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May 27, 2024 — 7 min read

Special Warranty Deed: Everything You Need to Know

Josh Pigford

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Josh Pigford

A special warranty deed is a legal instrument used in real estate transactions where the seller, known as the grantor, provides a warranty limited solely to the period during which they owned the property. This type of deed guarantees that the grantor holds the title to the property and has the right to sell it, and that there have been no encumbrances, such as liens or debts, under their ownership. Unlike general warranty deeds, which cover the entire history of the property, special warranty deeds do not protect against issues that may have existed before the grantor's period of ownership.

How Special Warranty Deeds Differ From General Warranty Deeds

Special warranty deeds offer narrower protection compared to general warranty deeds. The primary difference lies in the scope of the warranty. General warranty deeds provide assurances against title defects extending back to the property's origins, which is not the case with special warranty deeds. These are typically used in situations like foreclosures or sales by entities that have not occupied the property, such as banks or government agencies, where the seller cannot confirm the condition of the property before their ownership.

Common Usage Scenarios

  1. Foreclosures: Special warranty deeds are frequently used in foreclosure sales where the property is sold to satisfy a debt, and the seller is usually a financial institution that does not wish to assume liability for unknown past issues.
  2. Commercial Real Estate: Often utilized in commercial real estate transactions where the current owner may not fully know the property's history.
  3. Inherited Properties: Useful for properties acquired through inheritance, where the new owner may not have comprehensive knowledge of any past title issues and prefers to limit liability.
  4. Bank-Owned Properties: Commonly employed by banks selling repossessed properties to avoid assuming responsibility for any previous title problems.

These deeds are particularly advantageous in transactions where the property's complete historical title may not be fully known or where the seller wishes to limit future liability concerning past ownership periods.

Benefits and Limitations of Special Warranty Deeds

Protection for Buyers and Sellers

A special warranty deed primarily benefits sellers by limiting their liability exclusively to the duration of their ownership. This means sellers are only responsible for ensuring that no encumbrances, such as liens or claims, have been placed on the property while it was under their ownership. For buyers, this type of deed offers protection against any defects or issues that arise during the seller's ownership period, ensuring that the title was clear of encumbrances at least until the point of sale.

Potential Risks and Limitations

Despite its benefits, the special warranty deed carries significant risks, primarily for the buyer. Since the guarantee from the seller does not extend beyond their period of ownership, any problems or claims from prior owners become the buyer's responsibility. This can pose substantial financial and legal risks if historical claims or liens emerge after the property has been purchased. Additionally, this limited protection often makes it challenging for buyers to secure financing or title insurance, as lenders and insurance companies perceive a higher risk in properties transferred with a special warranty deed.

When to Opt for Special Warranty Deeds

Choosing a special warranty deed is advisable in specific scenarios where the property's history is unclear or when purchasing from entities like banks that may acquire properties through foreclosure. In these cases, the entity selling the property may not have comprehensive knowledge of any past title issues, making a special warranty deed a safer option for them while still offering some level of assurance to the buyer. However, buyers should consider obtaining title insurance to mitigate the risks associated with unknown past title defects.

The Role of Title Insurance in Transactions Involving Special Warranty Deeds

What is Title Insurance?

Title insurance is a protective measure that shields buyers from financial losses due to defects in the title of a property they are purchasing. Unlike other types of insurance that cover future risks, title insurance primarily focuses on risks that have already occurred but have not yet been discovered. This includes issues like previous owners' unpaid debts, liens, or fraudulent claims that could jeopardize legal ownership.

Why It's Crucial for Buyers

For buyers, the security that title insurance offers is invaluable. It provides peace of mind by protecting against potential title defects that might not be identified during the initial title search. These defects could include undisclosed heirs, errors in public records, or previous fraudulent transactions. Without title insurance, any financial and legal burdens from these defects fall solely on the buyer, potentially resulting in significant financial loss.

How It Complements Special Warranty Deeds

Special warranty deeds offer limited protection, covering only the period during which the seller owned the property. Title insurance complements this by covering risks that may have arisen before the seller's ownership. It ensures that if any issues from previous ownerships surface, the buyer's investment is protected. This dual layer of protection---special warranty deed for the seller's ownership period and title insurance for prior periods---provides a comprehensive safety net for both the buyer and the lender involved in the property transaction.

Navigating the Legal Aspects of Special Warranty Deeds

Important Legal Considerations

A special warranty deed, while offering a guarantee that there have been no title defects during the seller's ownership, does not cover any issues prior to that period. This limited guarantee necessitates precise legal language to specify the scope of warranty being provided. The legal description of the property, which outlines its exact dimensions and location, is crucial and must be accurate to ensure the deed's validity.

Drafting and Filing a Special Warranty Deed

Creating a special warranty deed requires careful attention to detail:

  1. Include Essential Information: The deed must list the seller's and buyer's names and addresses, a thorough legal description of the property, and a statement of intent to transfer the property.
  2. State Ownership and Claims: It should affirm the seller's ownership and clarify that no known claims exist against the property during their ownership period.
  3. Specify the Warranty Scope: Clearly define that the warranty only covers the period of the seller's ownership.

Seeking Professional Legal Advice

Given the complexities and legal implications of special warranty deeds, consulting with a real estate attorney is advisable. An attorney can provide guidance on:

This professional input is vital in safeguarding against potential legal issues that could arise from inaccuracies or omissions in the deed.

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