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Ins and outs of title insurance

There's another kind of insurance you buy when you buy a house or refinance: title insurance. It's an unusual kind of policy because it protects against something that might have happened in the past, rather than something that might happen in the future.

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Title defects aren't common, but when they occur, the consequences can be disastrous.

Title insurance protects the lender or owner from disputes over ownership of property. When you buy real estate, someone checks land ownership records to find out if the seller has the right to sell it and collect the full payment.

Perhaps the seller is divorced and needs the ex-spouse to sign a document allowing the sale to go through. Or maybe an unpaid electrician put a mechanic's lien on the property, ensuring payment when the property is sold. The county might have filed a lien to satisfy unpaid taxes. And, of course, the mortgage lender has a lien on the property, ensuring that the loan is repaid before the sales proceeds go to anyone else.

One seller found out to his surprise that there was a "cloud" (title defect) affecting title to his property. The title search on his property showed that a deed had been recorded transferring title from the previous owner to himself. But that deed was signed by only one of the two owners.

Due to an oversight, the wife's signature wasn't on the deed. This meant that the wife could still make a claim to the property. In effect, she was still in title as an owner because she hadn't transferred her interest in the property.

A good title
Your real estate purchase contract should include a clause that requires the sellers to provide you with good or marketable title to the property at closing. If the sellers are unable to do this, you should be able to withdraw from the contract without penalty.

In the example above, the buyer's title insurance company was able to track down the wife's heirs and get the signatures necessary to remove the cloud on the title. The defect in the title report was corrected and the sale went through.

Most buyers take out a mortgage when they purchase a home. But before a lender will issue a mortgage, there will need to be evidence that the buyers will receive good title to the property. Also, the lender will require that a title insurance policy be purchased, usually at the buyer's expense, guaranteeing the lender's interest in the property.

Title insurance is paid for on a one-time-only basis. It is not transferable from one party to another.

 
 
Next: "Before issuing a policy of title insurance ..."
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