What’s the Difference Between a Deed and a Title?

Quick Answer

A deed is a document that states you own a property, when a title is the concept of legal ownership that the deed grants. To own a home, you need both.

A couple smile at a realtor that is giving them the keys to their new home from across the table.

The deed and title of a home are closely related, but have important differences. When you own a home, the deed is the physical document that proves ownership. The title is the concept of legal ownership that the deed grants you.

You can think of the deed as the document that transfers, or passes on, the title or the right to ownership. When you buy a home, you need both. Below are the important elements to know about how deeds and titles work.

What Is a Deed?

A deed is a tangible document signed by the seller, or grantor, of a property. It confirms transfer of ownership from one party to another if, for example, you're buying a home. It's the seller's responsibility to get the deed to the buyer, either at or after closing. The deed will also be filed at the local courthouse or county assessor's office, depending on where you live.

Often, a real estate attorney will draft the deed and the seller will sign it and get it notarized. A deed includes a legal description of the property and property lines, the full names and addresses of the grantor and grantee and specific language that officially transfers ownership.

How to Get a House Deed

If you're the new owner of a home or property, you will receive a copy of the deed during or just after closing. But you may also want to get an additional or replacement copy of your deed for other reasons long after you've purchased a home.

To request a copy of your deed, follow these steps:

  • Identify the government entity that manages property records in your county. This may be the courthouse's land records office, the county department of records, the county recorder's office or another agency. A good place to start is to visit your county's official website and search "services," "citizen services" or the like.
  • You may need to conduct an initial online search of county records to find your deed's document number, then request it in person. Some records divisions allow you to access your deed on your own online, for a fee. The process will vary by jurisdiction, and steps should be listed online.
  • You'll typically pay a nominal fee to get a copy of your deed. Check to see which types of payment are accepted, or carry an extra fee, before picking up your deed.

What Is a Title?

A title is a claim to several rights related to property, including the right to own, control and use that property. The title incorporates all prior transfers and usage of the property or land. So when you take on ownership, it's important to ensure that there are no outstanding title issues, such as a mistake in the deed or a previous owner's unpaid taxes on the property. Otherwise, handling those issues as the new property owner could be expensive and time-consuming.

What Is a Title Search?

To check the history of your title, a title company or attorney will search all public records relating to it. A title search will identify if there are any concerns with ownership, including making sure the seller truly has the authority to transfer the title or if there are other claims to it. They'll also check if there are any judgments or liens against the property as a result of a previous owner's unpaid debts.

What Is Title Insurance?

Owner's title insurance is a policy that protects you from the fallout of past title issues you didn't know about when you bought the property and that didn't come up in a title search.

For example, say a previous owner's heir suddenly makes a claim to the home after you've bought it, and that circumstance is covered in your policy. Your title insurance company will represent you in court and also cover the fees you're required to pay to settle the matter, up to your coverage amount.

If you borrow money from a bank to buy the home, you'll likely also need to pay for a lender's title insurance policy to protect the mortgage lender from title issues related to the loan. In fact, when you buy a house with a mortgage, the lender holds a lien against the property until the loan is paid off. That shows that the lender is using the property as collateral in case you don't make payments.

Do You Need a House Title and Deed?

To own a home, you need both the house's deed and title. But since the two are so interrelated, this will happen naturally during the process of buying a home. When you receive the deed in your name, legally transferring ownership of the home, you will also take on the title.

Even though a mortgage lender will hold a lien against your home while you're paying off the loan, you are considered the home's owner as long as your name is on the deed. The lender simply has temporary control of the title while you're making loan payments, and you receive that control back once you pay the mortgage in full.

The Bottom Line

The terms "deed" and "title" can sometimes be used interchangeably, and while they both have to do with home ownership, they refer to different concepts. The deed is the document that transfers title. When your name is on a home's deed, you also take on title, or the abstract idea that you own the property and have certain rights to it.