Last edited 15 Oct 2021


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Property can be defined as something that a person or business has legal title over. Having legal title over property provides the owner with certain enforceable rights.

Property may be categorised as tangible (‘real’) or intangible. In the built environment, tangible property refers to real estate or land, whereas ‘personal property’, or chattel, is all that which is not ‘real property’.

In English common law, property includes all structures integrated with or affixed to the land, such as; buildings, dams, ponds, canals, roads, and so on. Property tends to have a monetary value attached to it and is therefore treated as an asset. However, it can also be seen as a liability, for example, if there is contamination on land or if someone is injured while on land and a court holds the property owner responsible for not preventing their injury.

Property can also be viewed as:

Property ownership is one of the key tenets of the capitalist socio-economic system. Adam Smith, one of the foremost capitalist thinkers, wrote that one of the ‘sacred laws of justice is to guard a person’s property and possessions’.

Property ownership may be private, collective or common; with the legal determination relating to who has the ‘bundle of rights’ and duties over the property. The four basic components, often referred to as a ‘bundle of rights’, of an economic good are:

Ownership is referred to as being self-propagating, which means that the property owner is legally entitled to own the economic benefits of that property.

In economics, property rights are theoretical and legal constructs for determining control over, and use of, a resource or good. The basis for all forms of market exchange is derived from property rights.

Property developers construct, redevelop or refurbish buildings in order to make a profit. They are not the same as a property investors, who purchase completed buildings and sell them or rent them for profit, however, there is clearly considerable overlap.

Investment property is real estate that is used for the purposes of investment, with the aim being to earn a financial return. This return can be earned either through rental income, the capital gain on future resale of the property or, as is typical, both.

NB Digitisation for construction product manufacturers: a plain language guide, published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in 2021 defines a property as: ‘…an inherent, or acquired feature of, a construction object, such as thermal efficiency or colour.’

Designing Buildings Wiki has a range of articles relating to property, including:

Designing Buildings Anywhere

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