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Blog: Title and Escrow

Why Do You Need Title Insurance?

Title Insurance.

It’s a term we hear and see frequently - we see reference to it in the Sunday real estate section, in advertisements and in conversations with real estate brokers. If you’ve purchased a home before, you’re probably familiar with the benefits and procedures of title insurance. But if this is your first home, you may wonder, “Why do I need another insurance policy? It’s just one more bill to pay.”

The answer is simple: The purchase of a home is most likely one of the most expensive and important purchases you will ever make. You, and your mortgage lender, want to make sure that the property is indeed yours - lock, stock and barrel - and that no individual or government entity has any right, lien, claim to your property.

Title insurance companies are in business to make sure your rights and interests to the property are clear, that transfer of title takes place efficiently and correctly and that your interests as a homebuyer are protected to the maximum degree.

Title insurance companies provide services to buyers, sellers, real estate developers, builders, mortgage lenders and others who have an interest in a real estate transfer. Title companies routinely issue two types of policies - “owner’s”, which cover you, the homebuyer; and “lender’s”, which covers the bank, savings and loan or other lending institution over the life of the loan. Both are issued at the time of purchase for a modest, one-time premium.

Before issuing a policy, however, the title company performs an extensive search of relevant public records to determine if anyone other than you has an interest in the property. The search may be performed by title company personnel using either public records or more likely, information gathered, reorganized and indexed in the company’s title plant.

With such a thorough examination of records, any title problems usually can be found and cleared up prior to your purchase of the property. Once a title policy is issued, if for some reason any claim which is covered under your title policy is ever filed against your property, the title company will pay the legal fee involved in defense of your rights, as well as any covered loss arising from a valid claim. That protection, which is in effect as long as you or your heirs own the property, is yours for a one-time premium paid at the time of purchase.

The fact that title companies work to eliminate risks before they develop makes the title insurance decidedly different from other types of insurance you may have purchased. Most forms of insurance assume risks by providing financial protection through a pooling of risks for losses arising from an unforeseen event, say a fire, theft or accident. The purpose of title insurance, on the other hand, is to eliminate risks and prevent losses caused by defects in title that happened in the past. Risks are examined and mitigated before property changes hands.

This risk elimination has benefits to both you, the homebuyer, and the title company: it minimizes the chances adverse claims might be raised, and by so doing reduces the number of claims that have to be defended or satisfied. This keeps costs down for the title company and your title premiums low.

Buying a home is a big step emotionally and financially. With title insurance you are assured that any valid claim against your property will be borne by the title company, and that the odds of a claim being filed are slim indeed.

Isn’t sleeping well at night, knowing your home is yours, reason enough for title insurance?

Article by CLTA

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.

Your local title company should be happy to provide additional information.

Article by CLTA

Required Reporting to the I.R.S.

Sellers of real property will have certain information regarding the sale reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

This required reporting is a consequence of the Tax Reform Act of 1986; it is intended to encourage taxpayer compliance and aid in audit and enforcement efforts by the I.R.S.

To help you better understand this subject, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about Required Reporting to the I.R.S.

Who is required to report to the I.R.S.?

Sellers of real property, under guidelines established by the I.R.S., are required to have their gross proceeds from the sale reported on a Form 1099S. When a settlement agent is used, the I.R.S. makes this agent responsible for the delivery of the information on the Form 1099S.

The settlement agent generally will be the escrow agent or title company; however, it may be an attorney, real estate broker or other person providing settlement services.

What is an I.R.S. Form 1099S, and what will be reported?

The Form 1099S is the reporting form adopted by the I.R.S. for submitting the information required by law.

The information will be transferred onto magnetic media by the settlement agent who will store the information and make the required report to the I.R.S. The settlement agent is also responsible for keeping a master copy of all transactions reported.

In general, information required by the I.R.S. falls into the following categories:

  1. The name, address and taxpayer ID number (social security or tax identification number) of the seller(s)
  2. A general description of the property (in most cases an address)
  3. The closing date of the transaction
  4. The gross proceeds of the transaction (even though gross proceeds do not correspond to taxable income)
  5. Any property involved as part of the transaction other than cash or cash equivalent
  6. The name, address and taxpayer identification number of the settlement agent.
  7. Real estate tax paid in advance that is allocable to the buyer.

On what type of transactions is a Form 1099S required?

Currently, typical homeowner transactions covered include sales and exchanges of 1-4 family residential properties such as houses, townhouses, and condominiums. Also reportable are sales or exchanges of improved or unimproved land, commercial or industrial buildings, condominiums, stock in a cooperative housing corporation and mobile homes (manufactured homes) affixed to real property.

Specifically excluded from reporting are foreclosures and abandonment of real property and financing or refinancing of properties.

What happens if the seller(s) refuses to provide the taxpayer identification number for the Form 1099S?

The settlement agent is required to request the transferor’s taxpayer identification number(s) (TIN(s)) before the time of closing. You may request a TIN on Form W-9 or use an alternative written request. The IRS has included sample wording of an alternative written request in the instructions for preparation of Form 1099S.

Should the seller fail to provide the identification number and certify its correctness, the settlement agent may choose to:

  1. Delay the closing of the transactions until the information is furnished, or
  2. Complete the transaction and report to the I.R.S. that an attempt was made to obtain the information from the seller.

How is the sale reported when there is more than one seller involved or when multiple sellers do not own equal interests in the property?

Multiple sellers may allocate the gross proceeds among themselves for purposes of reporting. If there is no allocation, an incomplete allocation or conflicting allocations, then the entire gross proceeds will be reported for each seller.

Where can I go for further information on taxation of real property?

The I.R.S. provides free publications that explain the tax aspects of real estate transactions. You may wish to order:

  • Publication #523 “Tax Information on Selling Your Home”
  • Publication #530 “Tax Information for Home Owners”
  • Publication #544 “Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets”
  • Publication #551 “Basis of Assets”

     

To place your order, phone toll-free (800) 829-3676.

Article by CLTA

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.

Article by CLTA

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