April 27, 2023


This article provides a comprehensive overview of title insurance and its importance in real estate transactions. Readers will learn about the different types of policies, major title insurance underwriters, coverage limitations, how to obtain title insurance, and how to handle claims. Title insurance protects property owners and lenders from any financial loss due to defects in a property’s title, such as liens, encumbrances, fraud, or errors.

Understanding The Basics of Title Insurance

Title insurance is an essential aspect of real estate transactions, providing protection to both property owners and lenders from potential claims against property ownership. This article delves into the definition, purpose, and significance of title insurance in real estate transactions, and how it safeguards property owners and lenders.

What You Need to Know About Title Insurance

Title insurance is a form of indemnity insurance that guards against financial loss resulting from defects in title to real property. A title is a legal document that establishes the owner’s right to possess and use the property. In essence, title insurance ensures that the property’s title is clear, accurate, and free from flaws or errors, such as unpaid taxes, undisclosed heirs, fraud, forgery, and encroachments.

The main purpose of title insurance is to protect the property owner and the lender from potential financial losses due to claims against the property’s title. Upon purchasing a property, the new owner receives a title policy, which certifies that they have insurable and marketable ownership rights. In case of a dispute regarding property ownership, title insurance comes into play by providing legal defense and remunerating financial losses up to the policy limit for valid claims.

Importance of Title Insurance in Real Estate Transactions

Title insurance is a crucial component in real estate transactions for several reasons:

  1. Peace of mind: Purchasing a home or property is one of the most significant financial decisions that an individual makes. Title insurance provides peace of mind by ensuring that the property’s ownership is clear, and there are no hidden liens or claims against it.
  2. Protection against potential losses: In case of a dispute or claim against the property’s title, title insurance shields the property owner from financial losses. This protection extends to legal defense costs as well, which can be quite substantial in some cases.
  3. Lender requirement: Most mortgage lenders necessitate the procurement of title insurance on behalf of the borrower as a condition for granting a loan. This practice safeguards the lender’s interest in the property, reducing the risk associated with mortgage lending.
  4. One-time fee: Unlike other types of insurance, title insurance is purchased with a one-time premium typically paid at closing. This means the property owner enjoys continuous coverage without having to pay for renewals or additional premiums.

How Title Insurance Protects Property Owners and Lenders

Title insurance offers protection to both property owners and lenders in the following ways:

  1. For property owners: An owner’s title policy safeguards the property owner’s interests by compensating for financial losses due to claims against the property’s title up to the policy limit. In addition, title insurance covers legal defense expenses arising from disputes over title ownership, ensuring that the property owner receives adequate representation and support.
  2. For lenders: A lender’s title policy shields the lender’s financial interest in the property from possible claims and defects in the title. Lenders require title insurance to minimize their risk when providing mortgage loans. In case the property’s title turns out to be defective, the lender’s title policy indemnifies the lender from any loss or damage ensuing from the title defect, thereby shielding their investment in the property.

In conclusion, title insurance is an indispensable aspect of real estate transactions that ensures clear and accurate property ownership. By offering protection to property owners and lenders, title insurance helps mitigate financial risks associated with property acquisitions and mortgage lending, fostering a safer and more secure real estate market.

Types of Title Insurance Policies

Title insurance policies are a form of indemnity insurance that protects both property owners and lenders against potential losses, such as claims or disputes, which may arise as a result of defects in the title to a property. These defects may include liens, encumbrances, or errors in the public records. Title insurance policies can be categorized into two main types: owner’s title insurance policies and lender’s title insurance policies.

Owner’s Title Insurance Policies

Owner’s title insurance policies are designed to protect the property owner from financial loss resulting from claims or disputes against the title of the property. There are two types of owner’s title insurance policies: standard policies and extended policies.

Standard Policy

A standard owner’s title insurance policy offers basic protection against various issues that may affect the title of the property. These include defects or encumbrances that may have been discovered during a title search, such as forged documents, recording errors, or mistakes made by title examiners. The standard policy also covers legal expenses that the property owner may incur in the case of litigation due to title defects.

Standard policies are typically sufficient for homebuyers who are purchasing a property with a relatively clear title history. However, they may not provide adequate protection for properties that have a more complicated title history or are located in areas with a higher risk of title defects.

Extended Policy

An extended owner’s title insurance policy offers broader protection than the standard policy, covering additional risks that may not have been discovered during a title search. These risks may include unrecorded liens, encroachments, or other issues related to the property boundaries.

The extended policy may also provide coverage for claims arising from zoning law violations, building permit violations, or unrecorded easements, among other issues. This level of coverage is usually recommended for properties with a more complex title history or for those located in areas with a higher prevalence of title defects.

Lender’s Title Insurance Policies

Lender’s title insurance policies are designed to protect the lender’s financial interest in the property in case of any title issues or disputes. As the mortgage lender is usually the largest investor in a property, it is essential for them to ensure that their interest is safeguarded. The two types of lender’s title insurance policies available are loan policies and ALTA policies.

Loan Policy

A loan policy, also known as a mortgagee title policy or lender’s title insurance policy, solely protects the lender’s financial interest in the property. It does not provide any coverage for the property owner. This policy covers risks such as liens, encroachments, or title defects that may affect the lender’s investment in the property.

Typically, the lender will require the borrower to purchase a loan policy as part of the loan agreement. This policy is paid for by the borrower and usually covers the full amount of the mortgage loan. It is important for borrowers to recognize that a loan policy does not provide them with any protection and that they should also consider purchasing an owner’s title insurance policy for their own protection.

ALTA Policy

The American Land Title Association (ALTA) has developed standardized title insurance policies for the benefit of lenders and property owners. The ALTA lender’s policy provides comprehensive coverage to lenders and includes coverage for many additional risks, such as unrecorded liens or easements, fraud, forgery, and various other title-related issues.

ALTA policies are more comprehensive than standard loan policies and are often required by larger or institutional lenders that require additional protection. Although ALTA policies are primarily targeted towards protecting the lender’s interest, they can be endorsed to cover the property owner as well, providing both parties with comprehensive title insurance protection.

In summary, understanding the different types of title insurance policies available can help property owners and lenders make informed decisions in protecting their financial interests. It is essential for the buyer and the lender to thoroughly evaluate the specific risks associated with a property and choose the appropriate title insurance policy that addresses those risks.

Major Title Insurance Underwriters

Title insurance underwriters play a crucial role in the real estate industry. They protect the interests of both the property buyer and lender by conducting a meticulous examination of the property’s title history and financial transactions during the closing process. This section will explore four major title insurance underwriters in the United States: First American Title Insurance Company, Fidelity National Title Insurance Company, Old Republic Title Insurance Group, and Stewart Title Guaranty Company.

First American Title Insurance Company

First American Title Insurance Company, a subsidiary of First American Financial Corporation, is one of the largest title insurance underwriters in the United States. The company was founded in 1889 and has since expanded its operations to multiple countries, offering comprehensive title insurance and real estate services to homeowners, lenders, and real estate developers.

First American Title provides various services, including title insurance, escrow services, closings, and mortgage services. Their title insurance policies protect both the property owner and the lender against potential losses due to defects in the title, such as liens, encumbrances, or any other issues that might affect the ownership or value of the property.

The company takes pride in its swift and efficient closing processes, comprehensive integration of technology, and their persistent adherence to industry regulations.

Fidelity National Title Insurance Company

Fidelity National Title Insurance Company (FNTIC), a subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial, is another leading title insurance underwriter in the United States. Established in 1847, the company has an extensive history of providing title insurance and real estate services across the country.

Fidelity National Title’s services include issuing both residential and commercial title insurance policies, as well as escrow and closing services. The company is renowned for its comprehensive title searches, which help mitigate the risks associated with property ownership transfers. FNTIC also employs an innovative approach to its services, leveraging advanced technology to improve efficiency and reduce errors throughout the title process.

The company’s dedication to providing top-quality customer support has earned it a reputation as a trustworthy and reliable partner in the real estate sector.

Old Republic Title Insurance Group

Old Republic Title Insurance Group (ORTIG), a subsidiary of Old Republic International Corporation, is another well-established title insurance underwriter with over a century of experience in the industry. Since its inception in 1907, the company has grown significantly to provide national coverage for its diverse range of title insurance services.

ORTIG’s primary services include title insurance policies for both residential and commercial properties, as well as escrow and closing services. The company is committed to providing accurate, dependable, and prompt title services that safeguard the interests of its clients. Old Republic Title leverages its vast expertise and resources to identify potential risks and defects in property titles, ensuring that property transfers proceed smoothly and with minimal complications.

Stewart Title Guaranty Company

Stewart Title Guaranty Company is another prominent title insurance underwriter in the United States, with over 125 years of experience in the real estate sector. As a subsidiary of Stewart Information Services Corporation, the company’s primary focus is on providing comprehensive title insurance and settlement services to its clients.

Stewart Title’s services include title insurance policies for residential and commercial properties, in addition to escrow, settlement, and closing services. The company is dedicated to providing accurate and reliable title services, utilizing its extensive industry knowledge and cutting-edge technology to streamline and expedite the closing process. Additionally, Stewart Title invests heavily in research and development to further enhance its services and address the evolving needs of the real estate industry.

In conclusion, First American Title Insurance Company, Fidelity National Title Insurance Company, Old Republic Title Insurance Group, and Stewart Title Guaranty Company are the leading title insurance underwriters in the United States. Each company’s commitment to excellence, comprehensive title services, and innovative approaches to technology makes them reliable and trustworthy partners in the real estate sector.

Title Insurance Coverage and Limitations

Title insurance is an important form of protection for real estate property owners and mortgage lenders. It helps to safeguard them from financial losses and legal problems that may arise from irregularities in a property’s title, such as liens, encroachments, or disputes. This article will discuss what title insurance typically covers and its limitations, and aims to help property buyers and mortgage lenders understand the importance of title insurance and its scope.

Items Typically Covered by Title Insurance

Title insurance policies offer coverage to protect against a variety of issues that could affect a property’s title. Some of the most common items typically covered by title insurance include:

Liens or Encumbrances

Liens or encumbrances are claims made by another party against the property. These can include unpaid taxes, mortgages, judgment liens, or mechanic’s liens. A title insurance policy will cover the insured against any loss resulting from a lien or encumbrance that were not uncovered during the title search or were incorrectly reported.

Errors or Omissions

Title insurance policies can cover errors or omissions made during the title search process. This may include mistakes made in the public records such as incorrect recording of legal documents, indexing errors, or clerical errors. If a mistake is made and a problem emerges later on, the title insurance coverage will safeguard the property owner or mortgage lender from financial loss due to the error.

Forged Documents and Fraud

One of the most critical aspects of a title insurance policy is its coverage for situations involving forged documents or fraud. This can include incidents such as identity theft or someone signing a deed without legal standing to do so.

Fraudulent transfer of property ownership can cause significant financial losses and legal troubles for property owners, and having a solid title insurance policy in place can help protect against these issues.

Title Insurance Exclusions

While title insurance policies offer protection against many potential issues, there are several exclusions that property buyers and mortgage lenders should be aware of:

Government Regulations

Title insurance policies generally do not cover government regulations, such as zoning laws, land-use restrictions, or environmental protection regulations. These policies are intended to protect against issues with the title itself and not against situations caused by regulatory restrictions that might affect the property’s use or value.

Unrecorded Easements

An easement is the right of one person to use the property of another for a specific purpose, such as access to a neighboring property, utility line maintenance, or shared driveways. Title insurance policies usually only cover recorded easements that are on the public record; unrecorded easements that have not been officially recorded with the local county or courthouse could still create issues for property owners even if they hold a title insurance policy.

Boundary Disputes

While title insurance policies may provide coverage in some situations where there are disputes over a property’s boundaries, they typically do not include protection against issues arising from survey errors or incorrect legal descriptions of the property. To help protect against these types of issues, property buyers can consider obtaining a separate survey endorsement or a specific boundary insurance policy.

In summary, title insurance is a crucial protection for property buyers and mortgage lenders, ensuring that any potential issues with the property’s title are addressed and that financial losses or legal troubles are minimized. However, these policies also have limitations and exclusions that should be understood to ensure comprehensive protection. Property buyers and mortgage lenders should consult with an experienced real estate attorney or title insurance agent to ensure proper understanding of the coverage provided by a title insurance policy.

How to Obtain Title Insurance

Title insurance protects homeowners and mortgage lenders from potential ownership disputes, inaccuracies in the title search, and other issues that could arise when purchasing a new property. Acquiring title insurance offers peace of mind and ensures that your investment is protected. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to obtain title insurance.

Selecting a Title Insurance Company

The first step in obtaining title insurance is choosing a reliable title insurance company. You can solicit recommendations from your real estate agent or mortgage lender, as they usually have a list of preferred providers. Alternatively, you can research online or inquire from friends and family who have purchased property recently.

When choosing a title insurance company, consider the following factors:

  1. Reputation: Work with a reputable company with a proven track record of customer satisfaction and successful claim resolutions. Online reviews and referrals can help you gauge the company’s reputation.
  2. Experience: Choose a company with vast experience in handling title insurance for various property types and locations. Experienced providers are more likely to identify issues that newer companies might miss during the title search process.
  3. Pricing: Compare prices from various title insurance companies to get the best value for your money. Don’t necessarily settle for the cheapest option, as the quality of service might be compromised.
  4. Customer service: Select a company with a responsive customer service department as this can simplify the process and alleviate potential issues.

Once you have chosen a title insurance company, inform your closing agent or attorney so that they can coordinate the necessary steps with the provider.

Process of a Title Search

Before you receive title insurance, the title company must conduct a thorough title search of the property. This process involves examining public records such as land records, deeds, mortgages, liens, and judgments to determine the property’s ownership history and identify any potential issues that could affect the transfer of title.

The title search helps to uncover any errors or omissions that might have been made in previous transactions, such as unpaid taxes or unsatisfied mortgages. The title company will then issue a preliminary report or title commitment, detailing the results of the search and outlining any conditions,requirements, or exceptions that must be addressed before the title can be insured.

Cost of Title Insurance

The cost of title insurance varies based on factors such as the value of the property, location, and the chosen insurance company. In general, there are two types of title insurance policies – the lender’s title policy, which protects the mortgage lender, and the owner’s title policy, which shields the homeowner.

Buyer and seller customarily split the cost of title insurance, though responsibility can vary based on local customs and negotiations during the sales process. The one-time premium for title insurance is typically paid at closing.

In some states, the cost of title insurance is regulated, while in others, it’s negotiable. Be sure to inquire about any discounts or promotions, and don’t hesitate to negotiate the fees within legal parameters.

Understanding the Title Insurance Commitment

When the title search is complete, the title company will issue a title insurance commitment, a legal document that outlines the conditions under which a title insurance policy will be issued. This document typically comprises three schedules:

  1. Schedule A: Contains basic information such as the property’s legal description, the names of the buyer and seller, and the purchase price.
  2. Schedule B-I: Outlines the requirements that must be met before the title company issues the policy. This can include the satisfaction of any recorded liens, proof of payment for property taxes, and proof of identity for the parties involved.
  3. Schedule B-II: Lists exceptions to the coverage provided by the title insurance policy. These are items the title company will not insure against, such as utility easements, restrictive covenants, and other known encumbrances.

It is crucial to carefully review the title insurance commitment to ensure it accurately reflects the property’s details and is free of errors. Work with your closing agent, attorney, or real estate professional to correct any inaccuracies before closing.

Once all requirements are met, and the transaction is complete, the title insurance company will issue the final title insurance policy. The policy serves as a legal contract that protects your property rights and shields you from potential disputes or challenges to your ownership.

Handling Title Insurance Claims

Title insurance is a crucial aspect of any real estate transaction, guarding against various property ownership disputes and other title-related issues. Handling title insurance claims can be a complex process, as it involves navigating legal procedures and gathering necessary documentation.

When to File a Claim

Title insurance claims can be filed in the event of any undisclosed or unknown issues concerning the property’s title, which may pose a risk to the validity, completeness, and accuracy of the title. Some common instances that may warrant filing a claim include:

  1. Undiscovered liens or encumbrances: If you discover unknown claims on your property, such as unpaid taxes, contractor’s liens, or mortgage liens filed against the previous owner, you should consider filing a claim.
  2. Discrepancies or disputes about property boundaries: If you learn about a discrepancy in property lines, this can be grounds for submitting a claim. This may arise when there is a conflict between recorded boundaries and the physical location of property limits.
  3. Errors in public records or title documents: If you identify any mistakes, such as erroneous names or incorrect legal descriptions, in your title documents or public records, filing a claim may be warranted.
  4. Fraud and forgery: If you suspect that any portion of your title documents was forged or fraudulent or if identity theft has led to encumbrances on your title, you should file a claim.
  5. Inadequately completed or undisclosed easements: If an easement that affects your property was not disclosed or properly recorded, this can also be grounds for filing a claim.

It’s essential to consult with a knowledgeable real estate attorney or title insurance expert to evaluate the potential risks associated with your situation to determine if filing a claim is necessary.

How to Submit a Claim

After determining that you need to file a title insurance claim, follow these steps to submit your claim:

  1. Review your title insurance policy to confirm that it covers the issue in question. Note the specific terms of your coverage and any exclusions or limitations that may apply.
  2. Gather and organize all the relevant documents, such as your title insurance policy, property deed, closing documents, and any evidence or proof relating to the issue at hand.
  3. Notify your title insurance company in writing as soon as possible. Include a detailed description of the issue, the date you discovered the problem, your policy number, and any supporting documents.
  4. Follow the instructions provided by your title insurer, which may include completing a claim form or submitting additional documentation. Be prompt in your responses and provide any requested information in a timely manner.
  5. Retain counsel if necessary. In some cases, you may need legal representation to address the claim effectively, but consult with your title insurer first, as some policies include coverage for attorney fees.

Resolution of Title Insurance Claims

Once your title insurance claim has been submitted, the insurer will investigate your claim to determine the appropriate course of action. This investigation may take several weeks or months, depending on the complexity of the issue. As the claim progresses, you should:

  1. Stay in regular communication with your title insurer to receive updates on the progress of your claim and offer any additional assistance or documentation as needed.
  2. Be patient and cooperative; claims often take longer to resolve than expected due to the complexity of the issues and the need for thorough investigation.
  3. Be prepared for possible outcomes – your title insurer may decide to defend your interests in court, negotiate with adverse parties, or pay any monetary damages or liens. The insurer’s decision will depend on the specifics of the claim and policy coverage.
  4. If your claim is denied, discuss your options with an attorney experienced in title insurance claims to determine if contesting the denial is worth pursuing.
  5. Once your claim is resolved, maintain thorough records of the claim and its outcome in case any related issues arise in the future.

In conclusion, handling a title insurance claim requires a comprehensive understanding of your policy coverage, proper documentation, and communication with your title insurer. By promptly filing your claim and following the necessary steps, you can protect your investment and ease the stress that arises from title-related disputes.

Types of Title Insurance FAQs

1. What are the two main types of title insurance policies available?

Two primary types of title insurance policies are Owner’s Title Insurance and Lender’s Title Insurance. The former protects the property owner’s interests, while the latter safeguards the mortgage lender’s stake in a real estate transaction.

2. How does Owner’s Title Insurance work and why is it essential?

Owner’s Title Insurance is a one-time purchase that safeguards the property purchaser’s rights and interests against title defects, liens, and inconsistencies. It helps protect the buyer from potential losses and legal liabilities that could arise from unknown title defects.

3. What does Lender’s Title Insurance cover, and why do mortgage lenders require it?

Lender’s Title Insurance protects the mortgage lender’s investment in real estate transactions against title defects, liens, and ownership disputes. Lenders typically require this insurance to ensure they can recover their funds if a problem arises with the property’s title.

4. Can a property owner obtain title insurance after purchasing the property?

Yes, a property owner can obtain Owner’s Title Insurance any time after purchasing the property. Although it is typically purchased during the closing process, securing ownership insurance later can still protect against title defects that existed before the owner’s acquisition.

5. Can existing owner’s and lender’s title insurance be transferred to a new owner or lender?

Lender’s Title Insurance typically cannot be transferred but may be reissued to a new lender with discounted premiums. Owner’s Title Insurance usually stays with the original owner and does not transfer to new property owners. A new owner must purchase their policy.

6. What is the importance of a title search in the context of title insurance?

A title search is a vital step in the title insurance process. It involves examining public records to ensure a property’s chain of ownership is free from defects and other issues. A thorough title search can identify potential problems before they escalate, reducing risks to all parties involved in the transaction.

About the Author

As a native Washingtonian, Carlos Reyes’ journey in the real estate industry began more than 15 years ago when he started an online real estate company. Since then, he’s helped more than 700 individuals and families as a real estate broker achieve their real estate goals across Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

Carlos now helps real estate agents grow their business by teaching business fundamentals, execution, and leadership.

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