enhanced title insurance coverage

When you find out you have a major title problem that prevents you from selling or refinancing your home, have fun explaining to your spouse that for a fraction of the cost of your home you could’ve prevented it by buying title insurance.

Enhanced Owner’s Title Insurance Coverage

Available for a few years now, enhanced coverage policies offer vastly improved protection for common title problems at about a 10% cost over a standard coverage policy. (These policies run about $4 per thousand of purchase price). Enhanced coverage policies now cover some of the most common title problems facing Massachusetts residents. Realtors and mortgage professionals should be aware of the benefits of an enhanced coverage policy, and should recommend that their clients opt for the increased coverage. It’s well worth the small cost in premium.

Additional Coverages:

  • Appreciation in property value. Standard policies do not increase their coverage amount in a rising market as a home increases in value. The enhanced policy will increase coverage by 10% per year for 5 years up to 150% of the original policy limit.
  • Encroachments/adverse possession. Standard policies, to most homeowner’s chagrin, do not cover encroachments like a neighbor’s fence, wall or structure over a property line. Enhanced policies provide coverage for such encroachments, and also cover adverse possession–which occurs when an encroachment exists for 20 or more uninterrupted years. For more info on Massachusetts adverse possession, please read our post “Good Fences May Make For Upset Neighbors”.
  • Zoning/Subdivision/Building permit violations. Enhanced coverage policies now provide coverage if the property is not zoned for residential 1-4 family use, in violation of subdivision regulations, or if there is a defect or lack of a building permit. This is a tremendous benefit for commonly arising situations.
  • Easements. Enhanced policies offer coverage for easement encroachment situations such as deeded driveways, drainage easements, utility easements, beach paths, walking paths, etc.
  • Expanded Insured. Enhanced policies will now transfer to a spouse who gets property in a divorce, inheriting heirs, related family trusts and their beneficiaries.
  • Expanded Access Coverage. Enhanced policies now guarantee that your home as adequate vehicular and foot access over adequate streets or roads if there’s a title defect rendering your lot “land-locked.”

Do I Really Need Title Insurance?

The decision to get an owner’s title insurance policy is one of the most important choices you make in connection with your real estate transaction.

As part of every real estate transaction, the borrower/buyer is offered the opportunity to get an owner’s title insurance policy. (For refinances and purchases, your lender will require you to purchase a “lender’s” title insurance policy.) An owner’s title insurance provides the most comprehensive protection available for most every known type of title problem which could affect your property rights. I’m proud to say that every single one of my buyer clients have benefited from an owner’s title insurance policy at their closings, at my strong recommendation.

One needs only to look at the recent controversies over “robo-signing” and the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez defective foreclosure sales, which has stripped thousands of Massachusetts property owners of their property ownership rights, to see why an owner’s title insurance policy could be the best decision a home buyer ever makes. The unfortunate souls who declined owner’s title insurance are now left without legal title to their homes and looking at the prospect of spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to resolve their title issues with no guarantee of success. With a title insurance policy, the title insurance company will hire expert title attorneys to solve title issues at no cost to you, defend against any adverse claims, reimburse you for covered damages, and most valuable, issue affirmative coverage to enable a pending closing to move forward.

When you find out you have a major title problem that prevents you from selling or refinancing your home, have fun explaining to your spouse that for a fraction of the cost of your home you could’ve prevented it by buying title insurance.

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title-insuranceIn my opinion, title insurance is an absolute necessity in every real estate conveyance transaction. When I purchased my own house, I even purchased owner’s title insurance although I’m an experienced real estate attorney! I feel so strongly about this that I have declined to handle closings in the very rare instance where a buyer has insisted on declining owner’s title insurance.

The problem is that most home buyers don’t know what title insurance is or what it covers, and only see it for the first time on the closing settlement statement. Closing attorneys and title insurance companies need to do a better job explaining the excellent benefits and value of title insurance, so consumers don’t have the perception that it is just another closing cost.

What Is Title Insurance?

Title insurance is policy of insurance (technically an indemnification policy) protecting homeowners and lenders from actual financial loss in the event that certain covered problems develop regarding the rights to ownership of property. While Massachusetts closing attorneys search and certify each title to real estate before a closing, there are often hidden title defects that even the most careful title search will not reveal. In addition to protection from financial loss, title insurance pays the cost of defending against any covered claim.

There are two types of title insurance, lender’s and owner’s policies. Lender’s policies are required by most every public mortgage lender in the U.S., and are typically paid as part of closing costs.  Owner’s policies are optional and paid for by home buyers. I will discuss owner’s policies in this post.

Title Defects:  What Does An Owner’s Policy Of Title Insurance Cover?

The recent foreclosure paperwork mess and the Massachusetts high court ruling in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez are perfect examples of the importance of title insurance. Thousands titles in Massachusetts coming out of faulty foreclosures were rendered defective because of the Ibanez ruling. Those without owner’s title insurance were left to fix the title problems on their own at great expense. Those with title insurance, by contrast, were able to sell their property with the title insurer issuing “clean” policies over the defects.

Here are some other real world examples of how title insurance protects you. I recently represented a condominium seller who was shocked to learn a day before the closing that there were several un-discharged mortgages and liens on her unit left over from the original developer. Fortunately, she had an owner’s title insurance policy which allowed her closing to go forward as scheduled. I represented a young family who was dismayed to learn that the property they were about to buy was subject to the claim of a long-lost heir of a prior owner. The title insurance company agreed to file litigation against the “missing” heir, and clear the title. If title insurance was not available in these transactions, the deals would have been canceled altogether, or the closings would have been delayed by months if not years until the issues were resolved, if at all.

In addition to undischarged mortgages and the sudden appearance of unknown or missing heirs claiming an interest in the property, an owner’s policy of title insurance also covers a myriad of other types of title defects, including:

  • Faulty foreclosures
  • Forged deeds or impersonations
  • Incorrect legal or boundary descriptions
  • Recording errors

There is also a new extended or enhanced coverage policy available from all major title insurance companies which covers:

  • Building permit violations
  • Adverse possession or prescriptive easements
  • Building encroachments
  • Incorrect surveys
  • Pre-existing violations of subdivision, zoning laws, restrictive covenants.

For a full list of just about every conceivable situation covered by title insurance, please read my article: 50 Ways To Lose Your Home.

How Much Does Title Insurance Cost?

Title insurance is a one-time premium paid at closing and is calculated based on the purchase price of your home. The cost today is for s standard coverage policy $3.65 per $1,000 in home value. Enhanced coverage policies run about $4.00/thousand, and provide better coverages (i.e., for boundary disputes) and inflationary protection. Thus, a $500,000 home would cost a one time premium (standard) of $1,825.

Title insurance is a good deal because you pay once and it continues to provide complete coverage for as long as you or your heirs own the property. Those who decline title insurance rationalize that the risk of a title defect is minimal and not worth the premium. That is false. As a former claims counsel for a national title company, I could write a treatise on the different types of title problems I have seen derail closings and drag on for years.

The Role Of The Closing Attorney

The closing attorney ensures that the title examination is done on the property, certifies that the title is “marketable,” and issues the title insurance policy. While all U.S. public lenders require lender’s policies of title insurance, closings attorneys should always recommend owner’s policies for buyers. Attorneys do share in the title premiums generated. However, as I said before, even the most careful title search cannot reveal a hidden title defect that can wreck havoc on any subsequent sale or refinancing of the property.

To borrow from Nike’s old slogan, Title Insurance:  Just Get It.

Please contact me at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com if you have any further questions about title insurance.

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