How to Transfer Property in Pennsylvania

Single Family Home in Pennsylvania
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In Pennsylvania, as in all states, the transfer of real estate occurs via property deed. Several types of property deeds are recognized in the state, each of which has its own form. Each type of deed is different in that it offers varying levels of security or protection for the property’s buyer, the grantee.

The property’s seller, the grantor, must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind when the transfer takes place or the transfer may not be valid.

After the deed is completed and signed, it is recorded with the county recorder’s office in the location of the property for a small fee, which varies by county. Once recorded, the deed is a public record.

What Is a Real Estate Deed?

A property deed proves ownership of a piece of real property. It is a public record, recorded with the county recorder of deeds office in the county where the property is located. The deed identifies the property’s seller and buyer. The grantor must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent. If they do not meet these requirements, the real estate transfer may be void.

The grantor must sign the deed for the legal transfer of the property to occur. A property deed is typically one or two pages long and contains the property type and location, as well as:

  • Legal description of the property, including boundaries, adjacent roads, name of subdivision and utilities.
  • Grantor and grantee information, such as names and addresses of those involved in property’s transfer.
  • Grantor must sign their full name to deed to make it official. Some deeds may require both buyer and seller signatures.
  • Granting clause, which transfers property ownership and lays out rights of grantee.
  • Consideration clause, which shows amount buyer paid for property.

Types of Property Deeds in Pennsylvania

There are several types of property deeds used in Pennsylvania that offer varying degrees of protection for the buyer. The deed forms most commonly used are general warranty and quitclaim deeds.

These deeds are used in Pennsylvania when conducting a property transfer:

  • General warranty deed:‌ Guarantees ownership of the property to the buyer and verifies no defects occurred when the property was transferred between previous owners.
  • Special warranty deed:‌ Protects buyer from property claims, but only during the time that seller owned the property. It is not as secure as a general warranty deed, but not as vulnerable as a quitclaim deed.
  • Quitclaim deed:‌ Offers the least amount of security for the buyer. It guarantees only the transfer of whatever ownership right the grantor may have. It does not provide guarantees for other previous owners. Quitclaim deeds are typically used between spouses or other family members when transferring property.
  • Trust deed:‌ Property’s title is transferred to a trustee, such as a trust or title company, that holds it as collateral against a borrower's loan. When the loan is paid off, the title transfers to the borrower. The trustee’s only power is that of selling the property to pay off a lender if the borrower defaults.
  • Grant deed:‌ Transfers property ownership from a grantor to a grantee. The seller promises that there has been no previous title transfers and no encumbrances other than those already on the deed.

Transferring a Property Deed in Pennsylvania

When transferring property via a deed in Pennsylvania, the grantor signs the deed in front of a notary. The seller's signature on a deed does not need to be witnessed by a notary, but the grantor will typically use one because Pennsylvania county recorder offices reject a deed recording without the notary’s signature. Once recorded, the deed gives:

  • Constructive notice:‌ Informs the public as to the legal owner of the property.
  • Priority of recording:‌ If more than one entity has a deed to the same property, the one who records their deed first has ownership priority.
  • Marketability and insurability:‌ Each time a property owner records a deed, it adds to the chain of title. If each link has no serious defects, the property title is considered marketable or insurable.

Both parties must sign a Certificate of Residence and bring it to the county recorder’s office when recording the deed. The Certificate of Residence must be notarized. Deeds in Pennsylvania must be recorded within 90 days of the transfer.

What Is Pennsylvania’s Realty Transfer Tax?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a realty transfer tax, which is 1 percent of the value of the property , including property improvements that have been contracted, when it is transferred by deed, long-term lease, instrument or another manner. Both the seller and buyer are jointly liable for this tax payment.

The county recorder’s office collects the state realty transfer tax, along with any local transfer tax, and remits it to the state Department of Revenue. Communities may share realty transfer tax with municipalities or school districts.

Exemptions From Transfer Tax

Some property transfers are exempt from this tax, including those between family members, religious organizations, partners, shareholders, government units, and from or to nonprofit industrial developments.

Transfers of real estate company property, farms and property inherited by heirs through intestate succession are also tax exempt. Most of this tax is deposited into Pennsylvania's General Fund, but the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund gets 15 percent of it.

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