Mortgage: Everything you need to know....and more!

What is a Mortgage? (page 2)


The practice of securing land for payment of money in English law dates back to Anglo-Saxon England. The practice has been named variously as vadium mortuum by Thomas de Littleton and mortuum vadium by William Blackstone, and translated as dead pledge in English and mortgage in French.

At common law, a mortgage was a conveyance of land that on its face was absolute and conveyed a fee simple estate, but which was in fact conditional, and would be of no effect if certain conditions were met – usually, but not necessarily, the repayment of a debt to the original landowner. Hence the word "mortgage" (a legal term in French meaning "dead pledge"). The debt was absolute in form, and unlike a "live pledge" was not conditionally dependent on its repayment solely from raising and selling crops or livestock or simply giving the crops and livestock raised on the mortgaged land. The mortgage debt remained in effect whether or not the land could successfully produce enough income to repay the debt. In theory, a mortgage required no further steps to be taken by the creditor, such as acceptance of crops and livestock in repayment.

The difficulty with this arrangement was that the lender was absolute owner of the property and could sell it or refuse to reconvey it to the borrower, who was in a weak position. Increasingly the courts of equity began to protect the borrower's interests, so that a borrower came to have an absolute right to insist on reconveyance on redemption. This right of the borrower is known as the "equity of redemption".

This arrangement, whereby the lender was in theory the absolute owner, but in practice had few of the practical rights of ownership, was seen in many jurisdictions as being awkwardly artificial. By statute the common law's position was altered so that the mortgagor would retain ownership, but the mortgagee's rights, such as foreclosure, the power of sale, and the right to take possession, would be protected.

In the United States, those states that have reformed the nature of mortgages in this way are known as lien states. A similar effect was achieved in England and Wales by the Law of Property Act 1925, which abolished mortgages by the conveyance of a fee simple.

Foreclosure and non-recourse lending

In most jurisdictions, a lender may foreclose on the mortgaged property if certain conditions – principally, non-payment of the mortgage loan – apply. Subject to local legal requirements, the property may then be sold. Any amounts received from the sale (net of costs) are applied to the original debt.

In some jurisdictions mainly in the United States, mortgage loans are non-recourse loans: if the funds recouped from sale of the mortgaged property are insufficient to cover the outstanding debt, the lender may not have recourse to the borrower after foreclosure. In other jurisdictions, the borrower remains responsible for any remaining debt, through a deficiency judgment. In some jurisdictions, first mortgages are non-recourse loans, but second and subsequent ones are recourse loans.

Specific procedures for foreclosure and sale of the mortgaged property almost always apply, and may be tightly regulated by the relevant government. In some jurisdictions, foreclosure and sale can occur quite rapidly, while in others, foreclosure may take many months or even years. In many countries, the ability of lenders to foreclose is extremely limited, and mortgage market development has been notably slower.

Mortgages in the United States

Types of mortgage instruments

Two types of mortgage instruments are commonly used in the United States: the mortgage (sometimes called a mortgage deed) and the deed of trust.

The mortgage

In all but a few states, a mortgage creates a lien on the title to the mortgaged property. Foreclosure of that lien almost always requires a judicial proceeding declaring the debt to be due and in default and ordering a sale of the property to pay the debt.

Security deed

The deed to secure debt is a mortgage instrument used in the state of Georgia. Unlike a mortgage, a security deed is an actual conveyance of real property in security of a debt. Upon the execution of such a deed, title passes to the grantee or beneficiary (usually lender), however the grantor (debtor) maintains equitable title to use and enjoy the conveyed land subject to compliance with debt obligations.

Security deeds must be recorded in the county where the land is located. Although there is no specific time within which such deeds must be filed, the failure to timely record the deed to secure debt may affect priority and therefore the ability to enforce the debt against the subject property.

The deed of trust

The deed of trust is a deed by the borrower to a trustee for the purposes of securing a debt. In most states, it also merely creates a lien on the title and not a title transfer, regardless of its terms. It differs from a mortgage in that, in many states, it can be foreclosed by a non-judicial sale held by the trustee. It is also possible to foreclose them through a judicial proceeding.

Most "mortgages" in California are actually deeds of trust. The effective difference is that the foreclosure process can be much faster for a deed of trust than for a mortgage, on the order of 3 months rather than a year. Because the foreclosure does not require actions by the court the transaction costs can be quite a bit less.

Deeds of trust to secure repayments of debts should not be confused with trust instruments that are sometimes called deeds of trust but that are used to create trusts for other purposes, such as estate planning. Though there are superficial similarities in the form, many states hold deeds of trust to secure repayment of debts do not create true trust arrangements.

Mortgage lien priority: "title theory" and "lien theory"

Except in those few states in the United States that adhere to the title theory of mortgages, either a mortgage or a deed of trust will create a mortgage lien upon the title to the real property being mortgaged. The lien is said to "attach" to the title when the mortgage is signed by the mortgagor and delivered to the mortgagee and the mortgagor receives the funds whose repayment the mortgage secures. Subject to the requirements of the recording laws of the state in which the land is located, this attachment establishes the priority of the mortgage lien with respect to most other liens on the property's title. Liens that have attached to the title before the mortgage lien are said to be senior to, or prior to, the mortgage lien. Those attaching afterward are said to be junior or subordinate. The purpose of this priority is to establish the order in which lien holders are entitled to foreclose their liens in an attempt to recover their debts. If there are multiple mortgage liens on the title to a property and the loan secured by a first mortgage is paid off, the second mortgage lien will move up in priority and become the new first mortgage lien on the title. Documenting this new priority arrangement will require the release of the mortgage securing the paid off loan.