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Property Deed: What Is It And How Does It Work?

Mar 9, 2024



When it comes to buying a house, there’s a lot of terminology to know. “Property deed” is a term that many people have heard but may not be able to tell you exactly what it is. While it’s similar to a house deed, property deeds can be used for all sorts of real estate.

What Is A Property Deed? 

A property deed is a document that transfers legal ownership of a piece of real property – including parcels of land and buildings – between a seller and buyer. On the deed, the seller is listed as the grantor and the new owner is listed as the grantee. Along with the names, information including the sale price or that the property was a gift is also included.

Property deeds contain the history of ownership of the property. Every time ownership of the property is transferred, there needs to be an accompanying deed. There are many types of deeds used to transfer property, depending on the situation. The deed history of the home you’re buying will show up in a title search.

Property Title Vs. Deed

A property title is the legal right of ownership for the piece of real estate you own. You would use a deed to transfer this right to someone else. The biggest difference between title and deed is that title is a legal concept, whereas a deed is a physical legal document. The deed is used as proof of title.

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How Does A Deed To A Property Work?

A deed works by transferring ownership rights from the grantor (or seller) to the grantee (buyer). This is done through the seller and buyer signing the deed and it being notarized. Depending on state law, this is either done with a real estate attorney or a title company representative. The history of the transferring of ownership rights is known as the chain of title, and as you sign the deed to become an owner, you become part of that chain.

There are several types of deeds with different purposes. Here’s a list of them and how they work:

  • General warranty deed: General warranty deeds are the most common for residential real estate. They guarantee the property is free of encumbrances and protect against any future claims of title.
  • Special warranty deed: Similar to general warranty deeds, special warranty deeds only protect the grantee from any encumbrances or claims of title during the grantor’s ownership. They don’t protect for anything prior to that.
  • Quitclaim deed: Quitclaim deeds are used to transfer properties, often between two trusted parties. They don’t come with a warranty. One common use of them is in the case of divorce, where one party will transfer their share of ownership in a home.
  • Administrator’s deed: An administrator’s deed is used to transfer ownership to an heir if an estate owner dies without leaving a will.
  • Executor’s deed: Executor’s deeds are used to transfer property to heirs when an estate owner dies with a will.

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How To Get A Copy Of Your Property Deed

You can get a deed to your property by contacting your local county recorder’s office. Depending on where you live, you might even be able to get a copy online.

Here are the steps to follow to get a copy of yours.

1. Do Some Research

States and counties can vary in how they record property deeds. You’ll need to research who to contact in your area before you’re able to get your deed. For example, many areas have deeds recorded with the county clerk.

2. Gather Documents 

You’ll need to pull together information to get your property deed. Some info is simple, such as your address and name. But other information may take a little more effort. You may need the legal description of your property as well as info on where the deed is located, like a book and page number. If you don’t have this information, there may be additional records search fees.

3. Contact Your Local Recorder’s Office

You can often request your property deed through mail or online. You’ll need to pay a fee, which varies depending on your location. Additional fees may be charged depending on how you pay and whether the office has to perform a records search.

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Property Deed FAQs

The answers to these commonly asked questions may help you better understand deeds.

How can I transfer a property deed from a deceased relative?

The transfer of property from a deceased relative depends on their will and trust. If they didn’t leave a will, an administrator’s deed could be used depending on local laws. With a will, an executor’s deed is used.

What does a property deed look like?

Modern property deeds can look very plain, with just black text on white paper. Many are made to be easily printable. Still, some deeds are more ornate with unique border designs, seals and other decorative touches.

How much does it cost to transfer property deeds?

Deed transfer costs vary considerably by location since different locales charge transfer taxes at different rates. These taxes are usually paid by the grantor. You may need to pay costs to an attorney or title company for compiling and filing the paperwork.

Are property deeds public record?

Property deeds are generally public record and many are available online.

The Bottom Line

A property deed is a physical legal document used to transfer ownership of real property between parties. Where title is the concept of ownership rights, a deed is the physical proof. These deeds are filed with the local government and are kept as public record. There are many types of property deeds, each with its own unique use – from warranty deeds used to transfer residences in sales to deeds used to transfer inheritance.

Want to better understand ownership and home buying? Learn more about ownership interest to get more familiar with the process.

Headshot of Carey Chesney, commercial real estate expert and writer for Rocket Mortgage.

Carla Ayers

Carla is Section Editor for Rocket Homes and is a Realtor® with a background in commercial and residential property management, leasing and arts management. She has a Bachelors in Arts Marketing and Masters in Integrated Marketing & Communications from Eastern Michigan University.