When you’re about to close on your first home purchase - possibly one of the largest investments of your lifetime - you’ll want to be informed and educated as much as possible.
A critical aspect of the closing process is making sure you wind up becoming the proper legal owner of your property, and that’s by performing a proper recording of the property deed. This is the legal instrument used to transfer property interest, and is thus the only document that can legally prove your true ownership of your house. Just because you live in a house or pay the mortgage for it does not necessarily equate to ownership and ownership rights from the legal perspective.
With that knowledge, you’ll have a burning desire to make sure your property deed is properly recorded. So, who is responsible for recording a property deed?
This responsibility typically lies with your title or escrow agent. They will “record” the deed by filling out and filing your original deed in the appropriate government office in your local county. When it’s done properly, a deed can be recorded in a matter of hours after your home closing process concludes.
While the responsibility of deed recording usually falls onto the shoulders of another, you should still remain hypervigilant and check their work. There are times when deeds aren’t recorded properly and thus invalidate your title rights. Title agents are human, which means human error, losing the deed, or even going out of business are all in the realm of possibility. Even if your title agent were to submit the deed properly, someone at the county office could make a mistake.
To put your mind at ease, know that these errors are rare, although they do happen from time to time. It is highly recommended that you obtain a certified copy of your deed after it has been recorded. This allows you to verify that all of the information that sits with the county (and is thus what is considered legally true) is correct.
The rest of this guide will explain how you can locate a recorded deed, as well as how to record a deed yourself when needed.
How to find a recorded deed
You will find a recorded deed through the local county government office in which your property is located. The correct office or division will vary from county to county, but it is typically along the lines of your county register, registrar, clerk, or recorder's office.
Some municipalities will require you to visit the office in person. A member of the administrative staff will then help you locate the deed in-person. You would pay a small fee to obtain a certified copy that you can take home.
Some counties will have implemented an online database that allows you to search for records from the comfort of your own home. You typically will not be able to view or download the deed itself. You would locate and identify the proper record and then order a certified copy that is mailed to you for a fee.
Note that documents may be tricky to locate if they weren’t filed, indexed, or recorded properly. If an initial search doesn’t produce any results, then you may need to get creative. Try searching for the record using the name of the buyer, seller, or the tax parcel number. If you still cannot locate the record, then it’s a good sign that it may not have been recorded properly. Here, you should work with your local county to locate the most recently recorded document tied to the property.
If it turns out that the recorded deed is incorrect or contains errors, then you should certainly take action to make sure a proper deed is recorded.
How do I record a property deed?
A deed can be recorded in one of two ways. The first method is to work with a professional, such as a title or escrow agent or real estate attorney, who can draw up and record a deed on your behalf. This includes a correction deed or other type of new deed that will help correct any errors on an existing deed.
The second method is to utilize a deed template that can be found through a paid service or form provided by your county office.
Regardless of the method you choose, be prepared to comply with the deed recording requirements of your county. Although they may vary, here are some examples of information you’ll be required to provide:
County Name: List the name of the county in which your property is located. Be sure to include the address at which you receive your mail.
Current Owners: You must list the correct and full names of the current owners of the property. Further, make sure the names are listed in the same manner that they are listed in current county property records. For example, if current property records show that a “Samantha A. Brown” owns the property, be careful to write precisely “Samantha A. Brown,” and not “Samantha Brown,” or “Sam Brown.” Taking a look at the last deed recorded for the property is the best way to verify the correct form of the owner’s name.
Property Description: Every property deed includes a legal description of the property. An address does not suffice, as the deed must provide details on the land itself, which cannot be defined with a simple address. You can find this on your current property deed, or you can contact your local recorder’s office (must be the county in which the property is located.) Property deeds typically include a legal description of the property in a separate paragraph and describe physical dimensions, boundaries, property lines, and other identifying information. Be prepared to learn some new legal terminology that sounds like it comes from another century. Make sure to copy down the property description exactly as it appears on the current deed.
Parcel Number: Last but not least, enter the property parcel number. Many municipalities also refer to this as the tax identification number, or the property serial number. (Also look for the letters “APN,” which is an acronym for “assessor’s parcel number.”) This is a long series of numbers that are separated by dashes and can be found on your deed or latest tax assessment.
Optional Trust Information: This section applies if you are placing your property in a Trust, which is a scenario that warrants a new deed recording. Be sure to include your Trust information, such as the names of your Trustee(s) and the name of your Trust. Be sure to match this information exactly as it appears on your Trust agreement.
Once you have created your deed, you must have it signed and notarized. Then, you must file and record it with your county recorder. The administrative staff representing the office will take your document, look over and verify important details, and make sure that the document is prosperity signed and notarized. Once this is done, they will make a record on the county property book and make a copy of the deed. The deed is then returned back to you. Note that this process requires a fee, which is often paid upfront.
Before you get started, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with any county-specific guidelines and requirements. Resources can often be found on your county website.
Make Sure Property Deeds Are a Part of Your Estate Plan
Making sure that your property deed is properly recorded is one of the single most important actions you can take to protect your legal rights and assets. This is because your deed is the only way to prove that you are the true legal owner of your own house or investment property. Just because you live in a house or have your name on a mortgage doesn’t mean you have property title to a property. Deed errors or mis-recordings can jeopardize your title rights and thus should be corrected immediately.
If you are in the process of creating or updating your Estate Plan, this is a great time to review your deed. If you’re not sure that you have the most up-to-date version of the deed, you can contact your local county government and order a certified copy. The reason why this is a great time is because your Estate Plan incorporates your wishes for what should happen to your assets and property. In many cases, a large asset such as a family home is often bequeathed to a loved one, such as a child or spouse. Here, it is more important than ever to verify that you do indeed have the title rights to give your property to someone else. (Just because you think you do doesn’t always mean you actually do, legally speaking.)
If you would like any support in establishing your Estate Plan or updating it to include your real estate ownership, we’re here to help! Trust & Will’s estate planning services make it easy for property owners to create a plan, whether you want to leave property to a loved one using a Will, or place your property in a Trust. Get started today!
Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our Learn Center or chat with a live member support representative!
Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.