Real Estate Terms

Accession Definition

It’s not uncommon for the examiner to ask you to define certain real estate terms. One real estate term that examiners are fond of is accession. What does it mean? In this article, you will learn the definition of accession, annexation, accretion, avulsion, and reliction.

What is Accession?

Accession is a method of assuming ownership of something or the right to possess property.

Different industries define accession differently.

Accession is one of the five ways of acquiring title. The other four ways include gaining ownership through a will, succession, continuous occupancy, and of course, regular transfer.

  1. Will: A written document used to dispose of real and personal property after the property owner’s death. A will must contain the name and information of the testator along with a list of assets to be disposed of.
  2. Succession: The transfer of property ownership to one’s heirs. For example, if somebody dies, they do not have a will but heirs. The law will provide for the disposition of the person’s property to their heirs.
  3. Adverse Possession:  The legal principle under which a person who does not have legal title to a property acquires legal ownership based on the continuous occupation of the property.
  4. Transfer: Property can be transferred from owner to owner through a deed.

What Is Accession in Real Estate?

In property law, accession is the acquisition of land by its addition to already owned real estate through human or natural processes.

For example, Mary owns land that sits on a delta. She notices that the river deposits soil and the riverbank grows gradually. Through accession, Mary adds the land formed from natural influences to her title.

Through accession, a property can increase its size via three methods: annexation, accretion, and reliction.

What is Annexation?

Annexation is the process of adding artificial improvements to real property. Think about installing a toilet seat, chandelier, or ceiling fan. Upon installation, the toilet becomes part of the property through annexation.

Should you decide to sell the property, the toilet is included in the sale of the house. How does annexation affect a tenant-landlord relationship? Consider the example below:

James has been a tenant of Richard’s for quite a while. To make his kitchen more practical, he installs a new countertop. What happens to the countertop once James decides to move? Does he rip it out and move with it? Does Richard compensate him for the counter?

In most cases, James can never have the right to take possession of the countertop once he dissolves his lease. In other instances, James would be able to negotiate with Richard for the right of accession to the improvement.

Annexation could also mean adding or incorporating a territory. An example of historic annexation is the 1867 Alaska purchase. The United States reached an agreement with Russia over the sale of Alaska. After paying $7.2 million, the United States annexed Alaska. Other examples are the US annexation of Hawaii and Texas.

Municipalities can also annex territories and incorporate them into their boundaries—for example, the 1872 annexation of the Community of Putnam by the city of Zanesville, Ohio.

Annexation at the city level is usually done to open up new land for development and to increase the city’s tax base. The additional revenue can help the municipality provide additional services and amenities to existing and new residents.

Annexation is reversble. A municipality can vote removed land from a city’s boundaries. This process is called de-annexation.

What Is Accretion?

Accretion is the process through which the surface of land grows and increases. Accretion occurs through the gradual depositing of soil on a river bank or a beach.

A property that sits on a delta could experience accretion. The river carries soil downstream and deposits it along riverbanks. The banks grow, adding more land to the property. The owner property of this property has a right to own the growing riverbank.

What’s the Opposite of Accretion?

Avulsion is accretion in reverse. Avulsion is the loss of land through erosion or the tearing away of land. Picture land on the edge of a cliff, and waves raging below, continuously eating away at the dirt at the base of the cliff. Eventually, the edge of the cliff may collapse. This loss of land is called avulsion.

What Is Reliction?

Reliction is the increase in land size due to the permanent recession of a body of water. The key factor is permanence. Reliction does not cover the land increase from drying seasonal rivers. Weather patterns change, and the river will flood again. 

For example, a dried-up lake reveals more land. The land owner of the plot adjacent to the new land assumes ownership of the extension. Reliction can be highly beneficial to a property owner who gains land and damaging to the party that loses land.

Gaining land at the expense of a neighbor can result in disputes.

What to Know for the Real Estate Exam

Accession is one of the five ways of acquiring and transferring title. Accession is acquiring title to land by its addition to already owned real estate through natural or human influences.

For example, a man borrows a lawnmower from his neighbor. As soon as he starts using the machine, it breaks down. The man realizes it’s a broken part and replaces it. Upon returning the lawnmower to the owner, the replacement part belongs to him through accession.

In real estate, accession involves acquiring title to property formed through natural or human processes by adding it to already-formed real estate. One can gain more property through annexation, accretion, and reliction.

Annexation is the process of adding property to property, for example, installing a shelf in your pantry. Annexation can also involve adding land to a territory—for example, the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii. Annexation is reversible through de-annexation or severance.

Accretion is the process through which land gains more land through the gradual soil deposit. Accretion is common along the banks or rivers and shorelines of lakes, seas, and oceans.

Land size can also increase by a permanent recession of water. This process of land creation is called reliction—for example, a dried-up lake or a diverted river.

Land size can also shrink through natural influences like mudslides and erosion. This loss of land is called avulsion—for example, the edges of a cliff collapse due to heavy erosion at the base.

Accession, reliction, accretion, and avulsion are common terms in real estate. To pass your real estate exams, you need to understand and be able to explain these terms.

For more definitions, try out our real estate vocabulary flashcards app.

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