Keeping real estate documents handy can save home owners time and money, both during the time they reside in a home and when they prepare to sell it. Here is a list of real estate documents every homeowner should keep filed in a safe, accessible place from the time they purchase their property to the time they sell it (and beyond).
- Recorded Grant Deed. A Grant Deed proves change of ownership and is usually provided to the buyer at close of escrow. Check the Grant Deed for a recording stamp. If there is no recorder’s stamp on the document you were provided after close of escrow, ask the escrow officer to provide a copy of the recorded deed or obtain one from the county recorder’s office.
- Original Construction Blueprints. Most sellers of existing homes probably don’t have construction plans, although builders of new homes should make them available to buyers. They may charge a fee for providing copies of blueprints, but original plans can be extremely helpful to contractors later when remodeling the home. For example, blueprints could identify load-bearing walls that may not be obvious. Printed copies are great, but digital files that could be imported into your remodeling contractor’s design system are even better. If the builder offers files in multiple formats, get all of them.
- Construction Permits. For newly-constructed homes, ask the builder for copies of original construction permits and the certificate of occupancy. Home owners should add future permits to the file each time they remodel, accompanied by a copy of the contractor’s remodeling plans.
- Mortgage Documents. Keeping mortgage information is imperative, even after a mortgage is retired by payoff or refinancing. Lenders are supposed to file a Deed Of Reconveyance (Reconveyance Deed in some states) with the County Recorder’s Office when a mortgage is paid off to release their lien on the property. Make sure you have a copy of the recorded Deed of Reconveyance each time you refinance or pay off a loan. At time of sale, escrow officers ask sellers for copies of current mortgage statements so they can pay off the current mortgage with proceeds of the sale. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes an old mortgage shows up on a title report and sellers have to scramble to prove the old mortgage was paid off. Having the recorded Deed Of Reconveyance on hand usually solves the problem.
- Title Insurance Policy. A title insurance policy should be provided when escrow closes your purchase transaction, but check to make sure you have it in your file. Note: Have not only the current title insurance policy on file, but also try to obtain copies of all title insurance policies going back to original construction. Old policies can be helpful in identifying when a title defect was created, if one is ever discovered.
- Title Encumbrances. These generally include liens (debts secured by the property), easements and restrictions on use of the land. Most encumbrances are filed with the county recorder and identified in a title report at the time of sale, but an encumbrance does not have to be recorded to be valid and enforceable. Consult with an attorney regarding the validity of unrecorded and newly-discovered encumbrances.
- Home Warranty. If you have a home warranty that provides repair or replacement coverage for most major systems (heating, air conditioning, plumbing, etc.), keep a copy in your file. Unused portions of warranty periods usually convey to buyers when you sell.
- Home Warranty Claims. Keep copies of all claims made against the warranty policy, including associated documents, photographs and vendor receipts.
- Property Tax Bill. Keep copies of tax bills along with any communications or notices you receive from the taxing authority. Buyers will want a copy of the most recent tax bill to learn not only the current tax rate, but also the impact of any special assessments.
- Utility and Maintenance Bills. Buyers often request one full year of most recent utility, maintenance and repair bills to help estimate their future recurring costs of ownership. These should also include bills for yard service, pool service, tree trimming, dryer duct cleaning, and annual heating/air conditioning check-ups.
- Major System Service Manuals and Warranties. Buyers should be made aware of recurring homeowner maintenance tasks contained in major system manuals. Most product warranties transfer to new owners.
- Maintenance and Service Contracts. Buyers also like to know who has been caring for a home on a recurring basis, often so they can continue the service.
- “Home Parts List.” Keeping a list of frequently replaced consumable items can save home owners a lot of time. The list might include sizes, descriptions, part numbers and even the best place to buy hard-to-find items. The list might include furnace filters, water system filters, refrigerator water filters, specialty light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries.
- Home Insurance Policies. Most homeowners have basic hazard insurance that cover fire and general liability. Depending on location, additional coverages like wind, flood and earthquake might also be recommended. Keep policies on hand and update them regularly with your insurance agent to make sure you have all the right policy types and appropriate amount of coverage.
- Insurance Policy Claims. Keep detailed files of all insurance claims and associated documents. Claims should be disclosed when the property is sold.
- Homeowner Association Documents. If part of an HOA, keep copies of incorporation documents, bylaws, CC&Rs, financial reports and all other communications produced by the HOA. Also keep copies of communications sent to the HOA.
- Community Communications. Keep copies of notes, letters and all other communications between neighbors, utility companies and local authorities that effect the property. These could be as simple as complaints about barking dogs to warnings about trees overreaching the property boundary and causing damage.
Real estate documents can add up to mountains of paper, so it helps to digitize as many of them as possible. Scanning everything, including monthly utility bills, saves space and keeps all your important real estate documents in one place. Remember to back up digital files regularly.
Have questions about real estate transaction and ownership documents or other aspects of real estate buying and selling? Drop me a line!