Property Deeds: Warranty, Grant and Quitclaim

Property Deeds That Transfer Title to Real Estate

Man signing form, close up
••• Cultura/Leonora Saunders/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Property deeds are legal instruments that are used to assign ownership of real property, to transfer title to the land and its improvements such as a house. Words used to convey property transfer may be grant, assign, convey or warrant, but they basically all do the same thing, they transfer the interest of the person selling the house to the person buying the house.

If you go to your county courthouse, or where property deeds are recorded, you can look up the history of all property deeds (and other matters affecting title such as loans and releases of those loans) in very large and heavy books.

Today, of course, transfers are recorded electronically, but all title is recorded from the day the U. S. Patent was issued in those books.

There are two types of books: Grantor and Grantee. Those containing information about the seller who is selling are called Grantor. Those containing information about the buyer who is buying are called Grantee. Sometimes the books are commingled.

  • Grantor. The grantor is the person or entities selling the property.
  • Grantee. The grantee is the person or entities buying the property.

Grant Deed

The most commonly used property deed to transfer title in California is the grant deed, although it is not against the law to use other types of deeds. There are two guarantees contained in a grant deed:

  • The grantor states that the property has not been sold to anybody else.
  • The grantor states that the property is not burdened by any encumbrances apart from those the seller has already disclosed to the buyer.

    Grant deeds do not need to be recorded to be valid, nor do they need to be notarized to be valid, but most sellers do ask a notary to witness the deed, acknowledging that the seller is the person who signed the deed. And most buyers want the protection of recordation, to give "constructive notice to the world" that the property has been sold.

    Under California law, and your state laws may differ, to be valid, a grant deed needs to contain six essential elements. Those six items are defined as:

    • A written document.
    • A clause that transfers title, called a granting clause.
    • The names of the Grantor and the Grantee.
    • A description of the property being transferred.
    • Execution, delivery and acceptance. It must be signed by a competent grantor, meaning minors and those declared incompetent cannot sign a deed; given to the buyer while the seller is still alive (not after death) and accepted by the buyer.
    • Grantor's signature.

    Warranty Deeds

    Warranty deeds are used all over the United States but are more common to the Midwest and Eastern states. They are very similar to grant deeds with one main exception: grant deeds contain two guarantees but warranty deeds contain three guarantees:

    • The grantor states that the property has not been sold to anybody else.
    • The grantor states that the property is not burdened by any encumbrances apart from those the seller has already told the buyer about.
    • More important, the grantor will warrant and defend title against the claims of all persons. This means the grantor is guaranteeing the grantee that title is free of any defects that may affect the title, even if the defect was caused by a prior owner.

      Quitclaim Deeds

      Quitclaim deeds are used to convey any interest that the grantor might possess in the property. The grantor might be a legal owner or the grantor might never have formally been identified on a deed describing the property.

      Quitclaims are most often used during a divorce, to deed the property from one spouse to the other. If a married person holds title to a property as sole and separate or perhaps he or she acquired the property before marriage, the spouse not in title might be asked to sign a quitclaim deed when the property is sold to a third party, just to make sure the spouse who was not on the deed does not later come back and lay claim to the property.

      Other Types of Deeds

      • Tax Deed. When property taxes are unpaid (the numbers of delinquent years vary from state to state), and the property is sold for the payment of back taxes, typically a tax deed is used to convey title to the buyer.
      • Gift Deeds. The exchange of money or consideration is generally referred to as "love and affection," meaning the property is transferred without payment of money. Gift deeds are generally used to transfer title among people who are related to each other.
      • Deed-in-lieu of Foreclosure. Sellers who are behind in payments to the lender will sometimes negotiate with a lender to accept a Deed-in-Lieu of Foreclosure, which means the seller has deeded the property to the lender to avoid foreclosure. But the deed may still show up on a seller's credit report.

      For more information concerning property deeds and their legal ramifications, please contact a local real estate lawyer, because this website cannot give legal advice.

      At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.