What is a Deed in Real Estate?
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The legalities of a home sale can often be a bit confusing for anyone who doesn’t work in real estate, but a little knowledge of the common terminology used can go a long way whether you're buying or selling a home. One of the essential terms to understand in a home transaction is a “deed.”
What is a deed?
A deed is a legal document officially transferring property ownership from the seller, also known as the grantor, to the buyer, also known as the grantee. To be legally valid, a deed must be publicly recorded and include a statement that it is a deed, a detailed description of the property, the names and addresses of the grantor and grantee, and signatures from both parties. It may also contain conditions or restrictions on how the grantee is allowed to use the property. In the United States, deeds are typically recorded with the County Clerk of the county where the property is located.
Is there a difference between a deed and a title?
While both the deed and the title to a property are transferred from the grantor to the grantee in a home sale, the two are not the same. A deed is a tangible written document, whereas a title refers to the abstract concept of ownership rights. When you own a home, you always have the title, but the deed may not be in your physical possession.
What are the different types of deeds?
Deeds most commonly fall into one of the following four categories:
General Warranty Deed:
This type of deed guarantees that the grantor has full legal rights to sell the property, as did any previous sellers, and that the property has no defects such as liens, debts, or encumbrances. This is the most popular type of deed, as it provides the most security to the grantee.
Special Warranty Deed:
A special warranty deed is similar to a general warranty deed, except that it only guarantees the nonexistence of defects when the grantor owned the property and makes no guarantees regarding previous ownership. This type of deed is used when the seller does not know a lot about the property's history. It is common to see this type of deed when the property's previous owner passed away, or the home had gone through a foreclosure.
Bargain and Sale Deed:
This type of deed only states that the grantor has the right to sell the property. It does not protect the grantee against defects. Bargain and sale deeds are typically used in similar situations as special warranty deeds, but in these cases, the seller has even less knowledge about the property’s past.
A quitclaim deed provides no warranties and merely states that the grantor agrees to transfer the property to the grantee. Quitclaim deeds are generally only used when the grantor and grantee have an established relationship, such as parent and child or divorced spouses, and both are familiar with the property.
Why might I need access to a deed?
Your deed is one of the most important legal documents in your possession because it is the only thing that provides definitive proof that you own your home. Like any valuable document, it’s always a good idea to keep a copy of your deed stored in a secure place where it is unlikely to get lost or stolen.
Having a copy of your deed on hand makes it much easier to sell, refinance, or transfer ownership of your home. Selling your property is much more efficient with a copy of your deed, as not having one can make the sale process take longer and may lower the value of your home.
How do I obtain a copy of my deed?
Your original deed is most likely in the possession of your mortgage lender, but obtaining a copy of the deed should not be difficult, as deeds are public records that anyone can access. You can get a copy of your deed through any of the following methods:
Visit the registry of deeds:
Your local recorder of deeds, typically located at your county clerk’s office, can provide you with a copy of your deed for a small fee. This will typically only cost you a few dollars, but be sure to have cash on hand, as some offices do not accept payments by credit card. You can either visit the office in person or request a copy of the deed by mail. In some counties, property records may even be available online.
Hire a local title company or abstractor:
If you do not wish to contact the recorder's office yourself, you can have a local title company or abstractor do it for you. If you used a title company to purchase your property, you might be able to have them obtain the deed copy for free.
Use an online service:
Perhaps the quickest and easiest way to view a copy of your deed is to use one of the several title research services that are available online. While many of these services are free and take only minutes, there is a catch: Most of the time, the copy you obtain will not be certified, meaning it is only for your personal reference and cannot be used for any legal purposes.
Having access to your deed and a proper understanding of its terms makes every step of your homeownership process run smoother. Before buying a house, it’s good to know what type of deed you will be signing and what rights it grants you. Then, when it comes time to sell, choosing the type of deed that best meets your needs helps ensure that you receive a fair price and avoid any legal troubles later on. If you do not currently have a copy of your deed, we highly recommend obtaining one at your earliest convenience.