(This is a Virginia specific posting, disregard for other states)
Update: An Atlanta Realtor did research and found that the number of cases of Total Loss in Georgia was less likely than getting struck by lightening! I’m looking into Virginia’s frequency of Title Insurance claims. You can’t comfortably buy something if you don’t know the statistics behind it, but you also can’t opt out, so what do you do?
Owner’s Title Insurance is OPTIONAL! That doesn’t mean “don’t get it”, it means, “know what you are buying before/if you buy it.”
There are two types of Title Insurance when buying a house in Virginia.
This is a fixed price by the state and is required by your lender, so stop thinking about it. It is paid once at closing, it is NOT monthly.
For a $400k loan, this comes to about $1,000.
This is to protect the bank’s investments (loan to you) from a problem with the title.
This covers what the Lender’s policy does not cover. Also a one time payment.
You have 3 options:
a) No coverage (rarely do people know this is an option!!)
b) “Standard” policy. $700 (reissue rates are less, more below about that)
c) “Premium” or “Alta” Policy. $1,000 ($500k house, $400k loan)
The OWNER’S TITLE policy will be the focus of this blog. This policy is 100% OPTIONAL.
90% to 95% of buyers buy the Owner’s policy. I have no problem with this, however I would guess that 80% of people buying this have no idea what it is or that they even have an option. That I have a problem with.
- Why do people buy Owner’s coverage?
- It is snuck into the the closing documents (HUD1) by default with NO mention of it being Optional. Sometimes the “premium” policy is put in by default. That really bugs me.
- It is sold as being a blanket coverage that protects you from everything and the fear of losing your house, and going bankrupt. I have yet to get any stats on how often this happens. 1 out of 100? 1 out of 10,000? Once in the USA every year? Or does the insurance cover the costs to cover the $500-$5,000 in legal fees to clear up the issue?
- It isn’t disclosed that the title company selling you this insurance is making a 80% commission on selling you this policy.
- Realtors do not get a bonus for pushing this (thank God), but if a Realtor doesn’t say “you must get it” they will be exposed to potential future liability. For example, if they sell 100 homes and they tell their client NOT to get it, and 1 has an issue, guess who they will sue? So it is easier for Realtors just to say “buy it.” It doesn’t cost them a dime. We like to say “Learn about it, and then decide.”
I don’t mind Title companies making money. What I don’t like is the lack of disclosure. It is not clear to the buyer that this is optional and that most of the profits of the closing come from this. Not the token $200 “fee” they charge. They make their money from Title insurance.
- Again, I am not saying NOT to buy Owner’s Title Insurance. I’m just saying:
- Know what it is.
- Who makes money if you buy it?
- Are you getting the basic or premium?
- Ask your Realtor or Title company for some statistics on how often these policies are engaged. (I’ve yet to get an answer for this one)
- Examples to ponder:
- The closing company pitches Owner’s insurance as a nearly 100% coverage if something goes wrong with your title. However I spoke to a woman that had to sue her title company to get them to perform on her insurance. She put it this way… “I paid $1,000 for a policy, $800 goes to the closing company as a commission, $200 goes to the policy writer. For $200, how likely are you going to be protected from a $500,000 loss?”
- I was once at a closing in Falls Church. The buyer was a President of the Closing company. THE PRESIDENT OF A CLOSING COMPANY DID NOT BUY TITLE INSURANCE FOR HIS HOME. Keep in mind that he would effectively get a 80% discount and he STILL didn’t find it necessary for his personal home. I asked him why he wasn’t buying it and he said “I do the title search personally and I double checked and made sure there was nothing wrong with the Title history.” Then he had the nerve to say “But you should bring your buyer clients here and make sure they do buy the Owner’s policy.” This made no sense to me. Was he not going to double check my client’s Title history as well as his own personal search?
- Remember that you are buying the Lender’s policy too. If something was hugely wrong with the title, wouldn’t the Lender’s policy kick in to clean things up (as in legal fees)? This part isn’t clear to me. If the house is $500k and you put down $25k 5%), are you really paying to insure against $500k, or is it more of an insurance to protect the $25k you have put down?
- On the other hand…
- I have spoken to a Realtor that has been in business for 20 years and she says you would be nuts to not get the policy. She has seen first hand one person that would have had major trouble if they didn’t buy the policy. Now does major trouble mean the loss of the house? All $500k or does it mean they would have had to pay $1,000 or $2,000 in legal fees. I would never pay $500 to insure against a 1 in XYZ chance of having to pay out $1,000. But I might pay $500 to cover $500,000 (if it really even covers you.)
- One of my favorite closing companies in Alexandria says that they use the Owner’s title insurance all the time to clear up title problems that come up. So A buyer buys a house in 2002, and buys a policy. IN 2007 they sell th house but something pops up on the title. This company says that since the seller bought the policy, they were able to close. If they hadn’t bought it… (it isn’t clear if the alternative was a) losing the home (probably not), cover legal fees to clear it up c) ability to close immediately vs delaying closing weeks or maybe months (most likely)
Basic vs Premium
The Premium main feature is that it is supposed to protect you beyond your purchase price. So if your $500k house appreciates to $600k, the basic policy will protect your $500k while the premium protects $600k.
My wish list:
1) That Owner’s Title Insurance would be renamed to “Owner’s Title Insurance (Optional)”, so that consumers would know they have a choice.
2) That I could find actual data on how often these policies are engaged. Are we talking 10% of the time? Once in 100,000? And of those what did it actually protect against. Consumers deserve to have this data.
- Dear Closing Companies, can somebody post a comment answering these few questions:
- Out of your last 1,000 deals, how many times did an owner’s policy get engaged.
- Take the last 5, what would have happened to them if they didn’t have a policy?
- What actual real life “worst case” (because that is how policies are sold) examples do you have of somebody NOT having the policy and being adversely affected by this? What did they lose? $500 in legal bills or a $500k house?
Again, I’m not saying to get the Owner’s coverage or no
t. I don’t care if you do. If it makes you sleep better at night, great, I won’t be disappointed. I will be disappointed if you buy it blindly without understanding it.
Other little known tips:
1) Try and get a Reissue rate. If the former owner bought the property within the last 10 years, they probably have a policy. Track that down and save 20-30% on the Owner’s portion of the Title insurance. If lost, the former closing company can send a fax for $25 to prove the insurance was purchased. Take that $300 in savings and use $10 and donate it to StBernardProject.org.
I am in NO WAY saying not to buy Owner’s Title Insurance. I am not even implying it. I am just saying to make sure you know what you are getting. I prefer to give information instead of giving recommendations, but I can say that if you are at all uncomfortable waiving Owner’s Title insurance, then you SHOULD get it so you can sleep well at night. This is not one of those, “when in doubt, don’t get it” issues.
Here is a link comparing the standard policy versus the premium policy. I still don’t think this is enough information to make an informed decision. Click for link to Owner’s Title Policy Comparison chart. This sales sheet is obviously designed to make the premium policy look like it covers 5 times that of a standard policy.
75% of my clients end up getting the standard. Maybe a couple have bought the premium. I don’t personally buy any Owner’s title insurance, but that is just me, and NOT a recommendation.
Comments? Anybody use one of these policies?
- Written by Frank Borges LL0SA- Broker/Owner FranklyRealty.com
Videos at YouTube.FranklyRealty.com
Housing bubble? Arlington, Alexandria, mls, homes, Real 22201, 22314, Fairfax Va, DC Realty, Realtor