Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fee Simple

There are essentially two categories applicable to real estate; namely, ownership ("fee simple") and possession (tenancy). The distinction is sometimes captured in the terms freehold vs. leasehold. The difference is not always palpable (as in the comparison of a long-term life estate to outright ownership) but generally speaking fee simple is considered the highest level of interest in land. Real property (from the Latin word "res" meaning "thing") is broadly considered immovable as opposed to personal property. The thrust of "real" is that its features apply to the immovable property itself; whereas the rights applicable to personal property are personal to the particular owner not the object specifically. For example the rights of a riparian property owner reflect the peculiar character of the water bound property, not the farmer who owns it.

The word "fee" derives from "fief" meaning a feudal landholding.  Feudal land tenures existed in several varieties, most of which involved the tenant having to supply some service to his overlord, such as knight-service (military service).  If the tenant's overlord was the king, grand serjeanty, then this might require providing many different services, such as providing horses in time of war or acting as the king's ceremonial butler.  These fiefs gave rise to a complex relationship between landlord and tenant involving duties on both sides.  For example in return for receiving his tenant's fealty or homage the overlord had a duty to protect his tenant.  When feudal land tenure was abolished all fiefs became "simple", without conditions attached to the tenancy.

Landlords are sometimes called feudal parasites. Much of the rancour is directed at "do nothing feudal landlords who live off their hereditary privilege". Like so many condemnations it is not universally appropriate.  Last night for example we dined with a young couple who are a credit to themselves in particular and to society in general.  They are landlords. And while they exact a fair return for their investment, they have in our opinion more than earned the entitlement.  Following our gratifying meal together at a local fish shop, we drove nearby to examine their most recent real estate investment. We were immediately struck by the quality of improvements and the pleasing artistic insinuations. The gentleman co-owner is a professional contractor. He has the singular talent (in addition to his evident skills as a tradesman) of being able to deliver very pleasing elemental interior decoration, effective without being immodest.

Our historic relationship with these friends goes back to December, 2012 when we (and their French bulldog Max) first met on the beach at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. By entire serendipity we ran into one another the following year at approximately the same time and rekindled our association more formally.  Each year since then we have congregated either there or in Canada. Because there is no particular motive to our relationship other than obvious commonalty (and Max), the growth of our confederacy has been casual and largely unambitious. Imperceptibly however the extent of the acquaintance has deepened. An unexpected collateral to the friendship was the discovery last evening of certain technical advances in the realm of homeownership, including for example a visually responsive doorbell and an extraordinarily intuitive heating thermometer.  I believe even the kitchen appliances - fridge, stove and microwave - are connected to bluetooth. It was all a poignant assertion of the speed and boundlessness of contemporary evolution. It seems like only yesterday I was sharing with my elderly mother her marvel at the accomplishment of the iPhone! Apparently I have crossed into a similar pasture of amazement.

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