1. Home

Discuss in my forum

What is a Title Insurance Policy?

Do You Need Title Insurance?

By

Victorian home built in 1890

Title policies protect owners regardless of a home's age.

© Elizabeth Weintraub
To understand title insurance and policies of title insurance in America, let's look at chain-of-title and how title companies search the public records. Title insurance companies aren't really concerned with where dinosaurs once roamed, whether our ancestors trekked across the Bering Straight or where American Indian tribes settled. Title searches begin with when the United States government stole the land, I mean claimed it -- from the U. S. patent -- and move forward from that point.

Because humans are involved in recording deed transfers and plotting land parcels, a lot can go wrong. Hey, an unintended pun. You want title insurance because it will protect you against defects and human error.

Property Searches and Public Records

  • Property transfers were first recorded alphabetically in separate Grantor and Grantee books.
  • The books are heavy to lift and dusty.
  • County records are often maintained at local courthouses or the Clerk of Registrars.
  • Today, most records are stored on the computer.

Division of Land

  • Early deeds involved large chunks of land known as Townships.
  • Townships contain 36 sections and are six miles by six miles.
  • Sections measure one mile by one mile and contain 640 acres.
  • Half of a section is 320 acres.
  • 1/4 of a section is 160 acres.
  • 1/4 section of 1/4 section is 40 acres.
  • An acre is 43,560 square feet

Title Search Basics

  • Title searches start with the most recent deed, searching the grantee's name (the person now holding title) backwards in time, until the deed when the grantee acquired the property is located.
  • That grantor's name is then searched backwards in time in the grantee's book to find when the grantor acquired title as a grantee.
  • This process continues, and over time, the property description involves larger and larger parcels of land.
  • Eventually, the searcher finds the U. S. Patent.

Other Factors Affecting Title

Deeds establish chain-of-title, but sometimes those chains are broken. In addition, title searchers also look for reconveyances (proof that the encumbrances are paid off), and they look for easements, rights-of-way, CC&Rs, other elements affecting title to the property. Here are more records that are searched to piece title together:

  • Marriage records
  • Death certificates
  • Tax sales

Title Insurance Coverage

Depending on the title company, consumers can choose among a variety of options, but the top three choices are Owners, Lender's and Extended Coverage.

  • Basic Owner's Title Policy Coverage:
  1. Clear title to the property
  2. Incorrect signatures on documents
  3. Forgery, fraud
  4. Defective recordation
  5. Restrictive covenants
  6. Encumbrances or judgments

  • Basic Lender's Title Policy Coverage:
  1. Mechanic's liens and unrecorded liens
  2. Unrecorded easements and access rights
  3. Defects and other unrecorded documents

  • Extended Owner's Coverage
  1. Building permit violations from previous owners
  2. Subdivision maps
  3. Covenant violations from previous owners
  4. Living trusts
  5. Structure damage from mineral extractions
  6. Variety of encroachments and forgeries after title insurance is issued

Who Pays For Title Policy Insurance?

  • This depends on your local custom.
  • It can differ from county to county, but it is also negotiable in the purchase offer.
  • Sometimes sellers and buyers split the fee for the owner's policy.
  • Typically, the buyer pays for the lender's coverage.

How Long Are Title Policies Good For?

Forever, theoretically. If you are planning to resell the property within a couple years, ask your title company about "binder" coverage. Some companies will sell you a binder policy for a fee 10% more, although that practice is slowly being discontinued. If you can get it, a binder is good for two years, and the fee charged for the new buyer's policy will be the difference between what you bought the property for and the price at which it sold. In other words, you will get a credit for the amount of coverage you purchased under your own Owner's Title Policy.

How Often Are Title Policy Insurance Premiums Paid?

Once. The fee is due when you buy. You will never pay it again. Title policy insurance is the best insurance policy you can ever buy.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.