Recording Title Documents: Process & Requirements

Instructor: Racquel Fulton

Racquel is a Real Estate Licensee and holds a New Jersey Title Insurance Producer Certification

If an important real estate document is not recorded, it could cause a series of legal problems. Learn how real estate title documents are recorded and why.

Why Real Estate Documents Are Recorded

Imagine Billy Boaster buys a home, moves in and yells out loud 'This is my house', giving notice to the world that he is the owner. He leaves to take a vacation and Sara Squatter walks into the home and yells 'This is my house.' When Billy returns, how can he prove that he did not sell the home to Sara?

A system of declaring property ownership like that would cause serious legal problems. Luckily, we have a solution. In this lesson, you will learn how real estate title documents, which protect property rights, are recorded.

All Billy Boaster needs to prove his ownership is a deed. A deed is a legal document signed by a property owner that transfers rights to the property to a new owner. And with a deed, Billy doesn't even have to yell to declare his ownership. Throughout the US, local county recording offices file deeds in an official public record. When a deed is recorded, it services as notice to the world of who has a legal right to a property.

Where Real Estate Documents Get Recorded

Every state is comprised of counties. Most counties elect or appoint a recorder. A recorder's duty is to maintain all of the real estate records for properties located in the county. Depending upon the size of the county, the recorder will oversee an office and employ a staff to administer their duties. The names of the offices vary, but are commonly referred to as county clerk, recorder of deeds or registrar's office.

The recorder's office primarily records deeds; however, other documents that are used to secure a right to property are also recorded, such as:

Deed of Trusts or Mortgages

A deed of trust or mortgage secures a lenders rights to a property.


An assignment transfers a lenders rights to a property to a new lender.


A satisfaction is a document that declares a mortgage loan is paid in full and removes a lender's right to the property.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that grants power from one person to another to administer legal affairs on their behalf. This document may be recorded if it is used in connection with a real estate transaction.

Recorders also maintain miscellaneous documents like subordination agreements, uniform commercial code filings (UCC) and notary public commissions.

Preparing Documents For Recording

Before a document is recorded, it must meet state and local requirements. A recording fee, and in some cases a transfer tax, must also accompany the document. Document recording fees are established by states and local governments.

How Documents Get Recorded

Every recorder has specific recording requirements. Most recorders will allow documents to be submitted in person, by mail or in recent years electronically through an e-recording vendor. If it is determined that a document does not meet the necessary standards, it is returned to the document submitter to be corrected. A document submitter is an individual or company that is responsible for having the document recorded. This can include a property owner, attorney or title company.

Once a document is approved, it is recorded and indexed. An index is a system of organizing documents chronologically by category and ID. The document is also issued a unique identification code. The identification code can be in the form of letters, numbers or a combination of the two. In some counties, recorders index deeds in a deed book and each deed is given its own page within the book. The date, time and fees paid for the recording are also logged.

After the original document is recorded, it is then returned to the document submitter. A copy of the document is archived and becomes an official part of public records.

Legal Issues With Recorded Documents

If a recorded document is alleged to be erroneous, forged or unlawful due to an illegal real estate transaction, the recorder is not responsible. The recorder is only responsible for making sure that the document meets the legal requirements for recording. For example:

Billy Boaster and Sara Squatter both received a deed for the same property one hour apart. Both deeds meet the legal requirements to be recorded. Billy's deed was signed by the previous owner first. A court of law may take issue with Sara's deed because the previous owner already signed his rights to the property over to Billy.

In this example, both deeds met legal requirements for recording. However, Sara's deed was signed unlawfully and is a matter for the court to decide, not the recorder.

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