How to Read a Property Deed

By Marie Murdock
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Some deed language came from England long before the American Revolution. In 1677, England adopted the statute of frauds, requiring that land transfers be in writing. Before that time, the seller transferred property publicly, by giving the buyer a handful of the land's dirt, while stating he was transferring the property. America has a statute of frauds that requires you put real property conveyances in writing, referred to as a deed. With basic knowledge of a few legal terms, you can easily read and understand your deed.

Look for the grantors or sellers' names in the deed, to ensure the owners are selling the property, and confirm their marital status. In many states, if a grantor is married, any transfer of his spouse's homestead property or residence requires both spouses' signatures, even if only one of them actually owns the property. If the deed states the grantor is married and his spouse isn't signing the deed, look for a deed statement that the property isn't homestead property.

Search for the phrase "good and valuable consideration" or some equivalent. A deed should state that it's being conveyed for value. The actual value of the conveyance doesn't have to appear in the deed, and many deeds will state that the value is "$10.00 and other good and valuable consideration."

Look for conveyance language in the deed. A warranty deed should contain granting language similar to "grant, bargain, sell and convey." If warranties aren't given, the granting language may instead read "remise, release, quitclaim and convey," meaning the seller is only conveying her interest. This type of deed is referred to as a quitclaim deed and may be used to convey a partial interest in land or when the seller's ownership interest is uncertain.

Confirm the type of ownership interest transferred by the deed, by looking at the habendum clause. The deed may convey a straight-fee simple ownership, which passes to your heirs and assigns under your will, or it may contain provisions for survivorship. Survivorship means that property acquired with someone else goes to her upon your death and vice versa, to the exclusion of everyone else. The language in the habendum clause is important, so review it carefully to make sure the property is acquired in the intended manner.

Make sure you properly sign and notarize the deed. The signatures of all parties conveying their property interest should be on the deed, along with a proper notary acknowledgment. The acknowledgment should comply with law in the state where the deed is notarized, or it may later require correction, by the execution of another deed by the seller and buyer.

Check the deed for any remaining reservations or restrictive covenants. A grantor may have reserved a life estate, giving him the right to live on the property, or an easement granting him the right to cross the property to access his remaining adjacent property. He may have imposed restrictions on the property, prohibiting certain uses. Read your deed completely to discover any of these additional provisions.

About the Author

Marie Murdock has been employed in the legal and title insurance industries for over 25 years. Murdock was first published in print in 1979 and has been writing online articles since mid-2010. Her articles have appeared on LegalZoom and various other websites.