Everyone knows that a written document is needed in order to transfer title in real property from one person to another. What everyone does not know is that the written document used to convey property can be complicated and nuanced, taking multiple forms, each with its own specific implications and particular best uses. There are three types of deeds used to convey property: 1) the general warranty deed, 2) the special warranty deed, and 3) the quitclaim deed.
General and special warranty deeds are used to warrant the good state of the title. These types of deeds will contain covenants that so warrant, protecting the new title-holder from lawful claims of superior title and agreeing to compensate him for any loss incurred by a successful third party challenge of superior title. Additionally, a general warranty deed will contain covenants that promise the new title-holder that he can legally purchase, possess and enjoy the property in question. A special warranty deed will address the issue of defects that arose during the seller's ownership period.
In sharp contrast to these warranty deeds, a quitclaim deed contains no warranties of title at all. The quitclaim deed only operates to convey to the seller's interest in the property to the buyer. This means that if a seller owns a building, he can give a quitclaim deed to the buyer and the seller's entire interest has been transferred.
Of course, the fine points addressed by general and special warranty deeds are not addressed in a quitclaim deed situation, making the quitclaim a precarious and often difficult instrument by which to convey title. Because a quitclaim only operates to convey a legal interest in the property, a quitclaim given out by a person who does not actually own the property named in the deed will not be liable for any damages at law. There are no breached covenants because no covenants were created. The deed is just a valueless piece of paper and nothing is transferred.
That said, a brief glance at the past can undoubtedly remind us of the incredible value and efficiency of a quitclaim during different historical eras. At times when land claims needed to be made as quickly and efficiently as possible, the quitclaim was a great tool by which people took title. The California Gold Rush is probably the best example of a historical period in which the quitclaim was an essential factor in shaping the economy and social hierarchy of the day.
Of course, the quitclaim has importance beyond elementary school history lessons. Today, the quitclaim can be used to remove apparent defects in title without the time and expense of litigation. Once the title is unquestionably established through quitclaim, a general or special warranty deed can be used to further clarify the more subtle covenant issues associated with property ownership and purchase.
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