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A Guide to House Deeds - What You Need to Know

What exactly is a house deed and when is it used in real estate? Trust & Will explains what you need to know about house deeds.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

When you finally get the deed to your house, you know it’s official - you’re now a homeowner! A house deed is a critical document involved in the homebuying process. Thus, you’ll need to know how it works and the different types of deeds that may be used. Keep reading as Trust & Will explains what you need to know about house deeds used in real estate.

House deed definition

A house deed is a written document that identifies the legal owner of a specific property. When someone buys a house, both the buyer and the seller must sign a deed. The deed transfers the property’s ownership rights from the original owner to the new owner. 

When it comes to real property, ownership disputes can arise. The deed can serve as a useful tool in these cases as well. Deeds are a part of public record, so simply pulling a deed from the county registrar or clerk’s office and checking the name on the deed can settle the dispute. This also highlights why it’s so important to properly record a deed so that it is up-to-date with the rightful owner’s name. 

What do house deeds mean?

Having a house deed means that you’re the rightful owner who holds title to your house. By having a proper, recorded deed, your property ownership cannot be questioned. It also means that you have the full right to do what you want with the property, such as making changes to it, taking out a new mortgage, or even selling the property. 

Note that the terms “deed” and “title” are often confused. Although both describe homeownership, the word “title” is conceptual and describes a person’s right and ownership to a property. The deed is the physical legal document that proves this ownership. 

One of the many things a homeowner can do with a house deed is to use it to sell the house to a new owner, or to gift it to a loved one. Different deeds are used in different scenarios. We’ll go over several common types of house deeds next. 

Types of house deeds

As mentioned above, there are several different types of house deeds that are commonly used. The type of deed used depends on the context of the transaction, and the level of protection being offered. For instance, one type of deed might be used for a traditional home sale, while another type of deed might be used when a court case is involved. 

Here, we introduce and explain several common types of house deeds:

  • Official Deeds: Most deeds fall into one of two broad categories: official and private deeds. Official deeds are typically used in connection with court cases and proceedings.

  • Private Deeds: Other deeds typically fall into the private deed category. Most property transfers use private deeds, so it’s more likely that you’ll be using a private deed.

  • Quitclaim Deeds: A quitclaim deed offers no particular protections to the grantee, which is the person purchasing or inheriting a property. The current owner is simply “quitting” any claim they have to the property. The grantee has no legal recourse should any issues with the property title arise. Because of this, quitclaim deeds aren’t recommended when dealing with a traditional property sale. However, you might see a quitclaim being used when gifting property as a part of an inheritance, or when a co-owner is simply giving up their share of the property interest to their remaining co-owner(s).

  • General Warranty Deeds: A general warranty deed offers the highest level of protection to the grantee. If you are buying a home, it is recommended to demand this type of deed. It protects you against any claims that might come up against the property title, from any time in the history of the home. The grantor is guaranteeing that they will be liable for any title issues that come up, regardless of where they came from.

  • Special Warranty Deeds: In contrast to a general warranty deed, a special warranty deed limits the grantor’s liability. They are only providing warranty for title issues that could come up from the duration that they owned the house. They are not liable for any title issues or claims that come up outside of their personal ownership timeline.

  • Special Purpose Deeds: Last but not least, special purpose deeds are usually official deeds that are used for court proceedings. For instance, a court might authorize the use of an Administrator’s or Executor’s deed to transfer property from a deceased person’s estate to their beneficiary.

Note that this was a brief overview of different types of property deeds. For a more in-depth understanding, be sure to check out our guide, “Types of Deeds to Transfer Ownership of Real Property.” 

Who keeps the deeds to a house?

There are several entities that may hold the deed to a house. When a home is owned free-and-clear, the homeowner is the rightful owner and thus holds the deed to the house. However, if the homeowner is still paying a mortgage, then they technically do not fully own the house yet. In this case, the deed may be held by the mortgage lender.

In another instance, if a buyer is purchasing a house with cash, they may work directly with a real estate attorney to obtain the deed.

Keep in mind that house deeds are public information in most states. This means that you can go to the county clerk, registrar, or recorder’s office (depending on the location) in which the property is located and request to view the deed. Doing so can determine the status of a property and who is shown as the recorded owner. 

How do I obtain the deed to my house?

The process of obtaining the deed to your home can vary based on where you live. However, we can provide a general guideline.

First, find out which county office holds public deed records, in the county in which the property is located. For instance, it could be a County Recorder's Office or County Registrar's Office. It’s often helpful to conduct a search in your locale to find the right office. In some cases, the correct office may redirect you to another department that maintains archived records if the deed in question is older. 

To request a copy of the deed, you’ll need some basic information such as information about the owner, the property parcel number, the address, and the property description. Note that the owner may be the mortgage lender until the mortgage is fully paid. 

Last but not least, be aware that requesting a copy of a deed comes at a fee. Most offices charge a flat fee for a certain number of pages, and then fees for any additional pages. Visit your local county office website to find out their respective title request process and fee schedule.

Make sure house deeds are a part of your estate plan

House deeds are an important aspect of homeownership. Not only do they provide proof of ownership, but they are also a key legal instrument used to transfer property ownership from one party to another. Because different property transactions have different circumstances, there are a number of house deed types to choose from.

House deeds and any real estate ownership also need to be included in your estate plan. They are an important piece to account for your property and assets, and making plans in advance for how you plan to pass a particular piece of property to a loved one. This is a great opportunity to begin researching different types of deeds and determine what type of deed(s) you’d like to include as a part of your estate plan to bequeath property. Trust & Will has made it easy and affordable for anyone to create or update their estate plan. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!

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