What is Real Estate?

Are you curious about the world of real estate? This article provides a comprehensive overview of what it entails and why it matters.
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Have you ever heard the term "real estate" and wondered what it means? It's a term that's thrown around a lot, but not everyone knows what it entails.

Real estate is a broad industry that encompasses everything from buying and selling properties to managing and developing land. It's a sector that plays a significant role in our everyday lives, yet many people are unaware of its intricacies.

In this article, we'll explore the definition of real estate, its different categories, and the various roles it plays in our economy.

Whether you're a first-time homebuyer or simply curious about the industry, this guide will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of what real estate is all about.

What is Real Estate
Real Estate

Real estate is real property that consists of land and improvements, which include buildings, fixtures, roads, structures, and utility systems.

What is Real Estate?

Real estate is a term used to describe the real property, which is comprised of land and any associated improvements. These improvements can include buildings, fixtures, roads, structures, utility systems, and other features that contribute to the overall value of the property.

Property rights are an important aspect of real estate, as they give the owner a title of ownership to both the land and any associated improvements. This means that the owner has the right to use, sell, or lease the property as they see fit, and can also control any natural resources that may be present on the land, such as minerals, plants, animals, or water.

Real estate can be a valuable asset for individuals and businesses alike, as it can provide a source of income through rental or leasing agreements, as well as potential profits from buying and selling properties.

Understanding the basics of real estate can help individuals make informed decisions when it comes to buying, selling, or investing in properties.

What are the Types of Real Estate?

Real estate is a broad term that encompasses various types of properties. Below are the different types of real estate:

Residential real estate

This type of property is used for residential purposes, such as a place of residence or a dwelling. Examples of residential properties include single-family homes, condos, cooperatives, duplexes, townhouses, and multifamily residences.

Commercial real estate

Commercial properties are used exclusively for business purposes. Examples include apartment complexes, gas stations, grocery stores, hospitals, hotels, offices, parking facilities, restaurants, shopping centres, stores, and theatres.

Industrial real estate

This type of property is used for manufacturing, production, distribution, storage, and research and development. Examples of industrial properties include warehouses, factories, and research facilities.


Land includes undeveloped property, vacant land, and agricultural lands such as farms, orchards, ranches, and timberland.

Special purpose

This type of property is used by the public for specific purposes, such as cemeteries, government buildings, libraries, parks, places of worship, and schools. These properties are typically owned by the government or non-profit organizations.

The Economics of Real Estate

Real estate plays a crucial role in driving an economy. Housing starts, which refer to the number of new residential construction projects initiated in a given month, are a key economic indicator released by the US Census Bureau.

The report provides data on building permits, housing starts, and housing completions for different types of homes, including single-family homes, homes with 2-4 units, and multifamily buildings with five or more units, such as apartment complexes. Investors and analysts closely monitor housing starts as it provides a general sense of economic direction.

Moreover, the types of new housing starts can offer insight into how the economy is developing. If housing starts indicate fewer single-family homes and more multifamily starts, it could signal an impending supply shortage for single-family homes, leading to a rise in home prices. The chart below illustrates housing starts over 20 years, from January 1, 2000, to February 1, 2020.

20 years of housing starts. Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Real estate, particularly the housing market, has a significant impact on consumer spending, employment rates, and interest rates. The performance of the real estate market can have a ripple effect on the broader economy, affecting industries such as construction, banking, and insurance.

How to Invest in Real Estate

Investing in real estate can be done in various ways. The most common ways are homeownership investment, rental properties, and house flipping. Another type of real estate investor is a wholesaler who contracts with a seller and then finds a buyer for the property. The earnings from investing in real estate come from revenue generated from rent or leases and appreciation of the real estate's value.

Real estate's value is significantly influenced by its location and factors such as employment rates, the local economy, crime rates, transportation facilities, school quality, municipal services, and property taxes. Real estate investment also has its pros and cons, such as offering steady income, capital appreciation, diversification of portfolio, leverage, and requiring big initial capital outlay but can be illiquid and require active management and expertise.

One way to invest in real estate indirectly is through a real estate investment trust (REIT), which is a company that holds a portfolio of income-producing real estate.

There are several types of REITs, including equity, mortgage, and hybrid REITs. These are classified based on how their shares are bought and sold, such as publicly-traded REITs, public non-traded REITs, and private REITs.

The most popular way to invest in a REIT is to buy publicly-traded shares, which trade on an exchange like any other security. Income from REITs is earned through dividend payments and appreciation of the shares.

Another option for investing in real estate is through mortgage-backed securities (MBS), such as through the Vanguard Mortgage-Backed Securities ETF (VMBS) or the iShares MBS ETF (MBB), which track various mortgage-backed securities indexes and can provide liquidity, diversification, and steady dividends.

However, investing in MBS has its downsides, such as low growth and capital appreciation, not being tax-advantaged, and is subject to market risk and high fees.

Lastly, it is important to note that mortgage lending discrimination is illegal, and if you think you have been discriminated against based on certain characteristics, there are steps you can take, such as filing a report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

What Are the Best Ways to Finance a Real Estate Investment?

Investing in real estate requires significant capital, and many investors use financing to acquire properties. Some of the best ways to finance a real estate investment include cash purchases, mortgages, and loans from private or commercial lenders.

How Long Do Recessions Last?

Cash purchases

Cash purchases are the most straightforward way to finance a real estate investment. If an investor has enough cash to purchase a property outright, they avoid interest rates, closing costs, and other fees associated with financing. Cash purchases also provide a level of flexibility and speed that other financing methods can't match.

Mortgages are loans

Mortgages are loans that are secured by the property being purchased, and the borrower is required to make monthly payments to the lender until the mortgage is fully paid off.

Mortgages are usually offered by banks or other financial institutions, and interest rates and other terms vary depending on the lender and the borrower's creditworthiness. Mortgages typically require a down payment, and the amount required varies depending on the lender and the type of mortgage.

Private lenders

Private lenders are individuals or companies that loan money to investors, and the terms of the loan are negotiated between the borrower and the lender. Private lenders often provide more flexibility than commercial lenders, and the terms of the loan can be tailored to the investor's needs. However, private loans often come with higher interest rates and fees than traditional mortgages.

Commercial lenders

Commercial lenders are financial institutions that specialize in real estate financing. Commercial lenders provide loans for a variety of real estate investments, including single-family homes, multi-unit residential properties, and commercial properties. The terms of the loan vary depending on the lender and the borrower's creditworthiness.

Financing or lease options

In addition to traditional financing methods, real estate investors can also use creative financing methods, such as seller financing or lease options. Seller financing is when the seller provides financing for the buyer, and the terms of the loan are negotiated between the two parties. Lease options allow investors to lease a property with the option to buy it at a later date.

Ultimately, the best way to finance a real estate investment depends on the investor's financial situation, the type of property being purchased, and the investor's goals for the investment.

What Is Real Estate Development?

Real estate development, also known as property development, is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of activities related to the construction, renovation, and sale of properties.

These activities can range from the purchase of raw land to the sale of developed land or parcels to others. Real estate developers typically acquire properties to create value through the construction of new buildings or the renovation of existing structures.

Developers are responsible for managing the entire process of a real estate project, from the initial planning and design stages to the construction, marketing, and eventual sale or lease of the property. This can involve a wide range of tasks, including site selection, zoning and permit approvals, architectural and engineering design, construction management, marketing and sales, and property management.

Real estate development can take many forms, from small-scale renovation projects to large-scale master-planned communities. Some developers specialize in specific types of projects, such as residential or commercial development, while others may focus on a particular geographic area or niche market.

Real estate development is an important driver of economic growth, creating jobs and generating revenue for local governments. However, it can also be a complex and risky undertaking, requiring significant capital investment, expertise in a variety of disciplines, and a thorough understanding of local regulations and market conditions.

Overview of the Real Estate Industry

The real estate industry is composed of several different areas including development, sales and marketing, brokerage, property management, lending, and professional services such as law and accounting. Here's a closer look at each area:


Real estate development involves the purchase of raw land, the improvement of the land, and the sale or lease of the developed land or property. Development can range from small-scale renovations of existing properties to large-scale projects like shopping malls or housing developments.

Sales and marketing

The sales and marketing aspect of real estate involves promoting and selling properties to potential buyers or renters. This includes advertising, open houses, and negotiating deals with clients.


Real estate brokerage involves acting as an intermediary between buyers and sellers or landlords and tenants. Brokers are licensed professionals who facilitate real estate transactions, often earning a commission on the sale or lease of a property.

Property management

Property management involves overseeing and maintaining properties on behalf of landlords or property owners. This includes tasks like rent collection, maintenance and repairs, and tenant relations.


Real estate lending involves providing financing for real estate projects, often through mortgages or other types of loans. This can be done by private individuals or by commercial lenders like banks or mortgage companies.

Professional services

Finally, real estate also involves professional services such as law and accounting. These professionals provide legal and financial advice to real estate companies and individuals involved in real estate transactions.

Overall, the real estate industry is a complex and multifaceted field with many different areas of specialization. Whether you're interested in development, sales, property management, or another aspect of the industry, there are many opportunities for a rewarding career in real estate.

What Careers are Common in the Real Estate Industry?

The real estate industry offers a variety of career options to individuals interested in the field. Some of the most common careers found in the industry include leasing agent, foreclosure specialist, title examiner, home inspector, real estate appraiser, real estate agent, and mortgage broker.

Leasing Agent

A leasing agent works to find tenants for rental properties and is responsible for showing the property, negotiating lease terms, and collecting rent payments.

Foreclosure Specialist

A foreclosure specialist deals with properties that have been foreclosed upon and may work with banks or other financial institutions to sell these properties.

Title examiner

A title examiner researches a property's history to ensure that there are no legal claims against it, while a home inspector evaluates a property's condition to identify any potential issues.

Real estate appraiser

A real estate appraiser determines the value of a property by conducting a thorough analysis of various factors such as the property's location, size, and condition.

Real estate agent

Real estate agents help buyers and sellers navigate the process of buying and selling real estate, while a mortgage broker works with borrowers to find the best financing options for their real estate purchases.

Mortgage broker

A mortgage broker is a professional who acts as an intermediary between borrowers and lenders in the process of obtaining a mortgage loan. Mortgage brokers can work independently or as part of a brokerage firm, and their role is to help borrowers find and secure the most suitable mortgage product for their needs.

The industry also offers opportunities in areas such as development, sales and marketing, brokerage, property management, and professional services such as law and accounting.

Examples of Real Estate

Let's explore some specific examples of different types of real property, based on the four main categories outlined earlier.

Residential Real Estate:

  • Single-family dwelling – Any home designed for only one family.
  • Multi-family dwelling – Any group of homes designed for more than one family.
  • Attached – Any unit that's connected to another (not freestanding).
  • Apartment – An individual unit in a multi-unit building. The boundaries of the apartment are generally defined by a perimeter of locked or lockable doors. Often seen in multi-story apartment buildings.
  • Multi-family house – Often seen in multi-story detached buildings, where each floor is a separate apartment or unit.
  • Condominium (Condo) – A building with individual units owned by individual people.
  • Detached house – A free-standing building not connecting to anything else (a stereotypical “home”).

Commercial Real Estate:

  • Office buildings – Buildings used for business purposes, such as offices for private companies or government agencies.
  • Retail/Restaurant – Any type of space used for businesses that serve the public, such as stores or restaurants.
  • Industrial – Buildings used for manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution.
  • Hospitality – Any type of space used for businesses that serve travellers, such as hotels or resorts.

Special Purpose Real Estate:

  • Educational – Buildings used for educational purposes, such as schools or universities.
  • Medical – Buildings used for medical purposes, such as hospitals or clinics.
  • Religious – Buildings used for religious purposes, such as churches or mosques.

Other examples of real estate include:

  • Portable house – Houses that can be moved on a flatbed truck.
  • Mobile home – A vehicle on wheels that has a permanent residence attached to it.
  • Villa – A building with only one room and typically a steep pointy roof.
  • Hut – A dwelling typically made of raw materials such as bamboo, mud, and clay.

Tumisang Bogwasi
Tumisang Bogwasi

2X Award-Winning Entrepreneur | Empowering Brands to Generate Leads, Grow Revenue with Business Strategy and Digital Marketing | Founder, CEO of Fine Group

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