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Title And Escrow
  1. The Functions of an Escrow
  2. Closing and Title Costs
  3. Understanding Title Insurance

The Functions of an Escrow

Buying or selling a home (or other piece of real property) usually involves the transfer of large sums of money. It is imperative that the transfer of these funds and related documents from one party to another be handled in a neutral, secure and knowledgeable manner. For the protection of buyer, seller and lender, the escrow process was developed.

As a buyer or seller, you want to be certain all conditions of sale have been met before property and money change hands. The technical definition of an escrow is a transaction where one party engaged in the sale, transfer or lease of real or personal property with another person delivers a written instrument, money or other items of value to a neutral third person, called an escrow agent or escrow holder. This third person holds the money or items for disbursement upon the happening of a specified event or the performance of a specified condition.

Simply stated, the escrow holder impartially carries out the written instructions given by the principals. This includes receiving funds and documents necessary to comply with those instructions, completing or obtaining required forms and handling final delivery of all items to the proper parties upon the successful completion of the escrow.

The escrow must be provided with the necessary information to close the transaction. This may include loan documents, tax statements, fire and other insurance policies, title insurance policies, terms of sale and any seller-assisted financing, and requests for payment for various services to be paid out of escrow funds.

If the transaction is dependent on arranging new financing, it is the buyer's or the buyer's agent's responsibility to make the necessary arrangements. Documentation of the new loan agreement must be in the hands of the escrow holder before the transfer of property can take place. A real estate agent can help identify appropriate lending institutions.

When all the instructions in the escrow have been carried out, the closing can take place. At this time, all outstanding funds are collected and fees--such as title insurance premiums, real estate commissions, termite inspection charges--are paid. Title to the property is then transferred under the terms of the escrow instructions and appropriate title insurance is issued.

Payment of funds at the close of escrow should be in the form acceptable to the escrow, since out-of-town and personal checks can cause days of delay in processing the transaction.

The following items represent a typical list of what an escrow holder does and does not do:

THE ESCROW HOLDER:

  • serves as the neutral "stakeholder" and the communications link to all parties in the transaction;
  • prepares escrow instructions;
  • requests a preliminary title search to determine the present condition of title to the property;
  • requests a beneficiary's statement if debt or obligation is to be taken over by the buyer;
  • complies with lender's requirements, specified in the escrow agreement;
  • receives purchase funds from the buyer;
  • prepares or secures the deed or other documents related to escrow;
  • prorates taxes, interest, insurance and rents according to instructions;
  • secures releases of all contingencies or other conditions as imposed on any particular escrow;
  • records deeds and any other documents as instructed;
  • requests issuance of the title insurance policy;
  • closes escrow when all the instructions of buyer and seller have been carried out;
  • disburses funds as authorized by instructions, including charges for title insurance, recording fees, real estate commissions and loan payoffs;
    prepares final statements for the parties accounting for the disposition of all funds deposited in escrow.(These are useful in the preparation of tax returns)


THE ESCROW HOLDER DOES NOT:
  • offer legal advice;
  • negotiate the transaction;
  • offer investment advice.
     

  Closing and Title Costs

It's the big day.

The day you go to the title or escrow company, sign your name on the dotted line, hand over a check and prepare to take ownership of your new home.

It's also the day that you and the seller will pay "closing" or settlement costs, an accumulation of separate charges paid to different entities for the professional services associated with the buying and selling of real property.

It's too often a day filled with uncertainty and stress.

To help you better understand this confusing subject, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about title, closing and closing costs.

What services will I be paying for when I pay closing costs?

You will usually be paying for such things as real estate commissions, appraisal fees, loan fees, escrow charges, advance payments such as property taxes and homeowner's insurance, title insurance premiums, pest inspections and the like.

How much should I expect to pay in closing costs?

The amount you pay for closing costs will vary; however, when buying your home and obtaining a new loan, an estimate of your closing costs will be provided to you pursuant to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act after you submit your loan application. This disclosure provides you with a good faith estimate of what your closing costs will be in the real estate process. An itemized list of charges will be prepared when you close your transaction and take title to your new property.


Can I pay for my closing costs in installments?

No, and it is easy to understand why. Many different parties will have fulfilled their responsibilities and be awaiting payment upon closing. The title or escrow company will disburse money to those parties, pursuant to the escrow instructions, when funds are available.

Will I be allowed to write a personal check to cover my closing cost?

Your closing funds should be in the form of a cashier's check, issued by an institution from the state of your purchase, made payable to the title company or escrow office in the amount requested. A personal check may delay the closing or may be unacceptable to the title or escrow company. An out-of-state check could also cause a delay in your closing due to possible delays in clearing the check.

How much can I expect to pay for Title Insurance?

This point is often misunderstood. Although the title company or escrow office usually serves as a meeting ground for closing the sale, only a small percentage of total closing fees are actually for title insurance protection.

Your title insurance premium may actually amount to less than one percent of the purchase price of your home, and less than ten percent of your total closing costs. The title policy is good for as long as you and your heirs own the property with the payment of only one premium.

Why are separate owner's and lender's title insurance policies issued?

Both you and your lender will want the security offered by title insurance.

Your home is an important purchase, and you will want to be certain your home is yours, all yours. Title insurance companies insure your rights and interests in order to protect you against claims.

Your lender is looking to insure the enforceability of their lien on your property and marketability. What is meant by "marketability"? Local lenders will "originate" a loan here, and, often, sell it to an out-of-state investor. This investor, who may never see the property, needs to know that he has a valid and enforceable lien. Title insurance is the way of making certain. Without a current title policy, the loan is essentially unmarketable.

What does my Title dollar pay for?

Title insurers, unlike property or casualty insurance companies, operate under the theory of "risk elimination."

Risk elimination can only be accomplished after an intensive period of risk identification.

Title companies spend a high percentage of their operating revenue each year collecting, storing, maintaining and analyzing official records for information that affects title to real property. The issuance of a title insurance policy is highly labor-intensive. It is based upon the maintenance of a title "plant" or library of title records, in many cases dating back over a hundred years. Each day, recorded documents affecting real property are posted to these plants so that when a title search on a particular parcel is requested, the information is already organized for rapid and accurate retrieval.

Trained title experts are able, with the aid of their extensive title plants, to identify the rights others may have in your property, such as recorded liens, legal actions, disputed interests, rights of way or other encumbrances on your title. Before closing your transaction, you can seek to "clear" those encumbrances which you do not wish to assume.

The goal of title companies is to conduct such a thorough search and evaluation of public records that no claims will ever arise. Of course, this is impossible--we live in an imperfect world, where human error and changing legal interpretations make 100 percent risk elimination impossible. When claims do arise, title insurance companies have professional claims personnel to make sure that your property rights are protected pursuant to the terms of your policy.

To conclude, when you pay for your title insurance policy, you are paying for a team of professionals who have worked together to deliver you a title insurance policy which represents protection for your ownership of real property.

Who can I look for straight answers on Title, Closing, and closing costs?

Title or escrow company personnel are available to review and explain your title policy and your closing statement.

 


  Understanding Title Insurance

What is title insurance? Newspapers refer to it in the weekly real estate sections and you hear about it in conversations with real estate brokers. If you've purchased a home you may be familiar with the benefits of title insurance. However, if this is your first home, you may wonder, "Why do I need yet another insurance policy?" While a number of issues can be raised by that question, we will start with a general answer.

The purchase of a home is one of the most expensive and important purchases you will ever make. You and your mortgage lender will want to make sure the property is indeed yours and that no one else has any lien, claim or encumbrance on your property.

The Land Title Association, in the following pages, answers some questions frequently asked about an often misunderstood line of insurance -- title insurance.

What is the difference between title insurance and casualty insurance?

Title insurers work to identify and eliminate risk before issuing a title insurance policy. Casualty insurers assume risks.

Casualty insurance companies realize that a certain number of losses will occur each year in a given category (auto, fire, etc.). The insurers collect premiums monthly or annually from the policy holders to establish reserve funds in order to pay for expected losses.

Title companies work in a very different manner. Title insurance will indemnify you against loss under the terms of your policy, but title companies work in advance of issuing your policy to identify and eliminate potential risks and therefore prevent losses caused by title defects that may have been created in the past.

Title insurance also differs from casualty insurance in that the greatest part of the title insurance premium dollar goes towards risk elimination. Title companies maintain "title plants" which contain information regarding property transfers and liens reaching back many years. Maintaining these title plants, along with the searching and examining of title, is where most of your premium dollar goes.

Who needs title insurance?

Buyers and lenders in real estate transactions need title insurance. Both want to know that the property they are involved with is insured against certain title defects. Title companies provide this needed insurance coverage subject to the terms of the policy. The seller, buyer and lender all benefit from the insurance provided by title companies.

What does title insurance insure?

Title insurance offers protection against claims resulting from various defects (as set out in the policy) which may exist in the title to a specific parcel of real property, effective on the issue date of the policy. For example, a person might claim to have a deed or lease giving them ownership or the right to possess your property. Another person could claim to hold an easement giving them a right of access across your land. Yet another person may claim that they have a lien on your property securing the repayment of a debt. That property may be an empty lot or it may hold a 50-story office tower. Title companies work with all types of real property.

What types of policies are available?

Title companies routinely issue two types of policies: An "owner's" policy which insures you, the homebuyer for as long as you and your heirs own the home; and a "lender's" policy which insures the priority of the lender's security interest over the claims that others may have in the property.

What protection am I obtaining with my title policy?


A title insurance policy contains provisions for the payment of the legal fees in defense of a claim against your property which is covered under your policy. It also contains provisions for indemnification against losses which result from a covered claim. A premium is paid at the close of a transaction. There are no continuing premiums due, as there are with other types of insurance.

What are my chances of ever using my title policy?

In essence, by acquiring your policy, you derive the important knowledge that recorded matters have been searched and examined so that title insurance covering your property can be issued. Because we are risk eliminators, the probability of exercising your right to make a claim is very low. However, claims against your property may not be valid, making the continuous protection of the policy all the more important. When a title company provides a legal defense against claims covered by your title insurance policy, the savings to you for that legal defense alone will greatly exceed the one-time premium.

What if I am buying property from someone I know?


You may not know the owner as well as you think you do. People undergo changes in their personal lives that may affect title to their property. People get divorced, change their wills, engage in transactions that limit the use of the property and have liens and judgments placed against them personally for various reasons.

There may also be matters affecting the property that are not obvious or known, even by the existing owner, which a title search and examination seeks to uncover as part of the process leading up to the issuance of the title insurance policy.

Just as you wouldn't make an investment based on a phone call, you shouldn't buy real property without assurances as to your title. Title insurance provides these assurances.

The process of risk identification and elimination performed by the title companies, prior to the issuance of a title policy, benefits all parties in the property transaction. It minimizes the chances that adverse claims might be raised, and by doing so reduces the number of claims that need to be defended or satisfied. This process keeps costs and expenses down for the title company and maintains the traditional low cost of title insurance.

Articles by CLTA


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