What is a House Deed? Home Buying Fundamentals

For homeowners and prospective homebuyers alike, few documents carry as much legal weight as the house deed. But if you’re unfamiliar with the world of real estate, these documents can be difficult to understand.

In this post, we’ll explain the nature of a house deed and describe how they differ from a title to a property.

What is a House or Property Deed?

One of the most important things to remember is that a house or property deed is a physical, legal document that confers ownership to the holder of that deed.

What a House Deed Includes

A house deed includes a description of the property in addition to its associated boundaries and property lines. Since a deed dictates ownership, the deed will also identify the property’s seller, known as the grantor, as well as the buyer, known as the grantee.

In order for the sale of a property to be legally binding, the deed must be signed by both parties. Once a house deed has been signed, it is the responsibility of the buyer to hold on to the possession of the physical document, since the deed is what serves as proof of legal ownership.

If you are a homeowner, you should make sure you keep the deed to your home in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe.

How to Make Changes to Your Deed

A house deed is an official, legal document, and it is often public. This means that you can’t make any changes to your deed without going through the proper legal channels.

To amend your house deed, you’ll need to propose the desired alterations in court. Simple alterations like name changes are typically resolved quickly. But if you’re making alterations based on boundary disputes or jointly-owned properties, the process may take longer. You may be asked to provide validation for any changes you intend to make.

If the court issues an order to reform your deed, you must record this decision in the chain of title. This will alert the public regarding the changes to your property rights, and will usually include the reason for the changes. Next, you’ll take your court order to the Register of Deeds to finalize the revision.

You may want to consider hiring a real estate attorney to walk you through this process, as the steps can be challenging to those who are unfamiliar with the terms and laws.

Types of Deeds

Not all house deeds are created equally. It’s important to understand the various types of deeds that are available today.

General Warranty Deed

The most common deed is the general warranty deed, which is used in most home sales. A general warranty deed ensures that the buyer has exclusive rights to the property and that the seller is not refraining from disclosing any knowledge regarding property issues that may interfere with the buyer’s use of the property.

Special Warranty Deed

A special warranty differs from a general warranty deed in one major way. A special warranty deed only guarantees the title from the time you’ve owned the home. For this reason, it’s often referred to as a covenant deed and it is usually reserved for real estate transactions.

Quitclaim Deed

Quitclaim deeds are a bit unusual. They are implemented into situations where property is transferred between parties without a purchase. The recipient receives the ownership interest on the property from the providing party. Quitclaim deeds are often seen in divorce proceedings or other non-purchase scenarios.

Special Purpose Deeds

There are many different forms of special purpose deeds. These deeds are usually issued under specific circumstances, often relating to court proceedings. Under these circumstances, the deed is issued from someone acting in an official capacity.

Special purpose deeds can include:

  • Tax deeds
  • Deed of gift
  • Executor’s deeds
  • Sheriff's deeds

Each of these deeds relates to a specific legal or real estate situation. If you’re ever confronted by these terms, you may want to consult a professional who can interpret the stipulations for you.

What is a Title?

A title refers to a specific bundle of rights for homeowners. These rights include:

  • Legal ownership of property or right of possession
  • Freedom to use the property for any legal purpose or right of control
  • Choice of who’s permitted on the property or right of exclusion
  • The right to sell the property or right of disposition

These rights are within the ordinary bounds of the law, and they allow a person to use their home as they see fit.

When you’re selling a home, you must clear your title before you can transfer ownership to another party. To clear the title, you must demonstrate that your house is free of liens, judgments, and bankruptcies.

Generally, a title company or a real estate attorney can research the history of the title to help buyers determine whether the title is clear or not. Lenders often require that title insurance is designed to address any title issues that may arise after a property is purchased. Likewise, homebuyers can invest in title insurance to protect their own interests when buying a home.

The Difference Between a Title and a Deed

You may have heard the terms deed and title used interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing, and it’s important to understand how they differ.

Deed vs. Title: Deeds Are Physical Documents

House deeds are physical, legal documents. Titles, on the other hand, relate to your legal rights. It’s possible to receive a certificate of title, which describes your rights as a homeowner, but your title will exist independently of this document.

Deed vs. Title: Deeds Confer Ownership

While the title explains your rights as a homeowner, only the house deed itself will confer ownership. A certificate of title cannot prove your ownership of the home. Only a house deed can be used to prove ownership.

Want to Learn More?

House deeds are physical, legal documents that explicitly state the name of the property owner. While your title will express your rights as a homeowner, your property deed is the only document that can verify actual ownership.

If you’re interested in learning more about the world of real estate, we’d love to help you understand your property rights and we can help you through the process of buying or selling a home.


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This page last updated: March 29, 2022