A GLOSSARY of Terms ~ for Rural Real Estate Ownership

Aquifer – Aquifer is a geological term referring to a subterranean body of water that lies in a rock layer beneath a parcel of land. The aquifer may be shallow, just below the surface, or hundreds of feet deep. It may also be permeable or impermeable. A geologist can use various means to determine the most likely location and condition of an aquifer
Arable Land – Arable land is land that can be used for growing crops, for various types of farming and agricultural production.
Blue Line -- A blue line on a property map can indicate the presence of water flow, such as a river or stream, that may or may not be active. The presence of the blue line can impose certain environmental restrictions to the development and/or use of a property in the vicinity of the blue line.
Building Envelope – The building envelope is an area on a property, designated and identified on a property map, that indicates the allowable building and development portions of the property, in accordance with county or local permitting regulations.
Building Site – A building site is an area on a parcel of land that could be suitable for building a home.
Certificate of Compliance – A certificate of compliance is issued for a parcel of land based on a determination made by the local agency of authority (such as a county planning commission) that the parcel was created by legal means and therefore has legal standing as a sole and separate parcel. The existence of a certificate of compliance for a property does NOT insure that the property is in compliance with conditions that would render it suitable for building, nor does it imply legal access, but rather it simply insures that the parcel is a legal parcel, and that it therefore can be sold or otherwise transferred in ownership.
Endangered Species – “Endangered species” is a designation that affords legal protection to a species that is at risk of becoming extinct. If some portion of a property serves as a habitat for an endangered species, the federal government, through the Environmental Protection Agency, can impose restrictions on development and farming of those lands that serve as or support the habitat.
Entitlements – The word “entitlement” mean a legal right to a benefit. When applied to ownership of land, entitlements are those rights of use of the land, which may include the right to subdivide, the right to build or develop, the right to adjust boundary lines, the right to farm
Flood Plain – A flood plain, or floodplain, refers to those portions of land on both banks of a river or stream that are subject to periodic flooding. Flood plains are typically described in terms of frequency in years. A “one hundred year flood plain,” for example, is land on either side of a river or stream that is statistically subject to flooding only once in every one hundred years.
Green Building – Green Building involveds the effort of both design and construction to produce homes and other structures that are most efficient in the utilization of energy and utilites and resources, while minimizing waste, pollution, and other impacts on the environment. At its best, green building incorporates "renewable energy," that is energy that is not used up when consumed (such as solar power, wind power, water collection sytstems, etc.)
Land Use – Land use refers to legal allowances in terms of how a property can be used and it encompasses both entitlements and zoning. Examples of use are residential / single family, residential / multi-family, agriculture, commercial, and industrial.
Off the Grid – A property that is located outside of the range of public utility services is said to be “off the grid.” The term also refers to a property whose energy needs are supplied internally by alternative energy sources so that it is not dependent on public utility services.
On the Grid – If a solar or wind powered home is located within the service area of the public utility power grid, an owner may choose to connect to public grid and be “on the grid.” The advantages for a solar home for being on the grid is that excess energy generated but not used can be sold to the utility company for credit.
Market Value – The true market value of a property is what a buyer is willing to pay for the property if the sale offering is exposed to the maximum pool of possible buyers. Prior to an actual sale of a property, market value is best estimated by comparing the property to other similar properties that have sold. The following variables must be considered in comparing a property to other sold properties: comparability of location, comparability of size, comparability of improvements and other features, and the date of the sale.
Mineral, Oil and Gas Rights In many countries throughout the world, the mineral resources that lie beneath the lands belong to the government. In the U.S. ownership of minerals, oil and gas resources is privately owned. A landowner who owns the “mineral rights” and the “surface rights” is said to own a “fee simple estate” in the land. More often, however, the mineral rights of landowners were deeded away many generations ago and are typically owned by a party other than the seller. The title report may show that “the mineral rights have been reserved” (by another party) and are therefore not included in the sale. The buyer will then want to determine the extent to which the holder of the mineral rights has rights of egress, or an implied easement, that is, the right to enter through the surface of the land in order to extract the minerals.
Open Space – With regard to property ownership and land use, open space refers to a portion of land that is preserved in its natural state and protected from development or agricultural activity. A subdivision or conditional use permit proposal may contain a dedicated open space easement that is clearly delineated which will preserve into perpetuity a portion of the land that is under consideration for development.
Phase I Environmental Site Assessment – The Phase I ESA is a report that identifies existing or potential environmental conditions on a property that could be contaminated or otherwise hazardous.
Phase II Environmental Site Assessment – If a Phase I ESA indicates the possible presence of contamination or hazardous material, a Phase II ESA may be used to do chemical analysis and/or further testing.
Potability Test – Potable water is water that is deemed suitable for drinking according to standards of health general set by county or local governing authorities. A potability test is a chemical analysis of the water performed by a lab to determine that the water meets health standards for drinking water.
Propane – Propane gas is the most common form of gas service used in rural areas that fall outside the boundaries of a municipality. A propane tank will be located on the premises, and propane dealers regularly service and fill the tank as needed. A gas line runs from the tank to the home to service heaters, stoves and other gas based appliances. Homeowners will find no difference inside the home between using propane gas and natural gas in terms of functionality. However, propane is more expensive that natural gas. Propane is also more flammable than natural gas.
Pump Test – A pump test for a water well is a test to determine how many gallons of water the well pump can produce in a minute. The result is referred to as the discharge rate, and it is expressed as a quantity of gallons per minute, such as 40 gallons per minute. Variables for the test include the size, or horsepower, of the pump, as this factor can impact the discharge rate.
Renewable Energy Systems – Renewable energy is a term used for energy that is produced from naturally occurring and inexhaustible resources. Sunlight is a prime example of renewable energy in that sunlight is not “used up” in the process of generating solar power. Renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, and wind power are pure renewables in that their sources are 100% naturally occurring and inexhaustible. It is also a common practice to refer to hydropower and power derived from biomass as “renewable energy.” However these energy sources are not infinitely renewable in the same sense as are wind, sunlight, and geothermal sources
Riparian Rights – Riparian rights are the rights of landowners whose property borders or is adjacent to a water way, such as a river, stream, or lake. These rights include the right for “reasonable” use and enjoyment of the water for domestic purposes. Such rights also include the stipulation that the use shall not infringe on use by other landowners who also share in these riparian rights. As an example, a landowner bordering a stream does not have the sole and exclusive right to build a dam and thereby divert the water from a neighboring landowner who also borders the stream. Landowners also have similar rights to the use of the ground water that lies beneath their land. These rights, referred to as “overlying rights” are governed and regulated on a state level.
Septic System – Septic systems are the typical waste management system used in homes in rural areas, and in some small towns and unincorporated communities. When a property with a septic system is purchased, the buyer may elect to have the septic system tested. A professional septic servicing company can pump out the tank, and can also inspect the construction of the tank and confirm to the buyer that the tank is properly installed in accordance with local health codes.
Soils Analysis / Soils Tests – Soils tests can be used to determine soil compaction, which is important for any foundation of a building, the drainage or perculation factor of the soil which is essential for installation of a septic systems, and the potential for other factors such as slippage, erosion and more. Soil analysis is also used to learn the soil type and classification, to determine the suitability of the soil for various agricultural interests.
Survey – A survey of a property is performed by a licensed professional to delineate the location of the property boundary lines and line intersections (corners) for a parcel of land. The procedure can be costly and time consuming, particularly in rural areas, but it is essential for a buyer to know the exact location of the property under consideration for purchase. A seller may wish to obtain a survey prior to listing the home for sale so that the buyer can know the location of the boundary lines before making an offer.
Sustainable Agriculture – Sustainable agriculture is a term applied to farming practices that seek to continually renew and restore the land so that it can produce food indefinitely. Sustainable agricultural practices are sensitive to ecosystems and to management practices that make the most efficient use of labor and resources.
Topography – Topography refers to the relief, or varying elevations of the land surface. Descriptive terms such as flat, rolling, steep, sloping, flat to rolling, and varied are frequently used to describe topography for a property.
USGS Maps – USGS is an abbreviation for the United States Geological Survey, a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Interior. USGS maps cover entire area of the United States showing topographic detail at a scale of 1:24,000. The topography of the land surface represented on the map is represented by lines; the distance between the lines represents 2000 feet. With this approach, a map with lines that are close together will indicate steeper terrain, whereas a map with lines that are further apart represents a flatter terrain. Maps are also available at a higher scale of up to 1:250,000.
Water Collection Systems – Water collection systems are ecological systems consisting of gutters, piping and tanks designed to maximize the collection and storage rainwater and water run-off for future use. Some water collection system users claim that their entire household is able to function exclusively with the use of collected rainwater. Benefits include soft skin and shiny hair as a result of regular use of the mineral free rainwater.
Water Well -- Most rural properties located outside of a municipality or in an unincorporated area derive their water service from a water well. Some properties have both a domestic well and an agricultural well. In some areas, the regulatory departments of health have different standards for domestic wells and ag wells. Also some locations provide for reduced power costs to pump water from an ag well.A property may also derive its water service from a shared water well that may be located on the subject property or on a neighboring property. Some rural properties have the benefit of a private water service community that services multiple properties. In these situations, owners will typically have meters and will pay their metered share of water use, and will also share in common any water well maintenance costs.
Watershed – Watershed refers to an area of land where run-off water from rain or snow drains down to a lower area of accumulation. Another word for watershed is a drainage basin.
Zoning – Zoning includes the laws that determine allowable land uses for a property. Some general zoning categories may be residential, agriculture, commercial, and mixed use. Zoning may further classify general zoning categories as, for example, single family residential or multi-family residential. Zoning laws for properties that are located within cities or townships are set by the local authorities. Rural properties located in areas that are not incorporated by cities or townships will most likely be subject to county zoning laws. Most zoning authorities have procedures through which property owners can apply to get the zoning changed for a property. However, the procedure for obtaining a zoning change can be extremely challenging.

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[This Glossary was compiled by Linda Boston, a licensed real estate broker, BREcal # 0070-2515, doing business as Ranch & Country Real Estate Services in the Santa Ynez Valley, California. You can reach Linda directly at Linda@BostonFranke.com]


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