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Title insurance provides protection against title defects that were unknown to you at the time you purchased the policy.
The term “title” refers to the collected ownership records of a piece of real estate, including the transfer of any property rights, and any loans using the property as collateral. A clear line of title makes you much less vulnerable to ownership claims from other parties and to outstanding debts of previous property owners.
Before writing a policy, a title company will check for defects in your title by examining public records, including deeds, mortgages, wills, divorce decrees, court judgments, tax records, liens, encumbrances, and maps. The company will then defend in court any claims to the property that are covered by your policy, subject to certain limitations. If the company loses, it will pay you for covered losses up to the amount of your policy.
Title companies also handle the closing of a property sale and hold any earnest money in a trust account until the purchase is complete.
In Texas, the two most common types of title policies are “mortgagee policies,” which protect lenders, and “owner policies,” which protect property buyers.
Most lending institutions won’t loan you money to buy a house or other property unless you purchase a mortgagee policy. This policy will repay the balance of your mortgage if a claim against your property voids your title.
Mortgagee policies remain in effect until the loan is repaid. Most lenders will require you to buy a new mortgagee title policy if you refinance your home. When the new loan pays off the existing loan, the old mortgagee policy expires. You are entitled to a premium discount on a new mortgagee policy if you refinance within seven years.
Owner polices insure property owners against the specific kinds of claims listed in the policy. When you buy a house, and purchase a mortgagee policy, a title company will automatically issue an owner policy – for a set premium – unless you specifically reject it in writing.
An owner policy remains in effect as long as you or your heirs own the property or are liable for any title warranties made when you sell the property. You should keep your owner policy, even if you transfer your title or sell the property.
Title policy forms are standardized in most states. This means the policy language is the same, regardless of the company. Different companies may describe their coverage exceptions differently, however. Therefore, it’s important that you read your policy carefully. Pay special attention to “Schedule B” of the policy, which explains any limitations, exclusions, exceptions, and special conditions. You may want to discuss these exceptions with an attorney before you close on a real estate deal.
Also, check the policy’s legal description of the land against your survey and your earnest money contract. Title insurance generally does not protect against boundary disputes with neighbors. However, this coverage is available for purchase for an additional premium.
The premium for a title policy is paid only once, at the closing of the sale. The buyer and seller may negotiate who pays the premium.
Some title companies add extra charges for tax certificates and escrow fees, recording fees, and delivery expenses. Review any extra charges carefully; you may negotiate or demand documentation of the true cost of these services. You have the right to receive your closing papers a day in advance of the closing if you request. You may also have an attorney attend the closing with you.
If someone claims an interest in your property, a title company will defend your title in court and pay for any actual loss under these circumstances:
In general, a title policy won’t cover problems with your title that occur after the date you purchased the policy, nor will it protect you from problems that you create or from problems unrelated to your or the lender’s property interests.
Your policy also will not cover any special exceptions – such as a public utility easement – added by the title company during the title examination process. These exceptions must be listed in Schedule B of your policy. The company must make you aware of each exception and describe it using common language so that you can easily locate the reason for the exception in public records.
In addition, a title policy generally will not cover the following: