Let’s Talk Title Companies: Who Chooses?

An effective leader allows exceptions to the rule for exceptional results or when circumstance demands.

John Wooden

What I love about Real Estate is the ever-changing market. It is never the same. Rules change, contracts change, regulations change, everything changes. It poses new obstacles to overcome. New regulations to learn. New ways to close transactions. Anyone in this industry: title, loan, or realtor; must learn to adapt through the changes. Sometimes that requires thinking outside of the box.

Recently, I had a Realtor complaining to me about her lack of control in a transaction. Her and the seller felt forced to close somewhere they didn’t prefer. All because of a rule that enforces this. Just like any other industry, there is good and bad to title. As I listened to her complain, I started thinking; can customers have more control over this choice? I mean, where you close affects EVERYONE not just one side of the equation.

Let’s examine WHO gets to choose the title company: customary is that whomever pays for the full rate owner’s title policy has the ability to select the title insurance company. This customary is different throughout the state of Florida. For example, in the Tallahassee regions, buyers pay for their title insurance fees and choose the title company; whereas the remainder of Florida, sellers typically pay and choose. At no point can anyone coerce a party to use a particular company.

There are pros and cons for each side wanting to choose. It is important as an Agent on either side to weigh those pros and cons when negotiating a contract. While each region may have a certain customary, it doesn’t change the ability to redirect closings to best suit your customers. How do you do that? It’s all about the numbers! Knowing the cost of closing will help you guide your customers on their negotiations.

If you have a buyer who really wants to pick their title company, then ask for more seller paid closing costs to offset the cost they would customarily pay for title insurance. If you have a seller who really wants to pick their title company, offer to pay title with a reduced buyer paid closing cost credit in lieu of a higher credit. At the end of the day, the bottom line will still be the same for the seller whether they pay a portion of the fees and a reduced flat credit to the buyer, or less fees and a larger buyer credit.

Have a title company on hand that can run these numbers with you when you are working deals. Of course, I have an UH-MAZING title company to recommend. ? The goal is closing the deal, and making sure the clients get the service they deserve. A smooth closing will always generate return and referral business. Let us help you attain the smoothest closings ever!

AUTHOR: Jessica E. Bennett, Licensed Title Agent

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author, and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

Communication is the Key to Success

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

One of the most important aspects of Real Estate is communication. Often times it is the most commonly missed aspect. In real estate, there are so many moving pieces to the puzzle. There are the Realtors who handle everything between the parties, inspections, negotiations, and so forth. The Lender who processes the loan with their own internal departments while still coordinating with the Realtors and Title Company/Attorney. Then, there is the Title Company who desperately tries to hold everything together for everyone.

The challenge Title Companies face is that they not only need to know title, but they need to fully understand the Realtor and Lender processes as well to be successful. That’s a LOT of information to learn. Not to mention, learning never ceases due to continuous regulation and/or law changes within the industry. The reason our job is so crucial in being perfect, is ultimately we are responsible for a lot of money being properly disbursed. We are responsible for the biggest investments of people’s lives being handled correctly. It’s a lot of pressure to be honest. Exciting but scary all at the same time.

The hardest part is realizing how often the title company is not updated accordingly. For whatever reason, our piece of the puzzle is often left out inadvertently. The sad reality is that when the title company isn’t kept informed, that’s when the deal can fall to pieces. Quickly. So often Realtors are misguided by Lenders, and vice versa; where if someone would have just asked the title company, they probably could have given the most accurate information needed. Title companies, and attorneys, are held to a much higher standard for fully understanding the process; more so than Realtors and Lenders, because ultimately if there’s a screw up it’s left on the title company to fix. At whatever cost.

When working with Agents, I try to encourage them to really communicate EVERYTHING to the title company. Too much info is better than not enough info. We would rather you tell us everything to avoid any potential delays in closing, than realize when it’s too late that information should have gone to the title company that didn’t. One of the biggest things forgotten is telling the title company when a closing is moving up. I think so often many do not realize that the title company as well has a file to process, and coordinate timely with obtaining payoffs, HOA estoppels, seller docs if they aren’t local, etc. Many times closings are moved up substantially and never has the title company been informed of the changes agreed on. This is also relevant to contract addenda. So often the title company never receives any of the addendum’s changing contract terms and are left not having the accurate details.

Our goal at the title company is to make closings seamless for all parties. However, we cannot obtain this goal without proper communication from all parties. Communication should be top priority in every transaction, with all parties involved in bringing the deal to the closing table. It is also highly recommended that communication be in writing. I know today we live in a right-now world, we want to pick up the phone for our answers; but the reality is most people don’t hear those answers and information is misconstrued. Not to mention, there is no paper trail for back-up when you do not communicate in writing. So while emailing may require a bit more patience, it is ultimately the best way to have proper communication with back-up proof should you need it. Another great way to insure this, is to follow-up any phone call with an email confirming the details of the conversation. That way you always have in writing what was discussed in case any confusion should arise at a later date.

In closing, don’t forget your Title Company/Attorney when you are navigating the exciting obstacles of any transactions! 🙂

AUTHOR: Jessica E. Bennett, Licensed Title Agent

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author, and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

Can I write you a check?

        --Jeff Foxworthy, "You Might Be a Redneck If..."

One time the bank repossessed my car because I didn't make 
a payment on it for a little over a year. A man showed up 
at my door and said,"Mr.  Foxworthy, if you don't give me 
$500, the Camaro is going with me." I got mad. "Five 
hundred dollars? Who keeps that kind of cash around?" 
"You mean you can't write me a check?"
"No, I can't...a check? Oh, I thought you wanted MONEY."

Growing up, when I heard Jeff Foxworthy, I couldn’t help but chuckle. It was so relevant to my hometown (Perry, FL). As funny as this Jeff Foxworthy snipet is, it is actually a pretty common occurrence in the Real Estate industry. More often than not, the biggest detail in the home-buying process is overlooked…. the cash-to-close.

Sometimes, real estate transactions can have so many obstacles that by the time everyone gets to the closing table the last thing anyone is thinking about is how to pay for this house. Literally, customers banks will be clear cross country and not once did they consider HOW they’d access those funds when it came time to close. It just seems like such a far-off issue when you are barreling down the path of inspections, appraisals, and negotiations. But what people fail to consider is just how crucial this piece of the puzzle is.

So what can you bring to closing? Acceptable forms of payment at closing are a cashier’s or certified check issued by the bank, or a wire transfer. But, why? Funds at closing must be as good as cash since the title company will be disbursing out all the funds received by the lender, buyer, and sometimes seller. Personal checks over a certain (very low) amount tend to be held by banks 7-10 days for processing to insure posting. Since the title company is issuing large checks at closing, they cannot wait that time post-closing for personal checks to clear. And it is unlawful to write checks without sufficient funds to cover them, i.e. kiting.

In order to insure a smooth closing experience, it is extremely important that this method of payment is discussed at the very beginning of the transaction so that there aren’t any surprises at the closing table. Many banks, and credit unions, will not allow wire transfer requests over the phone due to all of the wire fraud. Often times, customers think they can just call their bank and have them send the funds. While this has worked in the past some, it typically doesn’t work. Customers often think they can wire transfer from their online banking. While many banks offer this to customers through online banking, the fine print should be read as typically there is a 2-3 business turnaround (or longer) for the funds to actually process. In addition, there are typically limitations on the amounts allowed to be transferred online.

It is especially important that parties are prepared to properly deliver their funds AT closing per the terms of the contract. While many sellers are understanding about mishaps, many are not, and they expect their check when they sign the deed to their property relinquishing ownership. All it takes are a few questions to insure a smooth closing for all parties. Make sure your customers are ready and informed for what is expected of them. When in doubt, call your title girls for help! 🙂

AUTHOR: Jessica E. Bennett, Licensed Title Agent

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author, and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

Boundary Surveys: Do I need one?

One of the most common questions asked during the closing process is “Does my client need a survey?” In a nutshell, a survey is always highly recommended; but is it always necessary? Yes and no.

So, when is a survey required? Typically, when a lender is loaning money for the buyer to purchase the home, or a borrower to refinance their property. While many lenders do not require the physical survey itself, they do require the Title Company/Attorney to insure a boundary survey as part of their lender’s title insurance policy. The only way a Title Company/Attorney can do so is by having an actual survey to review; hence the need for the survey.

So, when is a survey not requiredWhen a buyer pays cash for a property, they are not required to obtain a survey. Their owner’s title policy can list this an exception so that the owner can bypass the need for a survey. Also, condominiums- not townhouses- condominiums do not require a survey because they cannot be surveyed on an individual property basis since they are structured like apartments.

So, how can a buyer save some money if a survey is needed? Buyers have 2 options for getting a discounted survey:

  1. Survey Re-certification (discounted charge): They can find out who the surveyor is that last surveyed the property and request a re-certification. Sometimes, though, this can cost just as much money as a new survey.
  2. Survey Affidavit (free of charge): They can ask the seller if they still have a copy (or could easily obtain one) of their existing survey to do a survey affidavit if the following 3 requirements are met (ALWAYS check with your Title Company/Attorney to see if they will accept an existing survey and what their requirements may be as they differ company-to-company):
    1. The survey is less than 20 years old.
    2. No changes have been made to the property since the survey was completed. Meaning, no additions or removals whatsoever.
    3. The seller is willing to sign a Survey Affidavit attesting to #B at closing.

Well, that’s the 4-1-1 on survey requirements, but are they really needed? Yes! A survey tells you so much about the property lines, legal description, and where things are located within your property. Surveys can shed light on many potential issues such as incorrect legal descriptions, and encroachments. These issues can lead to hefty legal expenses if not known prior to closing, and not insured. By having a survey done before closing, it allows the buyer time to address potential issues with the seller (at their expense) prior to closing so the buyer isn’t left with issues after closing. The downside when issues are found, closing can be delayed depending on the severity of the issues. However, it always better to delay closing and fix issues than to close and hope that an issue never evolves later when trying to sell.

Sadly, boundary issues have left many families with tragedy over the years. People get very territorial when it comes to their land. It’s sad to think how many tragedies could have been avoided with proper boundary surveys completed. When making the biggest investment of your life, a few hundred dollars is a small price to pay to insure your property lines. As a Realtor, if you are uncertain if your client needs a survey, always check with the Title Company/Attorney; never rely on the advice of a lender or outside party, as they are not the ones ultimately responsible for making sure the closing is handled correctly. Not ordering a required survey can delay closing further, so be sure before you decide not to order one that it is absolutely not needed. When a survey is required, be sure to order it in plenty of time so the Title Company/Attorney has adequate time to review and advise of any potential issues. Nothing is more frustrating than getting a survey the day of closing only to find out the house was built on the wrong lot, and closing is cancelled.

Author: Jessica E. Bennett, Licensed Title Agent

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author, and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

Title Insurance: Do I need it?

While most customers opt in for title insurance on many transactions, every now and then there is the question why get it? Many do not realize just how important title insurance is. If a buyer is obtaining a loan to purchase the property, they are required to purchase lender’s title insurance plus required endorsements; however, their policy is in fact optional. The good thing about purchasing both policies simultaneously is that the customer is typically only paying $25 more to insure themselves for any transactions where the loan amount doesn’t exceed the sales price. In the event the loan amount is higher, it’s typically pennies and dollars more to get owner’s title insurance.

The only time I have ever seen a true cost savings for customers to opt out of the owner’s title insurance policy is when they are putting a substantial down payment on the property, at that point they would in fact save money at closing but could potentially cost more money in the future should there be a title defect. In no way will the loan policy ever be in the benefit of the customer should they opt out of their own protection. This protection only benefits the lender, and typically is only ever used when the property is foreclosed on and a title defect is found. Another bonus to getting title insurance is it is a ONE time premium. The only time a customer would pay title insurance again on a property is if they refinanced and the new lender required title insurance for the new loan. Typically though, a re-issue credit discount can be offered for this new policy to the lender by providing the title company or attorney a sufficient copy of the owner’s policy. If a customer doesn’t get an owner’s policy at the time of purchase, and refinances later, they will not be qualified for the re-issue credit at the time of refinance, as this discount can only be issued with an owner’s title policy.

So what protection does this policy offer? An array of things, but here is a list of some of the most common:

  • Unpaid mortgage payoffs from the sale, or prior transactions.
  • Unpaid taxes.
  • Unpaid HOA dues/assessments.
  • Unpaid judgments/liens.
  • Prior owners still in ownership.
  • Potential probate issues from prior owners.
  • Incorrect legal descriptions in the chain of title.
  • Fraud.
  • Anything missed on the initial title search that would cause a future title defect.
  • Gap period between when the most recent title search/update was performed, and when the new documents are recorded from the transaction.

I tell customers all the time at closing that they are trusting human perfection to insure the proper procedures are completed, and since no human is perfect, human error is always a huge liability in any real estate transaction. If I forget to pay off a seller’s mortgage at closing, that mortgage could potentially foreclose on the property. This would pose a HUGE issue for both the buyer and seller. In the event a buyer does not purchase owner’s title insurance, they would have to hire their own attorney to defend their title. This could potentially be extremely costly, and much more out of pocket for the customer than it would have been had they bought owner’s title insurance at closing.

In my time at the title claims department, I have seen my share of crazy title issues. There have been sellers who have sold the property twice, and the first buyer never filed the deed with the courthouse showing transfer of ownership in public records. I have seen sellers refinance, or mortgage out their property the day before closing, then close and get a proceeds check knowing what had been done. I have seen tons of documents prepared incorrectly. And I have seen the honest mistakes of hard working title agents and attorneys who are overloaded and inadvertently miss things. Anything can happen, and wouldn’t you or your customer want some reassurance that errors will be fixed through the purchase of title insurance? It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind that you have clear, marketable title when you need it.

Author: Jessica E. Bennett, Licensed Title Agent

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author, and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

Closing Time! But for how long…

Many times when wrapping up the signing portion of the closings, clients respond with “that’s it?!” thinking that they would be stuck at closing for hours upon end. While there was a time this was certainly the case, it hasn’t been this way in YEARS for a majority of the closings. Every now and then you may run into a bad walk through inspection right before closing that leads to issues and delays, but generally closings are 1 hour or less. So it led me to ask the question… do customers really know what to expect at the closing table? And to my surprise, most do NOT!

So let’s visualize together… it’s closing day, you are super excited to finally be a homeowner either for the first time or once again. You are dreading the daunting task of moving and unpacking, but smitten about your new digs to call home. How do I get the keys is obviously the first question? Well, it’s simple, you just come to a boring real estate office, sitting hours on end, signing your life away, and providing a blood sample at the end. Then, you get the keys! Not really, but it seems like a blood sample could be in order after all the hard work to get the loan has taken place. 😉

Actually, what happens at the closing table is the SIMPLEST part of your buying (or selling) experience. At our office, you are greeted with a warm smile, fresh cupcakes, and ice cold refreshments. Once all parties arrive, your closing agent will come into the conference room with a welcoming hello, and ask how excited is everyone. While the paper work stack can be thick, and your arm may hurt some after signing, it’s typically a quick and painless process. We review each of the documents presented, explain in layman terms what they are, and where you need to sign. While we provide a summary of each document to quickly disclose the main points, there is always room for questions and evaluation further by the clients.

We want everyone to feel comfortable with what they are signing, but relaxed and ready to close the transaction. The great thing about closings today is 95% of the documents the buyer has already seen through e-signing with their lender. The only “new” documents in the closing package to review are the: Note, Mortgage, First Payment Letter, Initial Escrow Disclosure, Amortization Schedule, and Title Co. docs (very minimal for most transaction). Everything else has been disclosed by the lender to get the loan approved, and the final docs only match the numbers previously disclosed in one form or another. We also encourage anyone who is nervous about signing, to let us know. We are happy to scan all of the documents before closing for review. It is much easier to address questions before closing than at the closing table.

While the thought of all these legal documents sound intimidating, they really shouldn’t be for any customers. Regulations have made closings way more streamlined for customers in that there aren’t any surprises or fine print to be on the lookout for. All those tricks have pretty much been eliminated in today’s closing world. And for the better, that is! The signing portion only takes about 20 minutes, give or take. Once everyone is signed, the closing agent will prepare a closing folder that includes copies of all the loan docs, and title docs associated with the transaction. This folder is a great place to store anything from the transaction (inspection reports, appraisals, etc.). The copy process only takes about 10 minutes, then the closing is complete. Most customers can plan to be in closing 30-45 minutes at minimum, but typically no longer than 1 hour. And voila! Keys can then be exchanged to the new proud owners.

After closing, the closing agent will file the deed and mortgage with the county courthouse, and type the title policy for the buyer and lender. The original deed and owner title policy are mailed out to the buyer, and the original mortgage and lender title policy are mailed to the lender. This typically takes about 4 weeks after closing. It is highly recommended that when these additional documents are received post-closing, they are also added to the closing folder for safekeeping. But never fear, your closing agent will always have copies of everything should you lose any documents! And the deed is public record, so it can be pulled online (free) or at the courthouse (a few bucks) any time!

And that’s it! All that anticipation for an easy 30 minutes of signing and finalizing. Closing day should be more about the excitement of moving and less about the dread of paper work! We encourage you to find a closing agent who is knowledgeable, and can make the closing experience smooth while still being able to understand what is being signed and why! Happy closing day, folks!

Author: Jessica E. Bennett, Licensed Title Agent

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author, and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

Relationship Status: Single or Taken?

Often times at closings, customers giggle when reviewing their closing documents and see ‘a single person’; “well dang tell the world I am single, huh?” We all chuckle and move on to sign the remaining documents. While most people think this is giggle-worthy information, it is actually quite pertinent information in the state of Florida. In our share of closings, we have quickly realized how many people (lender, realtors, and customers alike) do not understand WHY we ask for marital status on transactions.

Well, I am here to tell you why: marital status is crucial when preparing real estate closing documents. Florida is a homestead state. That means spouses are protected under Florida homestead rights; which further means a property cannot be bought or sold without a spouses signature should the property be a primary residence.

So, if you are an agent who is working with a buyer to find the perfect dream home, it is important during the process to ask: 1. are you married or single? 2. If married, will you be using this property as a primary residence? 3. If yes, in Florida, spouses are required to execute the mortgage at closing, is your spouse able to attend closing to sign?

“WAIT A MINUTE, I am getting this loan by myself, married or not!” declares the buyer. And that is A-OK. The mortgage is NOT the obligation to repay the loan back to the lender. The mortgage is the security instrument that is filed as a lien on the property to secure the property as collateral to the Promissory Note. The Promissory Note is signed by the borrower only; while the Mortgage is executed by all borrowers AND non-borrowing spouses and/or title holders. We often find that many never realize there is a difference between a Note and a Mortgage. You can have only one borrower on a loan but that doesn’t perfect title when it comes to who will execute the mortgage.

If you have a buyer who further states “well I am married but haven’t seen my spouse in 20+ years”, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this doesn’t exempt said spouse from executing the mortgage at closing. The estranged spouse will still need to either A. sign at closing or B. give a Power of Attorney to the buyer so docs can be signed on their behalf.

Their is no waiver of homestead. No form that can be signed to not require the spouse’s signature. The only way to bypass this requirement is to purchase the home A. with cash, or B. as a secondary or investment home with the lender. Let me repeat that: THERE IS NO WAY TO BYPASS REQUIRING THE SPOUSES SIGNATURE ON ANY PRIMARY RESIDENCES. I wish there was, as I know this has caused many of heartaches in the past. That is why it is so important to understand the need for marital status with real estate transactions.

In addition to confirming the details of the spouse, it is important to understand how the buyer can take title to the property at closing. If the buyer is putting the contract and loan in just their name, it is important to verify if they prefer to take title just like that or if they do in fact want their spouse added to the deed (title) as well. What’s the difference? Taking title individually is much different than as a married couple (joint tenants). In the event a buyer takes title individually, but is in fact married, and passes away; this causes the surviving spouse to go through probate to be determined as the rightful Heir to the property. However, if the buyer adds their spouse to the deed as a joint tenant, in the event one of the owners passes away, title would automatically pass to the surviving owner (spouse) once a death certificate is recorded in the public records, bypassing the need for probate on the subject property.

So that pretty much covers the buying side, but what about when the seller bought the property single and later married? Good question, I am so glad you asked! In the event that the seller has since married since obtaining ownership to the property, it is important to first ask: Is/Was this property both your primary residences? If YES, then the new spouse IS required to sign the Deed at closing relinquishing their rights to the property. Ideally, both parties should be on the contract and execute all the closing documents. Especially if this is a married couple who is together and selling the property together.

If the property was never occupied by the spouse as a primary residence, the title company or attorney can prepare a deed that states the property is not the homestead of the grantor and therefore not require the new spouse to sign any documentation at closing. Adding this clause to the deed is only recommended when the spouse has never occupied the property.

It is important that buyers and sellers understand the necessity and implications of the requirements when buying and selling. It is always strongly urged that parties seek legal advice when making decisions on who should be on title or why spouses are required to sign.

Author: Jessica E. Bennett, Licensed Title Agent

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author, and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.