Clients ask me this question quite often. The answer is almost always no. I believe the common misconception that a homeowner needs their original deed in order to sell their home arises from their experience with another document of ownership, a title to an automobile. In New York State, the Department of Motor Vehicles issues certificates of title to vehicles, the original of which an owner needs in order to sell their car. If the title is lost, the car owner must obtain a new title from the Motor Vehicle office. This is not the case with deeds to real property.
In New York State, the deed is the document used to transfer ownership of your home to a buyer. Unlike a title to a car, it is not a document issued by a government agency, but is typically prepared by an attorney representing a seller. Once a deed has been signed by the seller and their signature acknowledged by a notary public, the deed is recorded in the office of the county clerk in the county where the home is located, or, in New York City, in the office of the city register. “Recording” is the process by which the deed is included in the public land records, that is, made available for viewing by the general public. When the deed is submitted for recording, it will be digitally imaged, indexed and available for viewing at the county clerk’s office or the office of the city register and in the case of the city register, available for viewing online.
After the deed has been recorded, the original deed will be returned to the home owner or their attorney. This original document, once recorded, while it might be a nice souvenir, has no legal importance. It is the act of recording that gives the new owner title to the property and other legal protections, not physical possession of the original deed.
So if you have lost your original deed, don’t worry, as long as it has been recorded you should have no problems. If you still want a copy of your deed for purposes other than selling your home, such as establishing residency, for example, you can always obtain a copy from your county clerk’s office. In New York City, you can obtain a copy from the city’s ACRIS website. ACRIS stands for “Automated City Register Information System.”