Five Common Ways to Hold Real Property Titles

Legal Article

Five Common Ways to Hold Real Property Titles

People own real estate for their primary residence, business, or as an investment property. No matter the reason for purchasing the real property, you will receive a property title that proves your ownership. However, there are different types of real estate titles that can lower your tax burden or offer other benefits depending on the reason for your purchase. Thus, it is important to understand the five common property titles: joint tenancy, tenancy in common, tenants by entirety, sole ownership, and community property.

Before going what benefits each different type of real estate title brings, it is important to first understand what real property is. Real property is made up of land as well as the structures that are affixed to this land. In addition to including immovable structures, real estate also encompasses natural resources such as water, trees, crops, and minerals.

Further, real estate can be classified as either commercial or residential. Commercial real estate includes shopping centers, warehouses, office buildings, and other retail spaces. Residential property instead focuses on single-family homes, apartments, condominiums, and other property specifically meant for residential living.

What is a Title

A property title is a document that states the legal owner of a property. Property titles are used not only for real property but also for personal property. Personal property includes items such as vehicles, artwork, jewelry, and other movable goods. No matter if you are dealing with real property or personal property, you must transfer the title when the asset is sold.

Below are the most common ways to hold a title and the pros and cons of each type.  

Joint Tenancy

Joint tenancy happens when two or more individuals jointly hold real estate with equal rights to the property. If one of the individuals passes, their share in the property is transferred to the surviving tenant through the right of survivorship doctrine. Tenants can enter joint tenancy at the same time which usually occurs through a deed.


The main benefit you can receive from choosing to use a joint tenancy title is that you can easily pass your ownership share to the surviving tenant—avoiding probate altogether. Additionally, you do not have to be married or related in any way to utilize joint tenancy. This is beneficial as if you ever decide to sell the property, you do not need a court petition as long as each party agrees to the sale. Finally, each tenant is equally financially responsible for the property. This means that any upkeep or changes to the property will be split depending on each owner’s interest in the property.


The disadvantage to using joint tenancy is that each party must approve the finance or use of the property for financial gain. Additionally, neither party can pass on their property through a will or other estate planning measure to an external party as the right of survivorship is required. Another disadvantage to using joint tenancy is that if one member has a creditor seeking repayment, they can ask the court to divide the property and force a sale of the home.

Tenancy in Common

Tenancy in common allows two or more people to equally or unequally hold real estate together. For example, one tenant may have a 60 percent share while the other only has a 40 percent share. However, the 40 percent owner is not limited to only 40 percent of the property or enjoying it 40 percent of the time. Instead, each party holds equal rights to occupancy. The interest percentage simply states the financial ownership of the real estate.

Unlike joint tenancy, tenants in common hold separate titles for their portion of the property and can transfer their holdings in a will.


A benefit of tenancy in common lets one owner use their wealth in the property as collateral for financial transactions. The reason for this is that the owner’s creditors can place a lien against that portion of the property.


 A tenancy in common does not allow for survivors rights and every tenant shares the liability for any debts on the property. Thus, if one owner is unable to pay their portion of the property taxes, the other individual must pay both portions.  

Tenants by Entirety

Tenants by entirety is only available to legally married couples. This option allows a couple to be considered one person for legal purposes. Thus, if one entity passes away, the surviving individual automatically receives the title to the property.


Tenants by entirety makes it so that no legal actions are necessary after one spouse passes away. Thus, you do not need a will, probate, or other legal action to transfer the property.


One disadvantage to tenants by entirety is that conveyance of the property is done together and cannot be subdivided. This means that if the parties divorce, the title transfers to a tenancy in common.

Sole Ownership

Sole ownership means that only one entity is legally capable of holding a property title. Single men and women or married people who want to hold the property separate from their spouse most commonly use this tool. Additionally, businesses may use this strategy when they have a business structure allowing them to invest in or hold real estate.


The main advantage of holding the title as a sole owner is the ease with which transactions can be accomplished because no other party needs to be consulted to authorize the transaction. 


The obvious disadvantage is the potential for legal issues should the sole owner die or become incapacitated. Unless specific legal documentation, such as a will, exists, the transfer of ownership upon death can become very problematic.

Community Property

Community property is a type of ownership spouses can use to own real property together. When using community property, each spouse owns everything equally, no matter who purchased the property. The two largest community property states are California and Texas. In either of these or other states, if you purchased a property during your marriage, the profits of the sale will be evenly split between yourself and your ex-spouse. If only one person plans on making mortgage payments on the property, it may be useful to create a prenuptial agreement so that all the money you put into the home will not have to be split.

Other Ways to Hold Property Titles

Joint tenancy, tenancy in common, tenants by entirety, sole ownership, and community property are common ways to hold titles. However, entities other than individuals can hold a title to real estate in one of the following ways.

Corporation Ownership

Corporations can own real estate where the corporation owns the property and this ownership is separate from their shareholders.

Partnership Owners

A partnership is an association of two or more people to carry on business for profit as co-owners. Some partnerships are formed for the express purpose of owning real estate.

Trust Ownership

Real estate also can be owned by a trust. These legal entities own the properties and are managed by a trustee on behalf of the beneficiaries to the trust.

Final Thoughts

How titles to real estate are conveyed or transferred depends on the type of real estate and state laws. Thus, entities looking to determine the best method to acquire and hold real-property titles should do some preliminary research or consult an attorney to make sure they are conforming to their state laws.

Contact Our DC Law Office for More Information

Finally, for more information on five common ways to hold property titles, contact us at 202-803-5676. You can also directly schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Additionally, for general information regarding real estate law, check out our blog.