Real estate is a legal term that encompasses land along with anything permanently affixed to the land, such as buildings. Real estate is often considered synonymous with real property (also sometimes called realty), in contrast with personal property, or personalty. However, for technical purposes, some people prefer to distinguish real estate, referring to the land and fixtures themselves, from real property, referring to ownership rights over real estate. The terms real estate and real property are used primarily in common law, while civil law jurisdictions refer instead to immovable property.
In spite of the name, real estate has no connection with the concept of reality (in other words, the law does not consider real property more "real" than personal property). It derives instead from the feudal principle that in a monarchy, all land was considered the property of the king. Thus originally the term real estate was equivalent to "royal estate", real originating from the French royale, as it was the French-speaking Normans who introduced feudalism to England and thus the English language; cognate to Spanish real.
With the development of private property ownership, real estate has become a major area of business. Purchasing real estate requires a significant investment, and each parcel of land has unique characteristics, so the real estate industry has evolved into several distinct fields. Specialists are often called on to valuate real estate and facilitate transactions. Some kinds of real estate businesses include:
Within each field, a business may specialize in a particular type of real estate, such as residential, commercial, or industrial property. In addition, almost all construction business effectively has a connection to real estate.
According to The Economist, "developed economies'" assets at the end of 2002 was
- Residential property: $48 trillion
- Commerical property: $14 trillion
- Equities: $20 trillion
- Government bonds: $20 trillion
- Corporate bonds: $13 trillion
- Total: $115 trillion
That makes real estate assets 54% and financial assets 46% of total stocks, bonds, and real estate assets. Assets not counted here are bank deposits, insurance "reserve" assets, (human assets,) and it's not clear if all debt and equity investments are counted in the categories equities and bonds. For US asset levels see FRB: Z.1 Release-- Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States (http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/Z1/).