Buying a home is the single largest investment that many individuals will make which makes it essential for potential homeowners to protect their interests. In particular, it is crucial to ensure that the seller can transfer free and clear ownership of the property by obtaining title insurance.
In short, title insurance protects both lenders and owners against claims for unknown defects in title to the property such as another individual claiming ownership of the property, unpaid taxes, judgments and liens, improperly recorded documents, encroachments and easements, as well as fraud and forgery.
In a residential real estate transaction, there are two types of policies, a lender's policy and a buyer's policy, and the homebuyer is required to pay for both. The lender's policy, or mortgagee's policy, specifically protects the lender's interest, including the loan amount and legal costs. The buyer's policy protects the owner up to the original sales price of the property, or its full market value, depending on the type of policy the buyer purchases.
In order to obtain title insurance, it is necessary to engage the services of an escrow agent, or an attorney, who will order a title search. This is a comprehensive examination of public records associated with the property such as deeds, taxes, court records - judgments, bankruptcies, wills, trusts, divorce decrees and other documents.
The title company will rely on the results of this search to issue a preliminary report, or a title commitment, which details the potential defects and outlines the conditions that must be met before a policy can be issued. This report gives the seller the opportunity to remedy any liens or other encumbrances before the loan closing, or in the alternative, from the proceeds of the sale.
In sum, title insurance protects lenders and buyers from a wide range of problems such as a fraudulent sale, unpaid taxes or other liens and defects. While the cost of a title insurance premium is typically based on the purchase price of the home, it also depends on the services the title company is offering. Lastly, the rules governing title insurance vary from state to state, so it is important to consult with an experienced real estate attorney.