Real property definition  Real property components

Real property definition

A simple definition of real estate is that it is air, water, land, and everything affixed to the land. Real estate in the United States may be owned privately by individuals and private entities or publicly by government entities. Private ownership rights in this country are not absolute. The government can impose taxes and restrictions on private ownership rights, and it can take private property away altogether. In addition, other private parties can exert their rights and interests on one’s real property. A bank, for example, can take a property if the owner fails to pay a mortgage. A neighbor can claim the right to walk across one’s property whether the owner likes it or not, provided he or she has done so for a certain number of years.

In attempting to define real estate, it is essential to understand what rights and interests parties have in a parcel of real estate. And to understand real estate rights and interests, one must first recognize the distinctions between:

  • land and real estate
  • real estate and property
  • real property and personal property

Real property components                

Land. The legal concept of land encompasses

  • the surface area of the earth
  • everything beneath the surface of the earth extending downward to its center
  • all natural things permanently attached to the earth
  • the air above the surface of the earth extending outward to infinity.

Land, therefore, includes minerals beneath the earth’s surface, water on or below the earth’s surface, and the air above the surface. In addition, land includes all plants attached to the ground or in the ground, such as trees and grass. A parcel, or tract, of land is a portion of land delineated by boundaries.


Physical characteristics of land. Land has three unique physical characteristics: immobility, indestructibility, and heterogeneity.

Land is immobile, since a parcel of land cannot be moved from one site to another. In other words, the geographical location of a tract of land is fixed and cannot be changed. One can transport portions of the land such as mined coal, dirt, or cut plants. However, as soon as such elements are detached from the land, they are no longer considered land.

Land is indestructible in the sense that one would have to remove a segment of the planet all the way to the core in order to destroy it. Even then, the portion extending upward to infinity would remain. For the same reason, land is considered to be permanent.

Land is non-homogeneous, since no two parcels of land are exactly the same. Admittedly, two adjacent parcels may be very similar and have the same economic value. However, they are inherently different because each parcel has a unique location.

Real estate. The legal concept of real estate encompasses: 

  • land
  • all man-made structures that are
    “permanently” attached to the land

Real estate therefore includes, in addition to land, such things as fences, streets, buildings, wells, sewers, sidewalks and piers. Such man-made structures attached to the land are called improvements. The phrase “permanently attached” refers primarily to one’s intention in attaching the item. Obviously, very few if any man­made structures can be permanently attached to the land in the literal sense. But if a person constructs a house with the intention of creating a permanent dwelling, the house is considered real estate. By contrast, if a camper affixes a tent to the land with the intention of moving it to another camp in a week, the tent would not be considered real estate.