When you close on the purchase of a home or real estate, it is usually the job of your title or escrow agent to file your original deed—the document showing that you now legally own the property—in the appropriate government office in your county. This is called "recording" the deed. When done properly, a deed is recorded within hours of the closing, though it's been known to take weeks.
There are instances, however, where deeds are not properly recorded at all. Title agents commit errors, lose deeds, and even go out of business. Even county offices sometimes fail to record deeds that were properly submitted. Here's what you can do to confirm that your deed has been recorded, and why it's important to check this off your to-do list.
Virtually all states have what are called "recording statutes." These laws govern who is recognized as owning real property and who has a financial or other interest in it, such as a mortgage or lien. It also governs the order of priority in which the interests should be given: literally, in many cases, whose debts or claims get paid off first if and when the property is sold.
Although recording statutes vary between U.S. states, they virtually all require that an interest in real property be formally recorded in the appropriate county office in order to be valid. The purchaser (or transferee) named on the last deed of record is recognized as the legal title owner of that parcel of property.
So, what does this mean in terms of your property ownership? If your deed has not been recorded, you are not recognized as the legal owner of your property.
In practical terms, failure to have your property deed recorded would mean that, if you ever wanted to sell, refinance your mortgage, or execute a home equity line of credit (HELOC), you could not do so. Even if you have no current plans to sell or refinance, an unrecorded deed can lead to risks of losing your home or being hit with demands to pay off liens racked up by the previous owner.
In the first instance, if your deed is not recorded, there is nothing in the public record to stop the seller from conveying the property to another person. If the seller does in fact sell your property to someone else, and that person records their deed with the county clerk's office before you, you could be in jeopardy of losing your property. Unlikely, but scary.
The second situation could happen if your seller fails to pay personal debts and the seller's creditors file liens or judgments against your property. Because creditors are permitted to file liens and judgments against assets of a debtor, if your property is still listed as an asset of your seller in the public record, you are at risk of your property being encumbered with liens or judgments that are not your own.
Although less likely, there is also a risk that your seller could fraudulently execute a mortgage or home equity line of credit against your property. The bank would have no way of knowing that ownership was transferred to you and could lend the seller money secured by a mortgage.
Few people are aware that there could be a problem with their deed until they attempt to sell their property or refinance a mortgage. To find out earlier rather than later, contact your attorney or escrow agent and ask for a copy of the recording page for your deed.
The recording page lists the date the deed was recorded and also the volume and page number where your deed can be found. Many counties provide access to real property records online and free of charge.
If the deed to your property has not been recorded, inform your attorney or title insurance company immediately. Request that it take appropriate action. You should also inform your mortgage lender, as it might be able to assist you with recording your deed.
It is relatively easy to confirm that your deed has been recorded. If there is a problem, discovering it before something worse has arisen could save you from expense and enormous inconvenience. Contact your attorney, title insurance agent, or real estate broker to learn more.