A close up on a pencil resting on some drafted deeds

Drafting and Recording Deeds to Property in Pennsylvania

For most people, the game Monopoly is the first exposure to deeds. Buying and selling deeds and passing them around the table simulates the experience of owning, selling and trading property. Deeds in real life are, of course, a little bit more complicated, but the concept remains the same. A deed is like the title to your car, it tells the world who owns it. With real estate, of course, you can’t move it, but you can sell it, subdivide it, provide easements to it, and so much more.

Pennsylvania is a “race jurisdiction,” rather than a “notice jurisdiction.”

In the fifty states, there are different laws for how deeds work. Pennsylvania’s law falls under what scholars call a “race jurisdiction.” This means that deeds that are recorded first in time are presumptively valid. In other words, unlike in Monopoly, it doesn’t help to simply have a physical deed; you have to actually record your deed at the Courthouse. This prevents fraud on future buyers. By being able to run the subject property through a deed search with the County Recorder of Deeds, a buyer (or a title company) knows whether a would-be seller really owns the property they are offering to sell.

The other type of state rule is the “notice jurisdiction.” This allows that one doesn’t have to record a deed—but the deed is still valid against future buyers. Pennsylvania does not follow this rule.

What should go in a deed?

A deed should express the description of the property involved. A property will include what is called metes and bounds descriptions. These tell you how far the property extends on each edge and sometimes include entertaining descriptions of the properties such as “from the stone by old farmer Johnson’s tree down to the lake.” Obviously in modern times, we have more precise ways of measuring boundaries, but sometimes these funny and strange descriptions survive into deeds today.

Once the deed has been drafted with a deed description, it should also include who it is from and who it is to. This might read, “From Bob Smith, Grantor, to Joe and Sarah Jones, husband and wife, Grantees.” How the Grantees are listed can have profound legal implications.

Furthermore, a deed should include the property interest involved. If the property is conveyed to several people, there are three ways they can own it. They can own the property as tenants in common, joint tenants, or as tenants by the entirety. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these.

In addition, the deed usually lists warranties on the property, if there are any, such as what steps the seller will take if a title dispute happens in the future based on the seller’s ownership.

The deed will also list whether the property is tax exempt or not. Transfer tax is due in Pennsylvania on most transfers of property. This tax is usually 2% of the property value or sales price (whichever is greater), but some transfers are exempt.

Finally, the deed will also have a signature line and require a notary.

Once it is drafted, the deed should be recorded with the register of wills in the county in which the property sits. Property that sits across a county line may need to be recorded in both counties.


If you have a deed or property that you need examined or reconveyed, contact Cornerstone Law Firm. Our real estate attorneys can help you review and revise your deeds and ensure that your property rights are protected.