What is title insurance? And do I need it?
Recently, Deirdre P. Brown and I sat down to talk about title insurance for The Washington Blade. Our article appeared in their November 24, 2017 issue.
Sherri Anne: Deirdre, as part of my buyer discussions, I walk through the settlement process. What paperwork to expect, including the closing statement and the costs associated with purchasing a home.
But let’s be honest, the excitement and focus is always on finding the perfect home. Details on closing costs and fees are discussed, but not internalized. When the closing document arrives a few days before settlement, most buyers start taking a closer look.
A home is likely the largest purchase most people make in their lifetime so ensuring that they are spending wisely–on every part of the transaction—is top of mind. When buyers start examining their bottom line, title insurance is something many ask if they can do without.
I’ve heard some horror stories regarding title issues and I know you’ve heard more. So, I thought it might be a great topic for us to discuss.
Deirdre: Of course. It’s important and, you are right, one that usually doesn’t get discussed until I am sitting at the closing. At that moment, emotions are running high. The buyer is ready to start their new chapter of life in their new home. That moment just isn’t the right time to be deciding if you should or shouldn’t purchase title insurance. Let’s shed some light on its merits and protection.
Sherri Anne: Great, so let’s start with the basics. What is title insurance?
Deirdre: There are two types: a Lender’s Title Insurance Policy and an Owner’s Title Insurance Policy. The Lender’s policy is required if you are taking out a mortgage loan. The Owner’s policy is optional which is why many ask if they can eliminate it.
In simple terms, title insurance insures against a successful title claim on the property. The Lender’s policy insures the financial investment of the bank or lender as defined by the loan amount and the Owner’s policy insures the buyer—the new owner of the property. The Owner’s policy is paid for with a one-time fee—not an annual payment like home owner’s insurance — and the policy will be in place for as long as the owner owns the property. The Lender’s policy is also a one-time fee, but is re-issued each time the buyer refinances the property.
Sherri Anne: Once I explain that the lender policy is required, their next question is, “If a Lender’s policy is being issued why would a I need an Owner’s Policy?” Many see that Lender policy and assume it is enough coverage. Why shouldn’t a buyer “depend” on the Lender’s policy?
Deirdre: The short answer is that the Lender’s policy covers the lender and not the Owner. The Lender’s interest and the Owner’s interest may not always be the same when an issue comes up. Look at it this way, the Lender’s policy is based on the dollar amount of the loan. It only protects the lender’s interests in the property should a problem with the title arise. Its coverage amount is based on the loan balance on the day of the claim—not the value of the home. This is because the policy amount decreases as you pay down your loan and eventually disappears as the loan is paid off. An Owner’s policy is usually issued in the amount of the real estate purchase, not the loan value. Only an Owner’s policy protects the buyer should a covered title problem arise. Possible hidden title problems can include: errors or omissions in deeds; mistakes in examining records; forgery; undisclosed heirs.
An owner’s policy provides assurance that your title insurance company will stand behind you—monetarily and with legal defense if needed—if a covered title problem arises after you buy your home.
Sherri Anne: All of this sounds great, but sometimes real-world applications help us all understand an issue. Can you share a case where you’ve seen title insurance was needed to correct a problem?
Deirdre: Claims against title happen every day. Even though the title company will conduct a search and resolve any title issues that are seen at the time, problems could arise that threaten the buyer’s ownership rights. For example, forgery. There have been cases where a seller has misrepresented their identity and sold the property only for the real owner to turn up after settlement. The transaction is therefore not valid, because the fake seller had no right to sell.
The most frequent title claims just involve human error. Mis-recorded documents, incorrect legal descriptions, and very old documents that are not available electronically can all lead to title claims in the future.
These things happen enough that your lender wants coverage. Just like any other insurance product, you may never need it, but you will be really happy that you have it if you ever do.
Sherri Anne: Without title insurance it would be up to the owner to depend on their own defense, correct? And, we both know that could get costly.
Deirdre: Just as you said, a home is the single largest financial investment most people make. We do not think twice about insuring everything else that is valuable. We get life, car, and personal insurance, and insurance for our health and pets. Wouldn’t a buyer want to insure their largest financial investment as well? For a one-time fee, Owner’s title insurance protects the buyer’s property rights for as long as they own the home. Once you understand what it is – it really is a no brainer.
Sherri Anne Green is an award-winning Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage focused on custom, data-driven marketing and client service. Reach her at 202-798-1288, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook, or on Instagram. Deirdre P. Brown, J.D. is a settlement agent with Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services, LLC. Reach her via CloseWithDee.com.