What Is Title Insurance and Who Pays For It?

Title InsuranceTitle insurance seems to be a mystery to many home buyers and sellers, so I want to give an overview on it in this post.  We’ll discuss what it is, why it’s needed and when, and also who pays for it. (For the difference between title insurance, home warranties, and homeowner’s insurance, please see another post on this blog: Homeowner’s Insurance, Title Insurance and Home Warranties.)

What is title insurance?

The purpose of title insurance is to protect against loss of ownership of the land, condo, house, estate, or other real estate due to a problem or defect with title. The loss could be complete (losing the property entirely) or partial (losing a portion of ownership or use). It may also include a financial loss, whether direct or in terms of future market value of the property. A company providing this type of insurance is called either a title company or a title insurance company.

Sometimes the loss could be as a result of a “defective recording” of a document, an improper signing of a document, or much worse, forgery or signing under duress (being forced to sign under undue pressure, such as by blackmail).

Loss of title can also result from hidden heirs who may claim a partial interest in the property.

If there’s a recorded easement that the title company does not find when a home is sold, and the buyer is surprised by it after the closing, that title company may be writing a check to the new owner for the loss incurred in market value due to that easement, which should have been found.

Another type of loss would be if someone claimed an unrecorded easement, which might cause a “partial loss”. When the title is somewhat in question, or considered “not clear”, it is often said that there is “a cloud on title”. What you want, though, is “clear title“. You want to know that no one else will have any kind of right or claim to the property: not a lienholder, not the IRS, not a contractor, not the county tax collector or anyone else.

Title insurance covers smaller issues too, such as finding out later that a major component of the home has a building permit violation.
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