What Homeowners Need To Know About Title Insurance
Protecting your home investment:
A home is usually the largest single investment any of us will ever make. When you purchase a home, you will purchase several types of insurance coverage to protect your home and personal property. Homeowners insurance protects against loss from fire, theft or wind damage. Flood insurance protects against rising water. And a unique coverage known as title insurance protects against hidden title hazards that may threaten your financial investment in your home.
Oversimplified, title insurance insures a homebuyer — and a mortgage lender — against loss resulting from title defects, whether these defects are known or unknown at the time of the sale or the refinance. In the language of the title industry, the insurance covers both “on record” and “off record” problems.
Protecting your largest single investment:
Title insurance is not as well understood as other types of home insurance, but it is just as important. When you purchase a home, instead of purchasing the actual building or land, you are really purchasing the title to the property – the right to occupy and use the space. That title may be limited by rights and claims asserted by others, which may limit your use and enjoyment of the property and even bring financial loss. Title insurance protects against these types of title hazards.
Other types of insurance that protect your home focus on possible future events and charge an annual premium. On the other hand, title insurance protects against loss from hazards and defects that already exist in the title and is purchased with a one-time premium.
There are two basic kinds of title insurance:
- Lender or mortgagee protection
- Owner’s coverage
Most lenders require mortgagee title insurance as security for their investment in real estate, just as they may call for fire insurance and other types of coverage as investor protection. When title insurance is provided, lenders are willing to make mortgage money to lend.
Owner’s title insurance lasts as long as you, the policyholder – or your heirs – have an interest in the insured property.
When your seller purchased the house several years ago, his title insurance policy covered him — and his lender — for all risks (defects) that existed at time he took title; the policy did not cover future defects.
During the time the Seller owned the property did a mechanic place a mechanic’s lien against the property?
Did a creditor obtain a judgment against the seller and have that judgment recorded? Did the home get sold at a tax sale, without the seller’s knowledge? Did someone forge the seller’s name to a deed and sell the property to a third party? Or did someone accidentally place a lien against your property (Lot 657) when they really meant to place the lien on Lot 567?
Strange as it may sound, these things do happen. Your lender wants assurances that should you not be able to make the monthly mortgage payment, and the lender has to foreclose on your property, that you have clear title. Your new lender is willing to make you a loan; however, since you cannot categorically advise the lender that you have clear title, the lender will insist that you obtain a title insurance policy in favor of the lender.
What does your premium really pay for?
An important part of title insurance is its emphasis on risk elimination before insuring. This gives you, the policyholder, the best possible chance for avoiding title claim and loss.
Title insuring begins with a search of public land records affecting the real estate concerned. An examination is conducted by the title agent or attorney on behalf of its underwriter to determine whether the property is insurable.
The examination of evidence from a search is intended to fully report all material objections to the title. Frequently, documents that don’t clearly transfer title are found in the chain, or history that is assembled from the records in a search. Here are some examples of documents that can present concerns:
- Deeds, wills and trusts that contain improper wording or incorrect names
- Outstanding mortgages and judgments, or a lien against the property because the seller has not paid taxes
- Easements that allow construction of a road or utility line
- Pending legal action against the property that could affect a purchaser
- Incorrect notary acknowledgments
Through the search and examination, title problems are disclosed so they can be corrected whenever possible. However, even the most careful preventative work cannot locate all hidden title hazards.
Hidden title hazards – your last defense
In spite of all the expertise and dedication that go into a title search and examination, hidden hazards can emerge after closing, resulting in unpleasant and costly surprises. Some examples of hazards include:
- A forged signature on the deed, which would mean no transfer of ownership to you
- An unknown heir of a previous owner who is claiming ownership of the property
- Instruments executed under an expired or a fabricated power of attorney
- Mistakes in the public records
- A mortgage (deed of trust) is properly recorded on the land records, but there is no legal description identifying the property that is subject to the mortgage. As a result, creditors are not put on notice of the existence of this mortgage lien, and may make another loan, which will not have first-trust priority.
- A deed (or other legal document) is improperly recorded with the wrong legal description.
The list, unfortunately, can go on and on. There are numerous instances where title to real estate has been found to be defective — either based on substantive grounds or technical, legal procedural reasons (such as improper indexing, misfiling or failure to comply with local recording requirements).
Title insurance offers financial protection against these and other covered title hazards. The title insurer will pay for defending against an attack on title as insured, and will either perfect the title or pay valid claims – all for a one-time charge at closing.
Your home is your most important investment. Before you go to closing, ask about your title insurance protection, and be sure to protect your home with an owner’s title insurance policy.