The Gentle Guide to Deeds of Trust in Real Estate

deed of trustNavigating the real estate market, I’ve learned that securing a loan through property hinges on crucial instruments like the Deed of Trust. This legal document, which I’ve found pivotal in many real estate dealings, establishes a relationship between myself as the borrower (trustor), my lender (beneficiary), and a neutral third party (trustee). It’s particularly significant for someone like me, considering the option to sell my mortgage or engage with a note buyer.

In this arrangement, the borrower transfers the legal title of the property to the trustee. The trustee holds this title as security for the loan provided by the lender. This setup differs from a traditional mortgage in a critical aspect: the involvement of a trustee. This trustee has the authority to sell the property in case the borrower defaults on the loan. This process, known as non-judicial foreclosure, is especially relevant for note buyers interested in the secondary mortgage market.

Key Takeaways:

  • A Deed of Trust is a legal instrument used in real estate transactions to secure a mortgage loan.
  • It involves three parties: the borrower (trustor), the lender (beneficiary), and the trustee.
  • Unlike a mortgage, a Deed of Trust allows for non-judicial foreclosure, which can be faster and less expensive for the lender.
  • One benefit of a Deed of Trust is the flexibility it offers to both borrowers and lenders in structuring their agreements.

What is a Deed of Trust?

A Deed of Trust is a pivotal document in real estate transactions. It is essentially a legal instrument that plays a crucial role in securing a mortgage loan. When a buyer takes a loan to purchase real estate property, a Deed of Trust is created as a security for the loan. The property itself becomes collateral, ensuring the borrower’s commitment to the repayment plan.

Purpose of the Deed of Trust

The primary purpose of a Deed of Trust is to protect the interests of both the borrower and the lender in a real estate transaction. Here’s how it works:

  1. Lender’s Security: The lender is assured that if the borrower defaults on the mortgage payments, they have a legal claim to the real estate property. This security encourages lenders to offer mortgage loans, making homeownership more accessible.
  2. Borrower’s Protection: The borrower benefits from the Deed of Trust as well. It provides a clear framework for the terms of the loan, including the interest rate and monthly payments. This transparency helps borrowers understand their financial obligations.
  3. Neutral Third Party: The presence of a trustee as a neutral third party ensures that the interests of both the borrower and lender are protected. The trustee holds the property’s title and acts as an intermediary in the event of a dispute.

Disadvantages of a Deed of Trust

While Deeds of Trust offer various advantages, they also come with some disadvantages:

  1. Less Privacy: Deeds of Trust involve a third party, the trustee, which means there is less privacy in the transaction compared to a traditional mortgage. The trustee has access to all the details of the loan.
  2. Limited Control for Borrowers: Borrowers may have limited control over the process in a Deed of Trust, as the lender can initiate foreclosure without a court’s involvement in case of default.

Differences Between a Deed of Trust and a Mortgage

It’s important to note that a Deed of Trust is not the same as a traditional mortgage, although both are used to secure mortgage loans. Here are some key differences:

  1. Foreclosure Process: The foreclosure procedure is one notable distinction. The lender can commence a non-judicial foreclosure in a Deed of Trust, which means they can foreclose on the property without going through a court process. When opposed to a judicial foreclosure, which is usual in mortgage settings, this can be faster and less expensive for the lender.
  2. Trustee Involvement: As mentioned earlier, a Deed of Trust involves a trustee, whereas a mortgage typically does not. The trustee plays a pivotal role in overseeing the process and ensuring it is conducted fairly.
  3. Flexibility: Deeds of Trust offer more flexibility for both borrowers and lenders in structuring their agreements. This flexibility can make it easier for individuals with unique financial situations to obtain mortgage loans.

Parties Involved

A Deed of Trust normally involves three parties: the borrower, the lender, and the trustee. The borrower is the person who gets the loan and commits the property as collateral. The loan is provided by the lender, who is typically a mortgage lender or financial institution. Until the borrower fully repays the debt, the trustee retains legal ownership to the property on behalf of the lender.

The Promissory Note and Mortgage Note

A promissory note, often used interchangeably with a mortgage note, is a financial instrument that evidences the borrower’s promise to pay back the loan. It specifies the loan amount, interest rate, repayment schedule, and other terms. This document is critical as it represents the borrower’s personal commitment to repay the debt.

The mortgage note, while similar to the promissory note, is specifically used in the context of real estate transactions. It is a key component that outlines the borrower’s promise to pay the mortgage loan, detailing the terms, monthly payments, and duration of the loan.

Deed of Trust in Real Estate Transactions

Property as Collateral

In a Deed of Trust, the real estate property itself is used as collateral for the mortgage loan. This means that if the borrower fails to make the agreed mortgage payments, the lender can initiate a foreclosure process to recover the owed amount.

Monthly Payments and Their Impact

Regular monthly payments are an important part of meeting the requirements of a mortgage loan. These payments normally comprise principle, interest, and, in some cases, taxes and insurance. Payments made on time gradually reduce the principal amount, eventually transferring full ownership of the property to the borrower.

Trust Deed Investments

Advantages for Investors

Trust deed investments offer an opportunity for investors to invest in real estate without owning the property. Investors essentially become the lender and can earn interest income from the borrower’s monthly payments.

Risks and Considerations

While potentially profitable, trust deed investments carry risks, including the possibility of the borrower defaulting on the loan. Investors must carefully assess these risks and perform due diligence before investing.

Judicial Foreclosure and Non-Judicial Foreclosure

In a judicial foreclosure, the lender must go through the court system to foreclose on a property. This is a longer process that involves filing a lawsuit and obtaining a court order.

Non-Judicial Foreclosure in Deed of Trust States

In states where Deeds of Trust are common, non-judicial foreclosure is often used. This process is quicker and does not require court intervention, as the trustee can initiate the foreclosure based on the terms of the Deeds of Trust.


The Deed of Trust is a fundamental component in real estate transactions, connecting various elements like promissory notes, mortgage loans, and foreclosures. Understanding how it operates, its implications on monthly mortgage payments, and its role in investment opportunities like note buying, is essential for anyone involved in the real estate market. By grasping these concepts, individuals can make informed decisions, whether they are borrowing, lending, investing, or simply navigating the complex world of real estate property transactions.


Written by Alan Noblitt

Alan Noblitt is the President of Seascape Capital, LLC, and works as both a real estate note buyer and a business note broker. Alan has an MBA from Arizona State University, a B.S. from the University of Wyoming, and is licensed as a California Real Estate Note Buyer.

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