March 24, 2011

Change of ownership - Prop 13

The process for transferring legal title to real property in California is actually quite simple. 

It merely requires the filing of two documents, a deed and a preliminary change in ownership (“PCOR”), with the appropriate County Recorder’s and County Assessor’s Office. 

The deed needs to be recorded in the county in which the property sits. For instance, if the property is in Davis, CA the deed would need to be filed with the Yolo County Recorder’s Office, or if the property was located in Scotts Valley, CA the deed would need to be filed with the Santa Cruz County Recorder’s Office. My personal experience with the Santa Cruz County Recorder’s Office has been quite pleasant. The clerks there have been very helpful. As for the PCOR, this is filed simultaneously with the deed. The County Recorder will forward the PCOR to the County Assessor.

The following information must be included on the deed:

1. The name of the grantor (the seller essentially). CC §1096,
2. The name of grantee (the buyer essentially). CC § 685.
3. A legal description of the property.
4. The signature of the grantor. CC § 1091.
5. The name of the person requesting recordation. Govt C §27361.6.
6. The name and address to which further tax statements may be mailed. Govt C §27321.5.
7. The amount of the documentary transfer tax due. Rev & T C §11932.

Thought not statutorily required, the assessor’s parcel number should be included on the deed nonetheless. In light of these requirements, deeds are typically only a few pages long.

The other part of the equation is the completion of a preliminary change in ownership (“PCOR”). 

California law says that a PCOR must be filed whenever there is a change in ownership of real property. Rev & T C §480(a). The reason for the PCOR is to inform the county assessor whether a change of ownership has occurred that will trigger property tax reassessment (See Prop 13). The PCOR is a 2 page form that asks questions pertaining to the identity of the new owners, the location of the property, the sale cost, etc. Each county may have its own PCOR form but the general format is modeled after a template drafted by the State Board of Equalization.

A key distinction between these two documents is the fact that a deed is subject to public inspection whereas the PCOR is not. For example, if I wanted to know who owned the home across the street from me, I could ask my real estate agent to pull the title for that home. However, I could not ask them to obtain the filed PCOR for that property.

For illustrative purposes, assume that Samantha Seller sold her Malibu dream home to Brooke Buyer for $100, 000. In order for Samantha to transfer ownership of the home to Brooke she would need to execute a deed, and in turn, Brooke would need to file a PCOR with the Los Angeles County Recorder’s Office so as to inform them that the house should be re-assessed for property tax purposes.