A property deed is a physical, written legal document that transfers ownership of “real property” from the buyer to the seller.
“Real property” in real estate refers to the land and anything attached to it. So it's not just a deed to land or a house but also things like:
- Underground materials like minerals
- Water features (e.g., a pond)
During the closing of a house sale, sellers and buyers use property deeds to formally record the transfer of ownership to the new owner. The county recorder usually records deeds in their office.
🔍 If this deed isn’t recorded on an official level, you could potentially lose ownership, so it’s worth checking in with the county office after you buy a property to make sure the deed is recorded and stored properly.
Unless you have previous experience with real estate, the legal aspects of buying or selling a home may seem confusing, overwhelming, and stressful. At worst, mistakes or misunderstandings could lead to legal issues down the road.
That's why we recommend enlisting an expert's help. A qualified real estate agent or attorney can help you navigate property deeds and the transfer of ownership, reducing the risk of any legal trouble.
If you're looking for a trustworthy real estate agent, our friends at Clever Real Estate can help. Clever offers a free service that personally matches you with the best local realtors from national brokers including Keller Williams, RE/MAX, and Century21.
Property Title vs. Deed
The words title and deed get thrown out a lot when it comes to owning real estate. So what’s the difference between a property title and a deed?
- A property title is the concept of ownership of the property.
- A deed is the official written legal document used to transfer that ownership.
Think of it this way: you can physically hold a deed in your hand, but you can’t physically hold a title.
- A deed is a physical document created to transfer ownership of real property.
- The most common type of property deed is a general warranty deed, which offers the most protection for the buyer.
- There’s no standard form to create a deed, but you typically need to include the ID of the buyer and seller, a description of the property, the official words of conveyance, and signatures.
- The county registrar records deeds, so if you need to find a deed, start with your local county office.
What Does a Property Deed Look Like?
There isn’t a specific property deed form or property deed transfer form, but here are a few things an official property deed needs to include to be legally valid:
- Legal competence
- Identification of buyer and seller (grantee and grantor)
- Unique legal description of property
- Words of conveyance
- Physical delivery and acceptance
Before a buyer and seller can draw up a property deed, the grantee and the grantor must be legally capable of understanding the transaction. For instance, someone who has severe dementia will probably not be capable of remembering what property they have or who they're selling it to.
The exact requirements for being physically and mentally capable vary by case and by state, so if you have circumstances that might apply, it’s worth contacting a local real estate expert to help.
Identification of Buyer and Seller
The full legal names of both parties need to be included on the deed, and the language should clearly indicate which party is selling the property and which is buying. The document should also include their official signatures.
Unique Legal Description of Property
The description of the property is the most complicated part of the deed because it’s not just an address or a quick summary of the features of the house. You can save yourself a lot of time and headache by simply updating the property description that was included in the latest deed.
But if that’s not an option, here’s some information you’ll need to include when you write up the property description:
- Distinguishing characteristics (e.g., how is this property different from neighboring properties?)
- Lot number*
* Available on your county website
Words of Conveyance
Deeds need to include a specific legal clause called the “words of conveyance,” which conveys the ownership of the property from the grantor to the grantee.
In order to be legally binding, the deed should be signed by the grantor and grantee, as well as an official public notary (usually the county recorder).
Physical Delivery and Acceptance
Once the buyer draws up the deed, they have to physically deliver it to the grantee, who has to physically take the document to accept it and for the deed to be valid.
Types of Property Deeds
There are six types of property deeds — but only four are common.
Most Common: General Warranty Deed
This is the most common type of property deed, and it’s most likely the type you’ll want to draw up if you’re buying a property. General warranty deeds offer the buyer full legal protection from title issues that haven’t been disclosed no matter when they occurred, including before the seller owned the house.
This protection comes in the form of six "covenants," or guarantees:
- The covenant of seisen guarantees that the grantor legally owns the property.
- The covenant of right to convey guarantees that the grantor actually has the legal right to transfer the ownership to you.
- The covenant against encumbrances guarantees that there are no other rights or claims to ownership that would damage the value of the home that haven’t been included in the property disclosure.
- The covenant of quiet enjoyment guarantees that you can enjoy owning the property without other people challenging that ownership or trying to kick you out.
- The covenant of warranty guarantees that in the case that someone does claim to have a superior title, then the grantor will protect the grantee.
- The covenant of further assurances guarantees that the grantor will take care of any title issues for the grantee.
Special Warranty Deed
A special warranty deed, also known as a grant deed, is similar to a general warranty deed, but the protections only apply to title issues that occurred while the grantor had ownership of the property. The grantee can still be affected by any issues that occurred before that.
A quitclaim deed is a type of property deed that includes no promises of title protection for the grantee. It’s sometimes known as a quit claim deed or a quick claim deed because it's a simple, fast way to transfer ownership of a property.
Quitclaim deeds are usually used to transfer the title of a property when no money has been exchanged. This is typically done when a property passes between spouses or other family members. However, with quitclaim deeds, you need to trust the other party in the transaction, because you don’t have any guarantees to the covenants mentioned in the general warranty deed.
Special Purpose Deeds
“Special purpose deed” is a catch-all term for specialized deeds that have a purpose other than just a property deed transfer. This category includes deeds used to buy a foreclosed property, as well as deeds used to set up home loans and mortgage payments.
If you inherit property from a deceased relative, you'll need to apply for a new deed unless that relative made a Transfer on Death deed before they died.
If transferring for another reason, use one of the property deeds listed above.
Property Deed Search by Address
Here’s how to get a copy of a property deed online: you can search for a property deed through a title company or you can do it yourself.
You can give a property's address to a professional title search company for them to find a copy of the deed and figure out any potential title issues. This typically costs between $75 and $200.
Or you can do the search yourself. If you know what county the property is in, you can go to the county website and look for an option to search the local county registrar’s records. If the website doesn’t have what you need, you can also go to the registrar’s office in person. Depending on the state, doing this search yourself usually costs $5 or so.
Why You Might Want To Search for a Property Deed
The biggest reason people search for a property deed is to find title issues and deed restrictions for a property — or to make sure there are none.
If you’re selling your property, it’s important to do a title search to find out what kinds of issues the property has before you sell it.
If you’re buying property, you’ll want to be aware of all potential title issues that might affect you.
You might want to find a property deed for a number of other reasons. Maybe you lost your copy. Maybe you want to check that the deed was properly recorded by the county after you closed on a house.
What Should You Look for During a Title Search?
Whether you do the title search or inspection yourself or hire someone to do it for you, here are some property deed and title issues to check for:
- Breaks in the chain of ownership that could affect current ownership
- Outstanding taxes, liens, mortgages, or judgments that would transfer to a new owner
- Easements or other issues with neighbors
- Squatters or other challenges to title ownership
What To Do If You Find Title Problems
If you hired a title company to do the title search for you, it will most likely resolve these issues on your behalf. If you found the issues yourself, it’s time to hire some professional help, like a real estate lawyer.
» FIND: A good realtor can connect you with a local lawyer and other real estate experts. Our friends at Clever Real Estate will find the perfect fit for you — 100% free, with zero obligation. Get started today!
FAQs About Property Deeds
What is a deed to a house?
Property deeds are written legal documents that transfer ownership of a house, the land it’s on, and anything else attached to that land from a seller to a buyer. Learn more about the legal requirements and risks.
How do you transfer a property deed from a deceased relative?
If your relative in question filled out a transfer on death deed, it serves as your property deed when combined with the official death certificate. If not, you’ll need to apply to the county to draw up a new deed. Learn more about transferring property.
How do you change a deed when you inherit property?
If you inherited property in a will and need to change a deed to transfer ownership from the deceased person to you, you’ll need to get a copy of the will and the official death certificate. From there, it would be a good idea to do a title search and check out any contested title or ownership issues. Then draft a new deed, sign it, notarize it, and deliver it to the county recorder. Learn more about drafting property deeds.
What is a deed of trust on a property?
A deed of trust is a special purpose deed that's used in place of a typical mortgage. It involves three parties: a borrower, a lender, and a trustee. A deed of trust uses the property as security for a mortgage loan, so if the borrower doesn’t pay back the loan, the property goes to the lender. Learn more about the types of property deeds.
How do I put a deed restriction on a property?
Deed restrictions are rules and prohibited activities that limit the use of property. Grantors (sellers) can include deed restrictions on property before they transfer property ownership to the grantee. Check to make sure that the restrictions you want to include are legal in your state. Learn more about deed restrictions.
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