When it comes to buying real estate, there are a few terms with which you’ll want to be familiar. One of the most important of these is “property deed,” which refers to the legal document showing the transfer of ownership between two parties and is almost always used in the legal transfer of real estate.
What is a property deed?
Though the two terms are often used interchangeably or confused with each other, a property title and a property deed are wholly different things. While both relate to a property’s ownership, they refer to different aspects of that ownership:
Title refers to the actual right of ownership of a property. It’s an intangible concept that describes someone’s right to own and use the property, as well as the right to sell. You “take title” of a home when you purchase it.
A deed is a physical, legal document that facilitates the transfer of ownership from one person to another. A deed is a vital part of a property purchase or transfer: without one, you can’t buy or sell a property.
Every state requires deeds for the legal transfer of real estate. While requirements vary by state, there are a few components that must be included within a deed.
The essential components of a deed include the name of the seller (grantor) who is 18 years of age or older; the name of the buyer (grantee); a granting clause or words of conveyance; a description of the property; and the signatures of all the property’s owners. Title—or ownership—only passes once the deed is delivered and accepted by the grantee. The title is conveyed at settlement, but the deed should also be recorded with the county register of deeds.
Types of property deeds
There are different types of property deeds based on the degree of warranties or protections provided by the seller to the buyer. Some of the most common are:
General warranty deed: A general warranty deed is the most popular type of deed. This deed offers the most protection and warranties for the buyer. It facilitates the transfer of title while offering assurance that the seller has good title to the property and that it’s free from any liens or encumbrances.
Quitclaim deed: A quitclaim deed offers the least amount of protection during a transfer. This type of deed is used to transfer ownership rights without making any guarantee that there are no other existing claims on the property. This type of deed is often used when a property is being gifted rather than sold.
Deed of trust: A deed of trust is often used when a property is financed. With a deed of trust, a trustee will hold the title as security for the loan on the property until the buyer pays off the mortgage. Once the loan is paid off and the lien is released, the trustee will transfer the title of the property to the buyer.
Special warranty deed: A special warranty deed offers less protection than a general warranty. This deed warrants that the seller has a legal right to sell the property, but only guarantees that the title is clean for the period of time that they owned it. It does not offer assurances against any potential issues that could arise from problems prior to their ownership.
How do I get a copy of my property deed?
The process of obtaining a copy of your property deed will depend on the city and state where the property is located. Typically, you can request either a certified or uncertified copy of a property record—deed included—via a local government office for a small fee.
Are property deeds public record?
Yes, property deeds are public record. When a deed is recorded, it is automatically entered into the public record and can be accessed via the Freedom of Information Act by anyone. Depending on the state, there may be restrictions and specific legislation that determine access to public records.
When you’re buying property, you want to ensure that you are getting what you pay for and that a legitimate transfer is taking place. A property deed is an important part of the transfer of title and — depending on the type of deed that’s used — can help protect you from a number of unknowns that may arise concerning ownership of the property.