What Are Property Deeds?
A deed is a legal document that transfers property ownership rights in real estate. Deeds in their most basic form contain:
- A description of the property or real estate involved
- The names of the parties
- The signature of the person transferring the real estate
Learn more in our FAQ about property deeds:
- What are the basic types of deeds?
- How do I buy property with multiple owners?
- Do property deeds need to be notarized?
- Do I need to record a deed?
- What are trust deeds?
- What are contracts for deeds?
Here are the most common types of property deeds and how they are typically used:
- General warranty deed:
- A warranty deed transfers ownership and provides additional promises, including that the transferring party has good title (in other words, the property is free of any encumbrances like liens and easements). If the promises made turn out to be untrue, the transferring party (the grantee) agrees to compensate the buyer.
- Grant deed:
- A grant deed transfers ownership interest and traditionally promises that the property hasn't already been transferred to someone else.
- Quitclaim deed:
- A quitclaim deed transfers whatever ownership rights that the transferring party may have on the property. Quitclaim deeds are useful for transferring rights when it's unclear exactly what those rights are.
There are generally three ways to take property jointly with someone (buy property together), and the effect of the choice can be significant. In whichever form of deed you use, you should specify how the property is being taken. Here are the three most common:
- Tenants in common:
- If you take property as tenants in common, you can take unequal shares of the property and you can define who your property goes to when you die.
- Joint tenants:
- If you take property as joint tenants, you must take the property in equal shares, and your share will automatically pass to the other co-owners upon your death. Because the share automatically passes, you do not need to state who gets the property in your will.
- Tenants by the entirety:
- Tenants by the entirety is also referred to as community property. Tenants by the entirety is a form of spousal property, where married people own the whole property and cannot transfer their rights to the whole property without the consent of the other tenant.
Almost all states require that a deed be notarized and filed, and some states require that it also be witnessed. Thus, the transferring party should go to a notary, who will notarize and witness the signature.
It is very crucial that the transferring party record the deed by filing it with the land records (county clerk's) office in the county where the property is located (also commonly called a country recorder, land registry, or register of deeds). The recorder's office will keep a copy and return the original to the transferring party.
Since the deed is going to be a public record, anyone performing a title search will be able to know you have ownership of the property. Thus, the main purpose of recording the deed is to give notice to the world that you have title of the property. Note: there is a small recording fee the county recorder charges you for recording a real estate purchase.
There are two common "deeds" that aren't really deeds because they don't transfer property:
- Trust deed:
- A trust deed (or deed of trust) is really a mortgage that transfers title to land to a trustee who holds the land as security for a loan. When the loan is paid off, the title is transferred back to the borrower.
- A contract for deed:
- A contract for deed is really a contract and grants one party title to the property until the other party pays off his or her loans, upon which title is transferred back to the original borrower.
Confused About Property Deeds? Get Peace of Mind With an Attorney
Real property is usually a person's largest investment in their life. This means that documents establishing ownership should be very carefully constructed by a professional. Contact a local real estate attorney to learn how they can help protect your interests now and far into the future.
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