December 16, 2002
is title insurance?"
Title insurance is
protection against loss arising from problems connected to the title to your
purchased your home, it may have gone through several ownership changes, and the
land on which it stands went through many more.
There may be a weak link at any point in that chain that could emerge to
cause trouble. For example, someone
along the way may have forged a signature in transferring title.
Or there may be unpaid real estate taxes or other liens.
Title insurance covers the insured party for any claims and legal fees
that arise out of such problems.
�Is purchasing title insurance
It is if you need
a mortgage, because all mortgage lenders require such protection for an amount
equal to the loan. It lasts until
the loan is repaid. As with
mortgage insurance, it protects the lender but you pay the premium, which is a
single-payment made upfront.
�Does title insurance do
anything for me?�
insurance protects the lender up to the amount of the mortgage, but it doesn�t
protect your equity in the property. For
that you need an owner�s title policy for the full value of the home.
In many areas, sellers pay for owner policies as part of their obligation
to deliver good title to the buyer. In
other areas, borrowers must buy it as an add-on to the lender policy.
It is advisable to do this because the additional cost above the cost of
the lender policy is relatively small.
does title insurance protection begin and end?�
With the exception
noted later, title insurance only protects against losses arising from events
that occurred prior to the date of the policy.
Coverage ends on the day the policy is issued and extends backward in
time for an indefinite period. This
is in marked contrast to property or life insurance, which protect against
losses resulting from events that occur after the policy is issued, for a
specified period into the future.
how long is the property owner purchasing title insurance covered?�
The owner�s protection lasts as long as the owner or any heirs have an
interest in or any obligation with regard to the property.
When they sell, however, the lender will require the purchaser to obtain
a new policy. That protects the
lender against any liens or other claims against the property that may have
arisen since the date of the previous policy.
For example, if
the contractor you failed to pay for remodeling your kitchen
places a lien on your home, you are not protected by your title policy;
the lien was placed after the date of the policy.
You will probably be required to get the lien removed before you can sell
the property. But in the event the
lien hasn�t been removed and a search has failed to uncover it, the new lender
will be protected by a new policy.
title insurance protect me against false claims that arose after I purchased the
policy does not, which is a weakness. Many
events beyond your control can reduce the value of your house after you buy it.
Identity theft can result in a new mortgage you know nothing about.
A neighbor could build on your land without your knowledge, thereby
adversely possessing and possibly eventually taking your land.
Or you may suddenly be told that you must correct a zoning violation of
the previous owner.
To deal with these
issues, a new policy with expanded coverage has been developed.
I am told it is virtually standard in California and is available in many
other states, perhaps at a small price increase.
It is usually referred to as the ALTA Homeowner�s Policy.
do I need to purchase a new policy when I refinance?�
You don�t need a
new owner�s policy, but the lender will require you to purchase a new lender
policy. Even if you refinance with
the same lender, the existing lender�s policy terminates when you pay off the
mortgage. Furthermore, the lender
is concerned about title issues that may have arisen since you purchased the
property, such as the lien mentioned in an earlier question.
A new title search will uncover the lien, and you will have to pay it off
as a condition for the refinance.
offer discounts on policies taken out within short periods after the preceding
policy. In some cases, discounts are available as far out as 6 years
from the date of the previous policy.
the fact that title insurance companies pay out very little in claims indicate
that it is overpriced?�
No, it may be
overpriced, but not for that reason. Because
title insurance protects against what may have happened in the past, most of the
expense incurred by title companies or their agents is in loss reduction. They look to reduce losses by finding and fixing defects
before the policy is issued, in much the same way as firms providing elevator or
boiler insurance. These types of
insurance are very different from life, property or mortgage insurance, which
protect against losses from future events over which the insurers have no
title insurance premiums fair to low-income borrowers?�
Probably they are
more than fair. Most title insurance costs arise in preventing loss rather
than paying claims, and prevention costs are not much different for a small
policy than for a large one. Despite
this, premiums are scaled to the amount of the mortgage or the value of the
property, which suggests that smaller policies may be under-priced and larger
title insurance guarantee me that I will be able to sell my property if an
unforeseen claim arises?�
Title insurance does not prevent loss of marketability due to a title
claim, any more than fire insurance prevents fire.
If a claim arises, you probably won�t be able to sell your property
until the claim is settled by the title insurer.
The interest of the owner and the insurer may clash in such cases.
The owner usually wants settlement immediately, whereas the insurer wants
to minimize the cost of settlement, which may require time-consuming
negotiations with the claimant.
are there such large variations in the cost of title insurance in different
parts of the country?�
One major reason
is that the services covered by the title insurance premium vary in different
parts of the country. In some
areas, the premium covers not only protection against loss but also the costs of
search and examination, as well as closing services.
In other areas, the premium covers protection only, and borrowers pay for
the other related services separately.
To complicate it
further, in some states the charges for title-related services are paid to title
insurance companies, which perform the functions but charge separately for them.
In other states, borrowers may pay attorneys or independent companies
called abstractors or escrow companies.
Of course, what
matters to the borrower is the sum total of all title-related charges.
These also differ from one area to another in response to a variety of
factors. The 50 states have 50
different regulatory regimes, which affect charges.
So do local costs, competition in local markets, and other factors.
This is a largely unstudied segment of the economy that would make a nice
PhD dissertation for a student in economics!
a borrower have the right to purchase title insurance on her own?�
Yes, although few
exercise it. Most leave it up to one of the professionals with whom they
deal � real estate agent, lender or attorney � to select the carrier.
This means that competition among title insurers is largely directed
toward these professionals who can direct business rather than toward borrowers.
borrower does shop for title insurance, would it pay?�
It is difficult to generalize because market conditions vary state by
state, and sometimes within states.
I would certainly
shop in states that do not regulate title insurance rates: Alabama, District of
Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and West
You would be
wasting your time shopping in Texas and New Mexico because these state set the
prices for all carriers. Florida
also sets title insurance premiums but not other title-related charges, which
In the remaining
states, the situation is murky and it may or may not pay to shop.
Insurance premiums are the same for all carriers in �rating bureau
states�: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Delaware.
These states authorize title insurers to file for approval of a single
rate schedule for all carriers through a cooperative entity.
Yet in some there may be flexibility in title-related charges.
More promising are �file and use� states � all those not mentioned
above -- which permit premiums to vary between insurers.
It is a good idea
to ask an informed but disinterested local whether it pays to shop in the area
where the property is located. Just
keep in mind that those likely to be the best informed are also likely to have
an interest in directing your business in the direction that is most
advantageous to them.