Difference between Real and Personal Property

Updated on December 20, 2016

In the U.S. and in many other countries, individuals generally have the right to own, accumulate, distribute, sell or rent their property. All properties are grouped into two major classifications: real property and personal property. If you own property, knowing the difference between the two will be useful somewhere down the line.


Real property includes the land and everything else “attached” to it

Real property is the legal term for property that is land, including anything attached to the land. It is also known as “realty,” “real estate,” and “immovable property.” The phrase “anything attached to the land” means buildings, houses, wells, roads, machinery, and anything else implemented by human hands. Plants and trees are part of the real property as well. However, there are instances where plants that need human care and labor (e.g. vegetables or crops) are not included as part of the real property. The sale of real property can only be honored when it is set in writing.

A valid, real property claim must include a legal and verifiable description of the property. The description must make mention of boundaries (natural or man-made) such as streams, lake shores, roads, or train tracks. Unique markers such as surveyor’s posts, cairns, or surveying marks set by the government may also be contained in the description.

Personal property
Tangible personal property refers to items that can be moved, touched, and felt

Personal property is the legal term for non-land property that is movable. It is also known as “personalty” or “chattels” in common law courts. Personal property depreciates, but it can be secured through chattel mortgage or security interest. Rights involved in personal property are enforced for a limited amount of time. The term personal property is broad, and is classified into two basic groups: tangible and intangible property.

Tangible personal property is movable property not attached to any form or real property. This would include items that can be touched or felt such as clothing, furniture, jewelry, vehicles, or household items. In some cases, ownership and transfer rights of personal property can be represented by means of formal title documents. However, tangible personal property is usually recognized as whatever property an individual was in possession of up until the time of his/her death.

The other type of personal property is called intangible personal property. This is property that cannot be moved, felt, or touched. The intangible property represents something valuable in the form of securities, negotiable instruments (e.g. bank notes and checks), and intangible assets (e.g. copyrights, patents, or trademarks).

Real vs Personal Property

So what’s the difference between real and personal property? In today’s legal systems, it is important to note that real and personal property laws may differ depending on the jurisdiction.

Real property applies to all properties that are land or attached to it, including anything that was built on it such as buildings, roads, houses, and sometimes even crops. Personal property is any property that is not land. It is divided into tangibles and intangibles. Tangible property can be moved, felt, or touched (e.g., vehicles, jewelries, furniture). In contrast, intangible personal property is property that cannot be moved, touched, or felt (bank notes, trademarks, securities).

Real property does not depreciate and can be secured by placing a property mortgage while personal property may be placed in a chattel mortgage. Generally speaking, real property rights are enforced for a longer period than personal property rights.

Comparison Chart

Real PropertyPersonal Property
Land and everything else built on itAll non-land properties
Also called “realty,” “real estate,” “immovable property”Also known as movable property, personalty, or chattel
Buildings, houses, roads, plants, trees, etc.For example, furniture and vehicles (tangible), bank notes, or copyrights (intangible)


Here’s a quick YouTube clip that talks about the difference between the two major classifications of property.

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