A real estate deed is the proof of ownership. Whoever has their name on the deed is the rightful owner of the home, so it's one of the most important documents in buying or selling a home. The seller typically prepares the real estate deed, usually with the help of a title company or an attorney to ensure the property transfers successfully.
What's in the Deed
The deed must say who is selling the home and who is buying it, then be signed by all parties and notarized. It gives an exact description of the property, often using a builder's lot number or other formal legal description, so there's no question of what is being transferred by the deed. The deed typically includes the sale amount as well, which the seller must receive for the transfer to be valid.
When the seller turns over the deed to the new owner, it must include a marketable title, which means the seller must prove sole ownership of the property to be able to legally sell it. In most cases, the title company or closing attorney handles the title search for the seller and presents proof of the search at closing. If the seller doesn't offer a title search, the buyer should insist upon it to make sure the title is clear. Not all deeds require title searches.
There are several types of deeds a seller can provide a buyer, each with different benefits for both parties. With a quitclaim deed, there often isn't a title search -- the deed basically transfers any of the seller's interests in the home to the buyer. If the seller doesn't actually own any interests in the home, the buyer loses his money with no right to the house. This type of deed is often used when the seller and buyer know each other well, such as family members or close friends. The general warranty deed is more common in transactions where the buyer and seller don't know each other. The seller, or the title company or attorney on the seller's behalf, conducts the title search, and the seller agrees to fix the title later if a problem arises. With a special warranty deed, the seller warrants the title from the time he purchased the home, but not for any previous discrepancies.
When the seller hands over the signed and notarized deed, the buyer must take the deed to his county's public records department to record the deed. In many cases, the title company or closing attorney records the deed for the buyer as part of the closing process. The seller makes sure the deed is prepared correctly, and the buyer ensures the deed gets recorded to take final and legal ownership of the home -- even if that's just confirming with the title company or attorney that the deed was recorded.
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.