Warranty Deed or Quitclaim Deed – what’s the difference and why should you care?

Every now and then, someone comes to my office needing a “Deed.”  Usually, they have heard the term Quitclaim deed and specifically ask for that.  But, many people (including some attorneys, I’m chagrin to admit), do not understand the difference between a Quitclaim Deed and a Warranty Deed.  To say the difference is huge would be an understatement.

In layman’s terms, a Quitclaim deed only transfers the person’s interest in the property.  Meaning, if I have anything, all that I have, I will surrender it to you.  It doesn’t really promise or guarantee that the person even owns any portion of the property.  If they don’t own an interest in the property, the Quitclaim Deed is worthless and you have no recourse (in other words, it would not be considered a breach of contract that you could sue under).  You got, nada, zip, zilch.  It’s simply a piece of paper.

A Warranty Deed, on the other hand, makes certain representations about what is being deeded.  The language usually says something like the Seller “grants, sells and conveys the property to the Buyer … to have and to hold it … forever, and binds Seller and Seller’s heirs to warrant and forever defend the property to the Buyer.”  As you can see, this type of document warrants to the Buyer that the Seller actually owns the land and has the right to sell it. Such a warranty is called the “warranty of title,” and it is expressed in the form of a Warranty Deed.

Now, I’m not saying that we don’t use Quitclaim Deeds.  Normally, we see those in situations where family members are deeding property to their children.  Their children don’t doubt that their parents own the property and are not trying to get them to make any express representations about what they do and do not own.  However, in arm length transactions, where there is a Buyer and a Seller and the Buyer is paying good money to the Seller, a General or Special Warranty Deed is used to assure the Buyer that the Seller actually owns the property and has the right to sell it.

Now, this might be a piece of perfectly worthless information to you but at some point there may come a time where you either have to understand what someone is trying to sell you or, perhaps if you are lucky, what you were given.  While both deeds might sound like they are accomplishing the same thing, it’s important to remember that not every deed truly “deeds” you anything.