential properties rented out for short periods, typically less than 30 days at a time.
A sophisticated investor in real estate investing refers to an individual or entity with a wealth level and financial sophistication beyond the average investor. This type of investor typically has extensive experience with investing, understands the risks associated with real estate investing, and can make informed decisions independently.
A sponsor in real estate investing is an individual or group of individuals who serve as the managers and administrators of a property, ensuring all parties involved in the deal are informed and that the project plan is executed.
A survey is a physical inspection/measurement of land boundaries conducted before purchasing real estate. Surveyors are typically hired to measure the boundaries of a property to ensure that all structures and improvements comply with local zoning regulations.
Syndication in real estate investing is a collective investment strategy involving multiple investors pooling their resources to purchase and manage large real estate investments.
Tax Lien Certificates
These are certificates offered by local governments guaranteeing an investor will receive priority payments on any delinquent taxes when the taxpayer pays them off.
Tenant Improvements in real estate investing refer to any changes or upgrades that a tenant would like to make to the property they are renting. These improvements can include things like painting, replacing flooring, or remodeling. Tenant improvements are typically paid for by the landlord, who may be able to recover the cost of the upgrades through increased rent.
A title insurance policy safeguards against financial loss that may result from defects in the title to real property and mortgage liens that are not legally enforceable. Other types of insurance worth researching include homeowners insurance, private mortgage insurance, and mortgage insurance premium.
Underwriting is the process of evaluating the cash flow and potential ROI of a real estate deal. Underwriting is used by investors to determine whether or not they want to pursue a deal, as well as lenders to determine if they want to help fund a deal.
The vacancy rate in real estate investing is the percentage of rental units that are not occupied. It is calculated by dividing the number of unrented units by the total number of units.
Value-Add in real estate investing refers to any improvements or upgrades an investor can make to a property to increase its value. Common value-add strategies include renovating existing units or adding new features such as a swimming pool.
A waterfall is a payment structure that allows multiple participants to invest in a single real estate asset and share the cash flows and returns based on predetermined thresholds and investment levels. Waterfalls are typically used when large investments are made in a single asset, and the cash flows must be split among many investors.
Wholesaling in real estate investing is when someone purchases a property at a discounted price from the owner, then immediately sells it to another party at a higher price. This investment strategy requires minimal capital and allows wholesalers to quickly turn over properties for a healthy profit.
Yield in real estate investing is the rate of return that an investor can expect from an investment property. To calculate yield, divide the annual rental income from a property by its total market value. Yield can be expressed as an absolute number or as a percentage.
Zoning regulations are the laws and regulations that govern how land is used and developed. Zoning is a critical factor for real estate investors to consider when evaluating potential investments, as it can significantly impact the value and potential of an investment property.
Final Thoughts on Real Estate Investment Terms
Whether you’re interested in industrial properties, multifamily property, or residential properties, real estate investing can be an attractive way of building wealth and creating financial security. Learning the key real estate investing terminology is a crucial foundational step to being a successful investor.
From understanding the difference between commercial property and residential property to understanding how a down payment can impact the monthly mortgage payments or net cash flow, these terms will make up the vocabulary you use to make wise choices with rental properties and investments.
For additional resources to help you get started, read the complete guide to real estate investing for beginners.