Whether you’re in the home market for the first time or fifth, these are some useful terms.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM)

Provides an initial fixed-rate period followed by an interest rate and payment that periodically adjusts based on the current interest rate environment.

Alternative Mortgage Financing

A term used to describe one of many financing options designed to help buyers who want to minimize their monthly payments during the early part of their mortgage. Examples include adjustable rate, interest rate buy-down, and interest-only mortgages.


Repayment of a mortgage loan through monthly installments of principal and interest. The monthly payment amount is based on a schedule that will allow you to own your home at the end of a specific time period (for example, 15 or 30 years).

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

Calculated by using a standard formula, the APR shows the cost of a loan. Expressed as a yearly interest rate, it includes the interest, points, mortgage insurance, and other fees associated with the loan.


A document ordered by the lender and prepared by a qualified individual that gives an estimate of a property’s fair market value. An appraisal is generally required by a lender before loan approval to ensure that the mortgage loan amount is not more than the value of the property.

Assumable Mortgage

A mortgage that can be transferred from a seller to a buyer. There may be a fee and/or a credit package involved in the transfer of an assumable mortgage. Once the loan is assumed by the buyer, the seller is no longer responsible for repaying it.

Certificate of Title

A document provided by a qualified source (such as a title company) that shows the property legally belongs to the current owner. Before the title is transferred at closing, it should be clear and free of all liens or other claims.


Also known as settlement, this is the time at which the property is formally sold and transferred from the seller to the buyer. At closing, the borrower takes on the loan obligation, pays all closing costs, and receives title from the seller.

Closing Costs

Customary costs above and beyond the sale price of the property that must be paid to cover the transfer of ownership at closing. These costs generally vary by geographic location and are typically detailed to the borrower after submission of a loan application.


An amount, usually a percentage of the property sales price that is collected by a real estate professional as a fee for marketing the property and negotiating the transaction.


A written promise of a lender to a borrower to make a mortgage loan, on a specific property, under stated terms and conditions. The terms of the commitment most important to borrowers are the interest rate on the loan and expiration date of the commitment.

Conventional Loan

A private sector loan that is not guaranteed or insured by the U.S. government.

Credit Report

A record that documents an individual’s credit history including all past and present debts, and the timeliness of their repayment.


The document that transfers ownership of a property.

Down Payment

The portion of a home’s purchase price that is paid in cash and is not part of the mortgage loan.

Earnest Money

Money offered by a potential buyer to show that he or she is serious about purchasing the home. It becomes part of the down payment if the offer is accepted, is returned if the offer is rejected, or is forfeited if the buyer pulls out of the deal.


A legal interest in a property that affects or limits the sale or transfer of property such as mortgages, leases, easements, judgments, and liens.


An owner’s financial interest in a property calculated by subtracting the amount still owed on the mortgage loan(s) from the fair market value of the property.

Escrow Account

A mortgage escrow account is a trust account held by a third party to pay taxes and insurance. Monthly mortgage payments may include 1/12 of annual property taxes and insurance. When the bills come due, lenders use the money in the escrow account to pay them.

Fair Market Value

The price a buyer will pay and a seller will accept for a property under reasonable and ordinary conditions with complete market information. This definition assumes that neither the buyer nor seller is under any pressure to complete the transaction.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA)

Assists homebuyers by providing mortgage insurance to lenders to cover most losses that may occur when a borrower defaults. This encourages lenders to make loans to borrowers who might not qualify for conventional mortgages.

Fixed-Rate Mortgages

Offer the same interest rate and monthly payments throughout the entire life of the loan.

Graduated Payment Mortgage (GPM)

A type of flexible-payment mortgage in which the payments increase for a specified time and then level off. Used by first-time homebuyers who expect their incomes to increase over time.

Hazard Insurance

Protects homeowners against damage caused to a property by fire, wind, or other common hazards. It is required by the lender up to the amount of the mortgage to protect the lender’s security interest in the property.

Interest Rate

The amount of interest charged on a monthly loan payment, usually expressed as a percentage. See PITI.


A legal claim against property that must be satisfied before the property can be sold.

Loan-to-Value (LTV) Ratio

A percentage calculated by dividing the amount borrowed by the price or appraised value of the home to be purchased. The higher the LTV, the less cash a borrower is required to pay as down payment. Example: A $150,000 mortgage on property valued at $200,000 has a LTV of 75%.


A specific period in the loan process in which the lender guarantees a certain interest rate to the borrower with the condition that the loan is closed within a specific time.

Mortgage Insurance

A policy that protects lenders against losses that can occur when a borrower defaults on a mortgage loan. Mortgage insurance is required primarily for borrowers with a down payment of less than 20% of the home’s purchase price.


The creditor or lender in a mortgage agreement.


The borrower in a mortgage agreement, sometimes spelled mortgager.


The process of preparing, submitting, and evaluating a loan application. The process generally includes a credit check, verification of employment, and a property appraisal.


The portion of the monthly mortgage payment that reflects the actual price paid for the house. As a mortgage matures over time, more of the monthly payment goes toward paying off the principal. See PITI.


Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance – the four elements of a monthly mortgage payment. Payments of principal and interest go directly towards repaying the loan while the portion that covers taxes and insurance (homeowner’s and mortgage, if applicable) goes into an escrow account to cover the fees when they are due.


Points are a form of pre-paid interest. One point equals one percent of the loan amount. By charging a borrower points, a lender effectively increases the yield on the loan above the amount of the stated interest rate.


Depending on the size of the down payment, the lender may include real estate property taxes as part of the mortgage payment. The lender passes these on to county government to pay for schools, roads and other community services.

Title insurance

Insurance that protects the lender against any claims that arise from arguments about ownership of the property. It is also available for homebuyers.

Title search

A check of public records to be sure that the seller is the recognized owner of the real estate and that there are no unsettled liens or other claims against the property.

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