You know that when you buy a product in a store, you get a receipt. When you buy a car, you get the title or pink slip. Well, when you buy real estate, you get the deed to the property.

Deeds are the legal documents that transfer ownership of real estate from one person or entity to another. Three kinds of deeds are in broad use today, with varying levels of guarantees for the buyer.

Because some guarantees are better than none, special warranty deeds have a place in real estate. Neither the least protective nor the most, special warranty deeds strike a balance that makes them popular with sellers. Buyers, however, should know what a special warranty deed does and does not guarantee.

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In this article we discuss the three common kinds of real estate deeds—from the most assurances to the least—and why special warranty deeds occupy a popular middle ground.

Special Warranty Deeds in a Nutshell

Special warranty deeds are one of three common types of property deeds. The three are warranty deeds, which offer the most assurances to the buyer; special warranty deeds, which offer some assurances; and quitclaim deeds, which guarantee only that the seller is selling his or her share of ownership, which could be zero.

3 Main Real Estate Deeds
Warranty Deeds Guarantee that the property is free from title defects now and in the past.
Special Warranty Deeds Guarantee that the property has been free from title defects for the duration of the grantor's ownership.
Quitclaim Deeds Guarantee only that the grantor is selling his or her interest in the property, whatever that may be.

A warranty deed.

The grantor (seller) promises there are no title defects when signing a warranty deed. Mainly, he guarantees that he has title to the property, he has the legal right to sell the property, there are no encumbrances against the property, and nobody else has a lawful claim of title. This kind of deed is sometimes called a "general warranty deed" to differentiate it from the special kind.

A special warranty deed.

With special warranty deeds, grantors guarantee that they, personally, didn’t create any title defects. However, the period of time outside of the grantor's ownership is expressly excluded from this guarantee. The property could have prior claims of ownership, debts, or liens.

A quitclaim deed.

With quitclaim deeds, the grantor doesn’t promise anything at all and the buyer takes a chance that the deed won't be worth the paper it's printed on. With this type of deed, the grantor conveys whatever interest he has in the property but makes zero promises about what that interest is. Quitclaim deeds are best used in family transactions where both parties trust each other. They are also efficiently used to remove one spouse from the deed after a divorce.

Frequently Asked Questions About Special Warranty Deeds

What makes special warranty deeds "special"?

Special warranty deeds are also called limited warranty deeds. Special implies that they do more than a warranty deed, when they actually do less. Changing the word to limited is more accurate.

When are you likely to see a special warranty deed?

Real estate agencies and attorneys will select the best deed for the situation. You're more likely to encounter a special warranty deed in the following circumstances.

  • Special warranty deeds are mostly used in commercial real estate transactions, where they might go by other names: grant deeds, covenant deeds, limited warranty deeds.
  • Special warranty deeds are used in buying or selling foreclosed homes because all previous liens and encumbrances on the title should have been wiped away through the foreclosure process. Therefore, the lesser assurances of a special warranty deed are sufficient to provide peace of mind when buying a foreclosed home.

When you buy or sell a home, you're more likely to use a general, as opposed to special, warranty deed.

Example of a special warranty deed. | Fetcharate

What information is on a special warranty deed?

The validity of a special warranty deed could be called into question if any of the following information is omitted or misstated.

  • The seller's (grantor's) name and address.
  • The buyer’s (grantee's) name and address.
  • A legal description of the property, not merely an address. The description must include property lines and lot number, which can be found on the existing deed.
  • A formal statement from the grantor expressing the desire to convey the real estate to the grantee (buyer).
  • A statement from the grantor that he or she is the legal owner of the property and thus has the legal right to transfer title
  • A statement that the grantor knows of no outstanding claims against the property that were established during his or her ownership
  • The grantor guarantees that he or she has a clear title as far as their period of ownership goes.

We explain more about clear titles below.

What guarantee does a special warranty deed omit?

With a special warranty deed, there are no guarantees about the time period before the grantor’s ownership of the real estate. Further, although the grantor must state that no claims against the property arose during his or her ownership, it's possible for a claim to exist that the grantor doesn't know about (or claims not to know about).

What makes a title "clear"?

A clear title is a title without any type of lien or levy from creditors or other parties that would raise questions about legal ownership. For example, an owner of a home with a clear title is the sole undisputed owner and no one else can make any kind of legal claim about owning that home. A clear title is also called a “clean title,” a “just title,” and a “free and clear title.”

When a piece of real estate has debts or liens against it, the title is said to be cloudy. "Cloudy title might involve missing heirs and signatures or conflicting deeds or property descriptions in the chain," explains Gabrielle Kirch, a former abstractor (real estate researcher). "If the title is cloudy, you may need to consult an attorney specializing in local property law to clear it up."

Guide to house property deeds

Final Words on Special Warranty Deeds

While you're not likely to use a special warranty deed when buying or selling a home, it's good to know what assurances this deed does and does not provide that make it "special." A special warranty deed does not fully guarantee a clear title like a warranty deed does. But, when both parties are confident of a clear title, such as in commercial real estate transactions, they may opt for the lesser guarantees of a special warranty deed.

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