Sunday, 23 October 2011

Real Estate

There's a half page in The Times Saturday opinion section often occupied to amusing effect by Giles Coren (in his spare time he writes humourless tosh for the Daily Mail: I suppose he needs the money).  This week the space is taken up by the thoughts of Roger Scruton on home ownership in England.  Suddenly, he says, we are being encouraged to take out second mortgages on our homes and gamble the proceeds.  Perhaps this is a piece he wrote ten years ago, which a sub-editor pulled out of a drawer at the last minute when Coren's effort got pulled because he'd written something the lawyers wouldn't risk publishing.  [The Times is behind a paywall, so there's no link here to the article.]

I mention Scruton's dull space-filler mainly in order to marvel at this under-informed comment: "...real ownership does not mean leasehold or rental but freehold - what the brokers call "real estate" on the understanding that nothing else is really real."

No.  Real estate is a legal term meaning fixed property, as distinct from personal property.  It is perfectly possible to have a leasehold on real estate.  (It's from the Latin res, a thing.  Some etymologies claim instead that it's from regalis, meaning royal as in "real tennis", but there's no evidence to support them.)

I wonder why Scruton didn't check this with a fellow don: a lawyer or historian perhaps.  I think the problem may be that the universities he has studied and taught at are "mere teaching machines rather than a community of scholars that is a humble part of a larger organism."

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