What Is Real Estate?

What Is Real Estate? A Guide To Understanding The Basics

real estate business real estate investing strategies real estate terms Dec 13, 2023

What is real estate? And how does it impact not only individual finances but also the broader economy? This guide clarifies the ins and outs of the real estate industry, ensuring you have a firm grasp on the essentials, from the basic principles of real estate to advanced strategies:

Real estate, often regarded as one of the most significant investments for many, is not just about buying and selling properties. While most of us recognize the term “real estate,” diving deeper into its basics reveals a rich tapestry of principles, methods, and opportunities.

Whether you're keen on trading rent checks for homeownership, understanding the real estate guide for beginners, or exploring the vast avenues of real estate investing, there's much to learn. The journey starts with mastering some real estate basic knowledge.

If you're a beginner wanting to know what real estate is and how you can start investing today, don't miss our exclusive video on How To Get Into Real Estate With No Money!


What Is Real Estate?

Real estate, in its most fundamental sense, represents a piece of land and anything permanently affixed to it, be it natural or man-made structures.

This includes houses, office buildings, and warehouses, but extends to resources such as minerals or water present on the land.

So, when someone inquires, "What is real estate?", think of it as real property encompassing both what lies above and beneath the ground. It sets itself apart from personal property, items not permanently attached to the land like vehicles, jewelry, or furniture.

While real estate can be categorized for various purposes—residential, commercial, or industrial—it universally signifies a foundational understanding of real estate basics: the blend of land and permanent attachments.

real estate definition

Read Also: How To Invest In Real Estate: 10 Best Ways To Start Building Wealth


Understanding The Real Estate Definition

To truly grasp the essence of the term “real estate,” it's crucial to dissect its components. Real estate isn't just about the land; it's a comprehensive term embracing the land, the resources it harbors, and the structures standing atop it.

Why is it called real estate? “Real” pertains to land, while “estate” signifies the ownership or interest vested in the landholder, be it an individual or a corporation. Although terms like land, real property, and real estate often intertwine in conversations, understanding their nuances is vital.

Land refers to the earth's surface, extending from its crust to the airspace above, encompassing natural components like trees, minerals, and water sources. Each piece of land is unique, owing to its geographical distinctiveness and the resources it houses. Transitioning from mere land, real estate embodies the land plus the permanent man-made structures built upon it, like houses or office spaces.

Diving deeper, “real property” captures the essence of both the land and the permanent structures tied to it. So, a house and its adjoining garage, being affixed to the land, qualify as real property. In contrast, a movable object, say a picnic table, remains classified as personal property. Real estate also comes bundled with inherent rights, allowing owners to utilize, lease, or sell their property as they deem fit.

Venturing into real estate isn't just about bricks and mortar. It represents a significant asset, typically appreciating over time, influencing millions of jobs across diverse sectors, and reflecting an economy's vitality. Hence, to embark on a journey in the real estate business, one must be well-versed in these basic principles of real estate, ensuring a foundation grounded in real estate knowledge.

Read Also: 17 Best Wholesaling Real Estate Books You Must Read


What Are The 4 Types Of Real Estate?

While real estate presents itself in multifaceted forms, the heart of its diversity lies in four core categories: residential, commercial, industrial, and land.

Whether you're eyeing property for personal use or investment purposes, understanding these types is fundamental. After all, the essence of real estate isn't just in its physical form, but in its potential for appreciation and the value it carries over time.

Now, let’s dive deeper into the 4 main types of real estate:


what is residential real estate


Residential is often the easiest type of real estate for beginners to understand because everyone who's bought a home or rented an apartment has some experience with it. Residential real estate refers to buildings designed for housing.

Residential real estate includes single-family homes, duplexes, ranches, triplexes, condominiums, townhouses, bungalows, and small apartment buildings. Residential property is typically either owned by the person living in the building or a landlord who rents it out to individuals as an investment property.


what is commercial real estate


Commercial real estate refers to buildings that are used for business purposes. In most cases, the owner or tenant will be a business with one exception - large multi-family apartment buildings.

A multi-family apartment building with more than four units is classified as commercial because they are usually owned by large corporate landlords and accredited investors because they are more complex to manage than smaller residential homes.

The majority of commercial buildings are designed to accommodate businesses including office buildings, shopping centers, strip malls, restaurants, hotels, and any other location where companies offer products or services to customers.


what is industrial real estate


Industrial real estate is often included under the umbrella of commercial properties but varies slightly. Industrial properties are those that deal with the development or manufacturing of goods and products.

Common industrial facilities include warehouses, factories, distribution centers, research and development buildings, assembly plants, or storage. Industrial buildings are exclusively designed for business purposes but are distinct from offices or retail buildings.


what is land in real estate


The final type of property is vacant land, which is raw earth with no permanent structures built on top of it. Even without a building attached to it, raw land is still considered real estate because someone owns it and has the ability to sell or develop it as they see fit.

Many real estate investors look for raw land in prime locations because it offers immense earning potential and the ability to develop it from scratch. Or you can always purchase raw land in the hopes that it appreciates and sell it for a profit at a later date.


What Is Special Purpose Real Estate?

When diving into the vast domain of real estate, one might encounter properties that don't easily fit into the conventional residential, commercial, or industrial categories. These are termed “special purpose” properties.

Essentially, a special-purpose property is unique in its design and functionality, specifically tailored to serve a singular or specialized use. This distinction doesn't stem from the property's current use, but rather its inherent design and attributes.

Examples of such properties might range from public amenities like cemeteries, libraries, parks, and places of worship to more industrial facilities such as hazardous waste plants, oil refineries, or highly specialized manufacturing units.


The Basics Of The Real Estate Industry

The real estate industry is a vast and intricate field that plays a pivotal role in driving economic growth. To grasp its depth and breadth, one must understand its primary components:

  • Development & Construction

  • Brokerages & Real Estate Professionals

  • Property Management

  • Mortgage Lenders

  • Real Estate Agents & Market Dynamics

basics of real estate


Development & Construction

Every towering skyscraper, suburban home, or sprawling shopping center begins with an idea. This idea undergoes a rigorous process of development and construction. Development companies, city officials, architects, and builders collaborate to turn these blueprints into tangible assets.

While many opt for pre-built homes for convenience, some choose to buy land and have a property built to their specifications, ensuring that every nook and corner aligns with their vision.


Brokerages & Real Estate Professionals

Navigating the complexities of real estate transactions can be daunting. That's where real estate agents and brokerages step in.

Agents, specifically those associated with the National Association of REALTORS® (known as REALTORS®), guide both buyers and sellers.

Their role is not just limited to property showcasing; they assist in negotiations, ensure paperwork accuracy, and help close deals. All agents operate under a broker, a licensed professional with comprehensive industry knowledge. To put it simply, while a brokerage is a firm, a broker is an individual professional within that firm.


Property Management

For those who venture into real estate as an investment avenue, property management services can be invaluable. These agencies handle the day-to-day operations of rental properties, be it routine maintenance, rent collection, or addressing tenant emergencies. Think of them as the bridge between property owners and their tenants, ensuring smooth operations.


Mortgage Lenders

Real estate purchases are significant investments. Most buyers require financial assistance, and that's where mortgage lenders fit in. They provide the necessary loans after assessing a buyer's creditworthiness, financial stability, and ability to repay. While the primary aim is to facilitate property purchases, lenders also earn through interest on these loans. It's worth noting that obtaining a mortgage isn't free; buyers must cover closing costs, which usually range between 3% to 6% of the property's purchase price.


Real Estate Agents & Market Dynamics

Agents, whether they cater to sellers or buyers, play a crucial role in shaping the real estate market.

  • Sellers' agents, using comparative data from recent sales, help position properties competitively. They advise on property enhancements to attract potential buyers and drive negotiations to ensure the best price.

  • On the flip side, buyers' agents possess extensive local market knowledge, guiding their clients to properties that best meet their needs and budget. They also negotiate on the buyer's behalf, ensuring a fair deal.

In summary, the real estate industry is a dynamic field, continuously evolving and adapting. Whether you're a buyer, seller, investor, or merely an observer, understanding its fundamentals can offer a clearer view of its intricacies and potential opportunities.


How To Invest In Real Estate In 6 Ways

The allure of real estate as a wealth-building avenue is undeniable. While the charm of homeownership lies in equity creation and financial grounding, it's merely the tip of the real estate investment iceberg.

Venturing beyond the confines of a primary residence can open doors to a myriad of opportunities, from passive income streams to hefty profit margins, all without sidelining your regular job.

However, to truly tap into this potential, one must be well-versed in the market dynamics. From understanding median home prices in specific locales to gauging the pulse of commercial spaces like warehouses or malls, an informed decision can be the difference between a booming investment and a stagnant one.

As we delve further into the fascinating realm of real estate, it's essential to highlight six pivotal methods of investment. Each of these avenues carries its own set of unique opportunities and benefits. Let's explore:

  • Wholesaling: A quick-entry tactic, perfect for those eager to dip their toes without massive upfront capital.
  • House Flipping: Ideal for the adventurous, this strategy involves renovating and selling properties for profit.
  • Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs): An excellent route for stock market enthusiasts to invest in real estate.
  • Rental Properties: The classic method of generating steady passive income by becoming a landlord.
  • Real Estate Syndication: Pool resources and expertise with others to invest in larger projects.
  • Mortgage Note Investing: Delve into the world of buying and selling promissory notes secured by real estate.


Wholesaling Real Estate

Wholesaling real estate is a popular investment technique because it allows you to earn sizable fees without having to own real estate or risk your credit. Wholesalers earn fees by scouting under market properties on behalf of other investors. House flippers and landlords are always on the lookout for homes being sold at a discount - because it offers more earning potential. But these deals aren’t always easy to locate and get under contract.

As a wholesaler, you go out a search for motivated sellers who may be willing to sell their home for a discounted price in exchange for a fast close - either because they’re about to go into foreclosure or they’re experiencing a sudden life change. If you can convince them to agree to sell you the property at a low enough price, you can have them sign a wholesale contract and sell that contract to an investor at a markup.

As long as you offer it to them at a price that still allows them to do any necessary renovations and still turn a profit, they will gladly let you keep a fee for saving them the hassle of getting it under contract themselves. Although it takes hard work and a good understanding of the local housing market, wholesaling is a great way to get started in real estate investing if you don’t have the money or credit to buy property.

Read Also: Is Wholesaling Real Estate Worth It? An Investor's Guide


House Flipping

House flipping is another popular strategy that allows practitioners to collect large returns in a relatively short amount of time. House flippers purchase distressed properties at a discount, put money into renovating them, and then turn around and sell those properties at the market rate.

The technique involves more work than wholesaling and requires you to use your money or credit to purchase the property. You will also be responsible for paying for carrying costs (such as taxes, insurance, utilities, etc.) and renovations. But if you study local home values carefully and crunch the numbers, you can expect a much larger return than wholesaling.

If you are good at home improvement projects, you can do some work yourself. Or you can outsource the entire process by hiring contractors, wholesalers, and real estate agents to handle the groundwork while you manage the project. As a result, house flipping is a great strategy for earning additional income, even if you're working a full-time job.

Read Also: Rehabbing A House: The Beginner’s Guide To House Flipping


Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

Many people are looking for a way to earn passive income but don’t want to have to deal with any of the responsibilities of owning property or interfacing with investors, agents, or homeowners.

In that case, you should look into REITs. A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that purchases and manages income-producing real estate. REITs sell shares to investors and pay dividends based on the performance of the real estate.

Many REITs are sold on public exchanges and function just like a stock. However, the return is correlated to the performance of the real estate assets in the company’s portfolio rather than the sale of goods and services.

You can also find REITs that focus on a particular (such as healthcare, shopping centers, industrial buildings) and more general investments that are well diversified across the entire real estate market.

So if you’re interested in stocks and securities, you may consider adding REITs to your portfolio.

Read Also: Virtual Real Estate Investing: The (Ultimate) Guide


Rental Properties

Purchasing rental properties is one of the most common forms of real estate investing practiced by average people. This of course involves the process of purchasing residential real estate and leasing it to tenants for a profit. Almost everyone has a friend, family member, or neighbor who owns an investment property down the block or rents out an unused portion of their own residence.

With the rise of rental apps like Airbnb and VRBO, renting out empty properties or spare rooms is easier than ever. Some landlords choose to handle all the responsibilities of leasing, managing, and maintaining properties on their own while others hire a property manager, brokerage, and team of real estate professionals to manage their portfolio.

You can start with one rental property and eventually expand all over town or you can purchase a duplex and rent out the other unit to help pay off your mortgage sooner. There are many different ways to approach rental property investing and offers a great way to earn passive income.

While it requires more responsibility than REIT investing because you are responsible for owning and maintaining the property. But it’s often less labor intensive than flipping or wholesaling and provides consistent cash flow over a long period of time.

Read Also:  How to Calculate ROI On Rental Property


Real Estate Syndication

Real estate syndication is when you organize a group of investors who all pool their capital to purchase a real estate asset. Perhaps you know of a great deal but don’t have the funds or experience to purchase it all on your own.

If you know a group of friends or colleagues with disposable income you could approach them with the deal and see if they’re interested in investing. You could contribute some of your own capital or just organize the investment and collect a percentage of the returns for organizing and managing the deal.

Syndication typically involves the purchase of large commercial properties or the development of a new home or building. With multiple hands in the pot, you’ll want to be sure the payout is large enough that everyone can profit. Plus on larger deals, it helps to have a team of investors to share the responsibilities and diffuse the risks.

Syndication is a bit more complex than some of the other methods listed because it often involves larger deals. If you’re the person organizing the capital, it’s crucial that you do your due diligence to ensure it’s a safe investment. But if you have the knowledge and access to deals or you have capital that’s burning a hole in your pocket, syndication is a great way to earn large payouts without doing any hard labor.

Read Also: 11 Best Platforms For Your Real Estate Social Network


Mortgage Note Investing

Mortgage note investing is a smart, yet often overlook real estate investing technique. Every time someone gets a loan from a mortgage lender, they are required to sign a legally binding contract that compels them to pay back the loan - which is known as a mortgage note.

The mortgage note requires the borrower to make regular payments toward the outstanding balance until the loan is completely paid off. But lenders rarely keep these mortgage notes on their books for the duration of the loan. Instead, they bundle them in large groups and sell the contracts to third-party investors to offset the risk of default.

These new investors essentially become the new lender and receive passive income from the borrower. Mortgage note investing requires you to have enough cash on hand to pay the outstanding debt (or whatever price the lender is willing to accept). Plus, if the borrower stops paying, you will be required to initiate the foreclosure process or risk losing your investment.

If you can learn how to navigate the secondary mortgage market, note investing is a relatively stable way to earn passive income that doesn’t require you to be responsible for the maintenance of the property.


The Pros & Cons Of Investing In Real Estate

Real estate, often seen as a cornerstone of wealth-building, holds a myriad of opportunities. However, like any investment avenue, it's governed by a spectrum of advantages and limitations.

To make an informed decision, one must weigh both sides meticulously. Here's a comprehensive look at the pros and cons of investing in real estate.


Pros of Investing in Real Estate

  • Diverse Portfolio Enhancement: Real estate offers a tangible asset, presenting a unique way to diversify and fortify your investment portfolio.

  • Steady Income Stream: Rental properties can provide a consistent passive income, leading to financial stability.

  • Capital Appreciation: Over time, real estate often appreciates, potentially yielding substantial profit during resale.

  • Tax Incentives: Real estate investments often come with various tax breaks and deductions that can be financially beneficial.

  • Leverage Opportunities: One can buy real estate using leverage, allowing investment without paying the full price upfront.

  • Potential Dual Use: Depending on your investment type, you might have the option to reside in your investment property.


Cons of Investing in Real Estate

  • Liquidity Concerns: Unlike stocks or bonds, real estate is inherently illiquid, which can make quick sales challenging.

  • High Initial Investment: The entry barrier in terms of capital can be steep, especially for premium properties or locations.

  • Local Market Dependencies: Factors like employment rates, crime statistics, and local economies can dramatically influence a property's value.

  • Active Management: Some properties may demand active management, adding to the time and effort required.

  • Unpredictable Returns: Unlike fixed-return investments, profits in real estate aren't guaranteed.

  • Potential Selling Complications: In certain scenarios, offloading a property to access its equity might be complex and time-consuming.


How To Learn Everything About Real Estate

From the intricate nuances of property investment to the legalities of buying and selling, and even to the fluctuating trends of the housing market, there's an ocean of knowledge awaiting both novices and seasoned professionals.

But fear not, for every complex topic, there's a comprehensive guide at Real Estate Skills waiting to unravel it! Whether you're a budding investor, an aspiring homeowner, or simply curious about the real estate landscape, diving deep into specialized articles and resources can offer clarity and direction.

Below, we've curated a hub of essential reads, handpicked to provide you with a holistic understanding of the real estate realm. Embark on this enlightening journey with us and discover the intricacies of the property world, one article at a time. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please browse our Real Estate Blog!


Real Estate Basic Knowledge

Before diving deep into advanced topics, it's crucial to grasp the foundational concepts of real estate; these guides provide a solid starting point:

Learn About Real Estate Jobs & Careers

Venturing into the world of real estate but don’t know where to start? Dive deep into the diverse career paths and job opportunities that this dynamic industry has to offer:


The Basics Of Real Estate Wholesaling

Dipping your toes into the realm of real estate investing? Wholesaling serves as an entry point, offering a lower-risk introduction to the industry:


All About Real Estate Flipping

Unlock the intricacies of house flipping, from property scouting to sale, and discover how savvy investors turn fixer-uppers into profitable ventures:


Real Estate Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Our FAQ section is here to shed light on the most commonly pondered topics.

Compiled from the inquiries of readers like you, Real Estate Skills aims to provide concise answers to ensure your real estate journey is as informed as possible!


What Is The Simple Definition Of Real Estate?

Real estate refers to property consisting of land and the buildings on it, along with its natural resources such as crops, minerals, or water. It also includes the air rights above the land and underground rights below it.

Real estate is a form of real property, different from personal property, which is not permanently attached to the land, such as vehicles, boats, jewelry, furniture, and farm equipment.


Why Is Real Estate Important?

Real estate is important as it provides essential needs like housing and spaces for businesses, playing a pivotal role in the economy through job creation and contributions to GDP.

Additionally, the real estate sector offers diverse investment opportunities, influencing personal wealth and community development.


What Is The Difference Between Real Estate And Property?

Real estate and property, while commonly used interchangeably, have distinct meanings: real estate specifically refers to land and any permanent structures on it, focusing on the physical aspects of the land and buildings.

Property, on the other hand, is a broader term that not only includes real estate (land and buildings) but also encompasses a wide range of other tangible assets, like cars and furniture, as well as intangible assets, such as intellectual property, stocks, and bonds.

Essentially, real estate is a subset of property, which covers a more extensive range of assets and rights.


What Type Of Real Estate Makes The Most Money?

The type of real estate that typically makes the most money is commercial real estate, particularly in sectors like office buildings, retail spaces, industrial properties, and multifamily complexes.

These properties often yield higher rental incomes and longer lease agreements compared to residential real estate, leading to greater and more stable cash flow.

Additionally, commercial real estate offers opportunities for significant appreciation in value, particularly in prime locations with high demand.


What Is The Difference Between Commercial And Residential Real Estate?

Commercial and residential real estate differ in their intended use, lease terms, investment prospects, and market influences. Residential properties, such as houses and apartments, are used for living purposes, often featuring shorter, more regulated lease agreements, and are influenced by local factors like school districts and community amenities.

In contrast, commercial real estate, including office spaces, retail areas, and industrial buildings, is utilized for business activities, characterized by longer, more complex lease terms, and is more sensitive to economic conditions.

While residential real estate is generally more accessible to investors and offers steady income, commercial properties typically require a larger initial investment but can yield higher returns due to higher rent and longer lease agreements.


What Careers Are Known In The Real Estate Industry?

Real estate is a large and dynamic industry with many opportunities available for those interested and willing to learn. Typical careers in real estate include real estate brokers, appraisers, inspectors, property managers, developers, contractors, mortgage brokers, title officers, and many more.

Some require licensure, and others do not. Formal education is required for certain positions, while others require only high school or relevant experience. Real estate careers can be full-time salary positions or based on commission. Real estate is a business that attracts talent from all walks of life because it offers so much opportunity and flexibility. So, if you're considering a career in real estate, you can rest assured that there is far more opportunity beyond being an agent and investor.

Read Also: 11 Best Paying Jobs In Real Estate [UPDATED FOR 2024]


What Is A Real Estate License?

A real estate license is issued by the state government. It gives agents and brokers the right to represent clients in real estate transactions, including home buyers, sellers, tenants, landlords, businesses, and more. While you don't need a license to buy or sell real estate, you do need a license to represent another party in a real estate transaction.

A real estate license gives an agent or brokers the right to market a property, host open houses, find buyers or sellers, field offers, give advice, negotiate on a client's behalf and help with the closing in exchange for a fee. You can do all those things independently with a property you own. But you must be licensed to do so for someone else in exchange for a fee. 

Keep in mind that not all realtors have a real estate license. Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors, including agents and other real estate professionals like investors and property managers. So, if you hear the term realtor, don't automatically assume it's referring to a licensed real estate agent.

Read Also: Realtor Vs. Real Estate Agent: Salaries, Differences & Similarities


What Is The Real Estate Business?

The real estate business is the industry and trade surrounding buying, selling, or otherwise monetizing real estate. While not everyone works in the real estate industry full-time, most of us will be involved in the real estate business at some point.

Whether you're a first-time homebuyer, a part-time real estate investor, or you've decided to become a real estate agent as a career change. Nearly everyone engages in the real estate business at some point in their lives - which is why it's crucial to know the ins and outs.


What Is A Real Estate Developer?

A real estate developer is an individual or company that finances and manages the construction or remodeling of a new building. Development is under the umbrella of real estate investing but is often more complex and capital-intensive than other techniques.

Developers may purchase vacant land and create new structures from scratch, or buy rundown buildings and convert them to new homes, commercial spaces, or industrial buildings. Real estate development is a lucrative field but often requires more experience, education, and connections to be successful.


Do You Need A Degree To Do Real Estate?

No, many facets of the real estate business do not require a degree. For instance, there is no education requirement to become an investor, and brokers and agents typically only need a high school diploma and a real estate license. However, certain professions or firms may require a degree.

For example, if you want to become a real estate attorney, you'll need a law degree, or if you want to join the best real estate firm in New York, a bachelor's degree in business or finance may help. But ultimately, real estate is a business full of opportunity for many people from countless different industries and fields and you certainly don't need a degree to succeed.


Final Thoughts

The answer to the question “What is real estate?” can be answered much deeper, however, we hope that with the information above you are more confident to jumpstart your career in the industry!

Embarking on a real estate journey? The key lies in equipping yourself with essential knowledge. Dive deep into real estate concepts, grasp the avenues of profit, and evaluate where your passion meets your potential.

With the right research and tenacity, passive income and a thriving real estate career are within reach. Ready to accelerate your understanding? Join our FREE real estate training today and set the foundation for success!

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