Ask the mortgage specialist: What the heck is title insurance?
By Kristin Abouelata, STYLE Home Loan Specialist.
Just what exactly is title insurance? It's on your list of mortgage charges, but why do you really have to have it?
So, you're sitting across from your mortgage lender going over all the charges for your mortgage. It seems like there are countless charges for this (document preparation) and that (MERS assignment fee - what the heck is MERS again?). But, none of these little charges are that big. But, whoa, wait a minute! What's that on line 1108? Title insurance? Do you really need it since you're putting 20% down on the property? Is that a double charge for the insurance you're getting in case your house burns down? What exactly does it do for you?
Truth be told, title insurance as required by the lender doesn't do a whole lot for you as a borrower. But it does a heck of a lot for the lender. Title insurance protects from loss against problems arising from problems with the title. If you are being lent money to buy or refinance your home, your lender is going to require it. Before you came along and put down a contract on the house you want to buy, there have possibly been numerous people who owned the house or at least the property it sits upon. The house may have changed hands countless times. And if the parties conducting the transaction before yours made a boo-boo, it could mean the world to you and your wallet. Which in turn, could pose a huge risk for your lender.
What kind of errors could be made? Well, say someone forged a document. It happens more than you think. Maybe Aunt Sue really never intended to sell that house when she was in a coma. Or what about tax liens against the property? If they were undiscovered at the time of a previous transfer, someone somewhere is owed some money. Title insurance will protect the lender for unforeseen claims against title up to the amount of the mortgage. It's obligatory that you buy it if that lender is giving you money. You will be required to pay a single up front premium that will protect the lender for the life of the loan.
So you can see, a lender's mortgage insurance policy does very little to protect a buyer. However, buyers can purchase their own title policy insurance to cover their legal fees and needs if a problem with title insurance occurs. It's usually offered at a discounted rate to them at closing, allowing them to "piggyback" off of the lender's policy. At a closing I attended the other day, the closing agent told of an undiscovered $10,000 lien that surfaced after a loan closing. It seems that the sellers had a pool built. Unfortunately, they failed to pay the pool builder. So the builder filed a lien against the old homeowners. These homeowners went to sell the home to the new buyers, a title search was done, and there were no issues. But, after closing, the pool builder figured out he had filed his lien in the wrong county. Oops. So he promptly re-filed it correctly. And lo and behold, suddenly there was a doozy of a lien existing against this property. The seller was long gone. Thankfully, the title insurance paid the lien so the lender was happy. And the buyers just had happened to purchase title insurance as well ?so, they were happy because the whole fiasco cost them nada. In fact, it might have been the wisest $150 they ever spent. End of story.