Title Insurance: Protecting Homebuyer and Lender Interests


The purchase of a home is one of the most expensive and important purchases a homebuyer will ever make. The buyer and mortgage lender will want to make sure that no one else has any lien, claim or encumbrance on the property. Title insurance protects your interests and the interests of the lender, should a claim be made against the property.
 
What is title insurance?
Title insurance offers protection against claims resulting from various defects (as set out in the policy) that may exist in the title to a specific parcel of real property, effective on the issue date of the policy.
 
What is a “defect?”
A defect can include a prior claim of ownership from someone other than the person selling the property, for instance an ex-spouse, a former partner or a co-inheritor. Another claim could result from a court judgment against the former owner that resulted in a lien placed on the property.
 
As an example, property and casualty insurance insures against possible losses in the future, such as automobile insurance that protects you against future accidents. Title insurance protects against things that happened in the past, and insurers seek to minimize that risk prior to the purchase of a home by disclosing these prior matters.  In fact, according to the American Land Title Association, more than 1/3 of all title searches reveal a title problem that title professionals correct before buyers go to closing.
 
How can title insurers protect against the risk of a claim prior to my purchase?
Before the lender finalizes a mortgage on the property, a search of all public records is conducted by a title agent. County clerks or recorders maintain records on each property within the nearly 3,600 counties in the United States. These records include legal descriptions of the property; a list of all past owners; current mortgages held by lenders, including home equity lines of credit; liens or judgments placed against the property; and tax records associated with the property. After gathering all of the data on the property, a title agent prepares a preliminary report for the buyer and lender. Prior to lending against the property, the lender must be assured all claims of mortgages, taxes and liens against the former owner are cleared up so the lender has first claim against the property. 

How can the lender assure all existing claims are paid and the property is free and clear?
At the time of the closing, the lender provides the closing or escrow agent with a detailed list of instructions, authorizing the agent to pay off all claims at the time the property changes hands.
 
Who pays for the title search, title report and title insurance?
In California, regional traditions usually determine who pays for the title and escrow services involved in the sale of real property.  Discuss with your real estate agent the practice in your area.  In refinance transactions, the borrower typically pays for title and escrow services. 
 
What is the difference between the Owner’s Policy and the Lender’s Policy of title insurance?
Title companies routinely issue two types of policies: An Owner’s Policy that insures you, the homebuyer for as long as you and your heirs own the home; and a Lender’s Policy that insures the priority of the lender’s security interest over the claims that others may have in the property.
 
How long is my title policy in effect?
The title insurance policy is in effect as long as you hold title to the property. If at any time the property changes hands from one owner to another, a new title policy must be purchased to continue protection.
 
How often will I have to pay a title premium?
ONCE! The fee is due when you purchase the home, and you never pay it again.