Annual Principles of Abstracting Class slated for May 4-5

The annual Minnesota “Principles of Abstracting and Land Records Management” two day course is being offered on May 4th and 5th in St Paul, MN at the Country Inn and Suites. The course is designed for County Recorders, Title Insurers, Abstractors, and those who deal in land titles. Participants have included Homeland Security professionals who place towers on various sites, Dept of Transportation professionals who deal in Right of Way projects, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and various Utility companies that place easements such as Excel Energy and  Comcast.

The two day course will help prepare attendees to improve their land title search skills, stay in touch with changes in laws, or prepare for the state abstractor licensing examination.  Topics this year include foreclosures, short searches and comprehensive name searching. You can register by mail or online at http://www.landrecs.com/pages/seminar-list.php

Real Estate Titles US – Inexpensive Title Education

A new online education company, RealEstateTitles.us (RETUS) has been formed specifically for title professionals. Its purpose is to provide high quality, inexpensive education for those involved with real estate titles. That includes: Closers, Abstractors and Title Searchers, County Recorders, Real Property Attorneys, Title Examiners, Title Agencies and Title Insurance Underwriters. The company offers primarily Professional Development courses for its customers, as most states have no education requirements for these professionals, but also offers some continuing education classes for those states that require CE. Additional License and Pre-license courses are planned for the future.

“RETUS Online courses provide quality education at lower costs for the consumer, as they don’t have to spend money for hotels, meals or travel, and they have the flexibility of working on their own timeframe. Even 15-20 minutes can be very worthwhile in studying important title concepts- and they can enter and exit courses as time allows.” 

The online courses have all been prepared by subject matter experts in the land title field, some being written or edited by Jeanine W. (Jeanne) Johnson. Courses coming soon include

  •  “A Settlement Agents Guide to Closing,” which will cover the full spectum of closing, including the newest changes to the HUD-1 Settlement Statement;
  •   “Introduction to Title Insurance and Land Titles,” that gives a history of title insurance and is a primer of key concepts in the title industry;
  •  “Real Property Ownership and Land Title Use,” which covers legal descriptions, platting, land use controls, rights of the government in planning. Especially helpful in dealing with new construction, land development and commercial properties.

Take a free test drive of the new title education courses for your state by clicking on your state, then the information button on the US MAP.

What Kind of Bones do You Have?

Someone once said that there are 4 kinds of bones in every organization.

• There are the “wishbones,” those who spend their time wishing someone else would do all the work.

• There are the “jawbones,” who do all the talking but very little else.

• There are the “knucklebones.” They knock everything anyone ever tries to do.

• And finally, there are the “backbones” who carry the load and quietly do the work.

In an environment where many title insurance abstractors, closers and title examiners are out of a job, it is easy to guess who will be kept on.

County Anticipates New Public Notice on Foreclosures

A good article in a local newspaper  the Record-Bee reminds us that unfinished homes are a problem for communities and counties that want to collect unpaid fees. One county is working to create a public notice to make it easier for title companies, abstractors and buyers of the problems. It is difficult enough to search various locations for all the problems and unpaid fees in this time of heavy foreclosures, but especially on new construction. The recording of these problems and delinquencies in a prominent location is a wonderful idea that will help both the public and private sectors, and I hope it catches on.

LAKE COUNTY, CA The Lake County Community Development Department’s building division is proposing a measure that would address problems that arise when unfinished homes go into foreclosure…”What happens is that with the housing market the way it is, a lot of people just walk away from these homes. … this is something that will allow us to put notice on the public record …to make things more clear to the downstream person who gets the property,”

Title Professionals – Are You Sleeping at Night

I was at the Louisiana Land Title Association conference yesterday.  There was a common theme among dozens of title insurance, abstracters and title attorneys I talked to.  The business has changed.  The standard of thorough title searching and fixing title problems before closing so that there are few claims is gone. One abstractor in particular told me he was getting out of the abstracting business.  It was no longer the kind of work he wanted to do.  He told me that over a period of 20 years he was proud to have had only one claim.  Someone in his office had missed a Federal tax Lien.  Yes, it was bound to happen, as he had done a significant volume of business over many years.  When the tax Lien was brought to his attention, he dealt with a like a man, and paid it.  He contacted the Sellers who owed the money.  The Sellers acknowledged that they did in fact owe the money.  He worked out a deal with the Sellers to make monthly payments until it was paid in full.  The abstractor never submitted a claim for that, or for anything else.  He was proud of his thorough search work and the way he did his business.  “But no one wants that kind of search any more” he sadly commented.

 For 100 years, title insurance and abstracting has been a proud business.  Title Insurers and abstracters have been proud of their record.  They thoroughly searched title, fixed problems, and had few claims.  But somewhere, in the recent past, when times were booming, houses were going up in value every day, and credit was easy to get, everybody wanted a piece of the action.  And the title business changed.  The traditional ways of doing business were no longer.  The care and attention given to detail went by the wayside.  Somehow, it became more important to do a large volume of business.  Be the biggest, not the best.  Everybody wanted market share.  Every title underwriter was looking for a title agent who could bring in more business.  And due to the volume of refis and sales, business, everybody flourished.  And suddenly everybody wanted to get into the title business.  Title insurance suddenly was seen as a lucrative sideline for real estate agents, mortgage companies, and even builders.  After all, if you could control the business, why not make an easy buck on the side.  You could pull down 80% or more of the premium, and lots of miscellaneous fees.  And the underwriters saw these new agents as an increase in market share, and thought it was good.

Now the majority of this premium had always gone to the old title agents who did the exacting, grunt, search and exam work- the detail guys, after all, they were the ones who identify the problems, solve the problems, and kept the title clean and the claims low.  They had been with their underwriters for years.  These were the long-term mom and pop shops.  Professionals with a long-term stake in the business.  Often second and third generation.  Professionals who were committed to doing an excellent job for people in their community.  Professionals who believed in the quality of their work, and the product they produced.  Giving a thorough title search helped them sleep at night, after all, these were their families and their neighbors, and they owed them the best they could possibly do.  Nobody was going to lose a house on their watch. If an agent had a claim, he might just pay the claim, he might put in a claim under his E and O, or if a huge authentic claim (being one totally outside their control, like a forged document) they might submit a claim to their underwriter.  Too many claims and they knew they would lose their underwriter.

But the new agents were not familiar with the exacting, grunt, search and exam work.  They did not sign up for this.  They were in the business to build houses, lend money, and sell real estate.  And they wanted a quick turnaround time.  Rationalizing that everyone was putting on a second and third mortgage at the time, that most houses were sold every seven years, and that the titles were examined regularly, it was determined a complete search would not be necessary.  Now who made this determination is unclear.  But along came the short search.  Just looking back a deed or two.  The short search allowed a quicker turnaround time, allowing more business with less staff, making it cheaper to produce.  And the underwriter saw only the increase in premium and increase in market share and thought it was good.

With so many new agents promising to bring in large amounts of business, title underwriters began to compete for that business based on larger premiums splits.  If 80% wasn’t good enough said a big potential agent, premiums went to 85%.  If 85% was a good enough said another, the premium when to 90% for the agent and 10% for the underwriter, and so it went.  And the agents signed with many underwriters.  After all, if one underwriter didn’t work out, switch to another.  Dime a dozen.  And the underwriters greedily ate up any builders, lenders, real estate agents or anyone else who could bring in business. Its a REALLY good deal when you get all that money and don’t even have to do the work!

And the old time title agents saw how fast these new agents were putting out title work.  They saw that they needed to speed up the process to compete.  The short search sounded pretty good.  And the title underwriters, in order to keep everyone happy, agreed.  And so now everyone was doing a short search.  And so the concept of thoroughly searching title, fixing problems and few claims went out the window.  And claims were born.


Now, somehow the thought that insurance being written by these new agents as a sideline, when the business was self serving wasn’t acknowledged.  Now you ask, “How could that be?  Does it make sense that builders should be insuring their own titles and guaranteeing over their own mechanics liens?” I don’t have an answer to that.  But, everyone moved the higher risk to the title underwriters.  And the underwriters, in order to compete, allowed it to happen The lenders were happy to control the money and the title.  The builders had a profitable, new sideline and so did the real estate agents.  Title insurance was seen as a profitable sideline, and a convenient one of that, as you could control both the speed of the transaction and handle the massive amounts of money involved in closing the transaction.  Now I’m not saying this is true for every builder, lender or real estate agent, but it happened- a lot.

 However, Title actuaries seemed to be left out of the loop on this, they went on as usual and continued collecting the same title premiums, with the lower title splits, and attempted to shrewdly invest the remaining premium for that rare occasion it might be needed to pay a claim.  Somehow it seems no one was thinking about the ramifications of the new way of doing business – the significant increase in risk because title problems were not being thoroughly researched, let alone fixed, or that more dollars might be needed in reserves to pay more claims.  Title premiums charged to the consumer remained about the same, having had few changes from year to year, or in some cases from decade to decade.  And so here we are today.  High claims and low reserves.  We’re in a fix.  Will the pendulum swing?  In order to be solvent do we need to go back to the traditional ways of doing business –thoroughly searching title, fixing problems, and having few claims?  Or more importantly, in order to sleep at night, do we, as ethical title professionals need to be more thorough in our work, so that none of our friends, family, or clients lose their house on our watch.



Are Abstractors to Blame for Offshoring?

by Robert Franco | 2008/11/26 | Source of Title, Used with Permission

A couple of recent (Source of Title) posts regarding offshoring have stirred up some controversy.  Sunil Ojha started a blog defending the practice of searching titles from India.  In Misunderstanding and Clearification (sic) of Same and Resolved Your Real Issue, OJha explains why offshoring makes good business sense and how it can be done effectively.  Whether you agree or disagree, the real question is why is anybody offshoring to begin with?  There is no doubt that offshoring cuts costs and that is attractive to companies looking for any advantage in today’s business environment.  But, abstracting was always a localized practice that required a particular knowledge of state and local real property laws to produce a reliable product.  Why would anyone trade quality for savings?  More importantly, have they? 

Source of Title Blog ::

Let’s start with a basic premise that it is possible to reliably search an online title plant.  I am the first to say that I have some doubts about online records, but it is possible.  The real problem that I have with online records is that not all of the information we search is available electronically; thus, the so called “thin-title” plants are incomplete.  However, title plants are the norm in some parts of the country, and even required in some places.  If they are complete, there should be no problem using them for abstracting purposes.

So the real difference between searching a title plant from India and searching a title plant locally, is the skill and knowledge of the abstractor.  As I have stated many times, there are vast differences between the states that have a huge impact on the status of title.  I believe that I have a strong understanding of the real property laws in Ohio, but I would never even consider tyring to do a search in another state. 

Some of the biggest differences between the states could be dower, community property laws, state Medicaid recovery laws, recording statutes, etc.  Anyone can find deeds, mortgages and liens, and report their volumes and pages, and recording dates.  That is the simple part.  But, understanding how those documents affect title is what makes the local examiner such a value to the industry.

I think it is a given that just as I would not be competent to abstract in any state other than Ohio, a searcher in India could not be competent to search multiple states.  It is conceivable that an Indian searcher could learn one or two states, and develop a sufficient level of competence.  Varun Sharma points out that this is exactly what they do in India (see comments).

There are different teams working on different states doing online title searches all at the same time and they are trained on state specific laws and nuances because they are experience in conducting searches in that particular State only.

Even then, it takes several months or even years of on-the-job training to really develop the necessary skills to become a competent, professional abstractor.  I would imagine it would require even more time for someone in another country, who is completely unfamiliar with our laws and culture, to grasp the concepts.  Based on a previous statement made by the head of an Indian outsourcing company, I have my doubts about the quality of training they receive.

Just when Mr Kanth was wondering about the next steps, he met the president of a title company based out of Baltimore in 2003-2004. He told Mr Kanth that there was a refinance boom in the US which resulted in a huge backlog in terms of production. Incidentally, his brother M Sujay Kanth, who is now the COO of ESS, happened to be in the US to explore business opportunities. They took up this opportunity. This was their first break. They met with the title official and looked at the process. “Initially, we had no clue of what was going on and it was very hard to grasp. We took it as a challenge and Sujay got trained in their office for about 40 days after which we started the transition to my India office from 2004,” the doc said.


Forty days of training is hardly suffient.  Regardless, to assume that searching titles from India is worse than using local abstractors, it must also be assumed that all local abstractors are well trained and educated in their state’s real property laws.  I believe that is a fallacy.  Basically, there is no difference between a search completed by an unqualified local abstractor and one completed by an unqualified Indian abstractor – except the latter is cheaper, of course. 

Before I continue, let me first acknowledge that there are still some very knowledgeable, local abstractors who provide very valuable services in this industry.  However, I believe that has become more the exception than the rule.  Many abstractors learned to abstract by trial and error, an online course, or from another searcher that doesn’t have the proper knowledge of abstracting.  I believe that this started with the “equity loan,” or “current owner,” searchers.  Once upon a time, they were used to provide very basic information for non-insured products.  Then, they slowly began to expand into “full searches” used for issuing title insurance.  I will never forget the first time I heard one of these searchers say “a full search is nothing more than a really good current owner with a chain of title.” 

Soon, the title industry began embracing current owner searches for title insurance purposes.  Current owners were much cheaper because these searchers, mostly out of ignorance, were taking shortcuts that a professional abstractor would never consider.  As the title industry began to lower the standards for its search requirements, the unskilled searchers flourished.  For better or worse, these over-simplified searches became the norm and everybody wanted them cheaper and faster.  The demand for skilled, professional abstractors dropped dramatically. 

Today the line between “searcher” and “abstractor” is blurred and the two terms have become interchangeable.  I wonder how many abstractors are really qualified to provide reliable title evidence. 

With the modern technological advance of electronic imaging, a title plant can be used to search titles from anywhere in the world.  If the local abstractors are really just finding documents and copying down pertinent information on a report, without a true understanding of the impact of those documents on the title, why not have that function done in India?  It is certainly cheaper… and since they can search around the clock, it is probably faster.

I do not agree with the practice of offshoring.  As Pat Scott said (see comments), “The title search is the foundation of the industry.  It is not a clerical task to be outsourced.” However, it would seem that the depth of knowledge of the local abstractors is not what it used to be.  If the industry were to suddenly stop offshoring and begin demanding quality abstracts, there would be a lot of local abstractors out of work, just the same.  The problem is that there is no way to know which ones are well qualified.  Because there are very few states with any sort of meaningful licensing, anyone can call themselves an abstractor. And, many who probably believe themselves to be professional abstractors just don’t know how much they don’t know.

My basic point is that the level of skill and knowledge between the average local abstractor and the Indian abstractor are probably not as far apart as you may think.  Title searching has been dumbed-down for so long that there are probably few left who care to educate themselves beyond what is necessary to copy recording information from filed documents.  There being little difference between the services provided here in the USA and overseas, it is not that hard to see why so many companies are offshoring title searches.  By failing to maintain a superior knowledge, the abstractors have probably made the offshoring decision much easier for those who chose to embrace it.  It basically turns on an issue of costs and profits.

Again, I am not saying that there aren’t still good, local abstractors out there.  I am merely pointing out that many of them have noticed that they are losing work to cheaper, untrained, incompetent competition; not just in India, but right there in there own counties.

Robert A. Franco

Why Become a NALTEA Certified Abstractor?

 The Louisiana Land Title Association presents:

“Why Become a NALTEA National Certified Abstractor?”  

Jeanine W. Johnson from the National Association of Land Title Examiners and Abstractors (NALTEA) will be giving a presentation at the Louisiana Land Title Association (LLTA) Conference in New Orleans on December 5th, telling the LLTA about NALTEA and its National Certified Abstractor (NCA) designation and education program.The presentation is designed to encourage LLTA members to join NALTEA and show their level of expertise at the national level. The NCA certification will help them be recognized by national companies as an expert in the field of abstracting and will them to better understand the needs and language of out-of-state customers. In addition, NALTEA helps its members stay current on national real estate trends and changes, and gives an important national voice to independent Abstractors and Examiners.
The 2 hour program is a portion of the educational seminar given at the NALTEA conference in New Orleans earlier this year. The seminar will highlight the study guide “Principles of Abstracting and Land Records Management” National Edition, the same manual that was approved by NALTEA and provided to those who were preparing to take the NALTEA certified abstractor exam at the conference.

While every state handles land titles a bit differently, the seminar will focus on variations of a theme including things like “What is the difference between a mortgage and a deed of trust?” and “What are the most common forms of ownership used in the U.S.? ”

Jeanne Johnson is an active associate member of NALTEA. After having spent thirty years in the title industry she has been an author and subject matter expert for various publishers relating to title insurance, abstracting, title examination, and closing and she is now a full time educator for the land title industry and owner of

www.RealEstateTitles.us (RETUS) a content-specific website with reasonable, online education for the abstracting, title insurance, closing and land title industries.

Difficult Abstractor License Exam


In Minnesota, title companies and those doing land title searches generally take and pass a state licensing examination. Counties do not need to allow you into the public record without it. No license, the county can make you wait at the counter for assistance. Theory being that the records could be damaged, altered, mis-filed, etc. Well, the exam is not the proverbial “piece of cake.” Here is a typical question from an exam taker. I get these quite often.

Hi Jeanne

I have taken your abstracting and exam classes in the past and tried to pass the abstracting test a few months ago and FAILED twice. I am wondering if you have any suggestions for me???  (Name withheld)

Dear XXX, Good to hear from you.

Do you recall anything from the exam that was especially puzzling for you? 


I have heard from others that the questions use a lot of negative and kind of trick questions like “which of the following is the least likely…”, or “which one of the following is not…” For those, you need to be extra careful:  for example if they asked:

Which of the following is most likely to be deleted in a name search against Mary Charlotte Jones

    1. Marie C. Jones
    2. Mary Charlotte Jonas
    3. Marie Cathleen Jones
    4. Mary Jones

You need to try to decide what names you would NOT show if you found a judgment. So, the one that is most clearly different is c, because the middle name is clearly not the same, and although Mary and Marie are different, and Jones and Jonas are different, they pretty much sound the same. So best answer, the one that is most different, is c.

Another type of negative Q to look out for:

A quit claim deed is not used

    1. to give no claims as to the validity of title
    2. to give up any interest one may have in real estate
    3. to warrant title to property
    4. to convey title to real estate

You have to think through each answer:
a. Does a QCD give no claims as to the validity of title?  Yes
b. does a QCD give up any interestone may have in real estate Yes
c.does a QCD warrant title to property No
d.does a QCD convey title to real estate Yes.

It goes against how we think, but, because the Question says a QCD is NOT used to…, the answer is C.

Other questions may seem to be tricks, as they are hard to follow. For example

Which of the following is least likely to be shown in Joint Tenancy?

    1. A and B→ C and D
    2. E→ F and G
    3. G, H and I → J, K
    4. K→L, M→ N

Key to this question is how many people do you have to have for joint tenancy? Answer is at least 2, so only d. fits the bill because others are deeds to only single parties, so they can’t be JT’s. What comes to mind is that someone is always a T in C unless specified otherwise, and none of these say “as JT.”

Other suggestions are study up on the terminology, as they may split hairs, or substitute similar words – encroachment for encumbrance, etc.

If you have specific areas you do not understand, please let me know. Thanks,  Jeanne

P.S. XXX, I am going to post your Q on the blog without your name to see if we get any other responses… keep an eye out.

Title Company Sued for Unrecorded Lien by City

A recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals 11th Circuit (on appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida; D. C. Docket No. 07-20494-CV-KMM)  is of particular interest to the title insurance industry, abstractors and title searchers.  Hon Realty, a Florida Corp., claimed First American Title Insurance Co was responsible, under terms of its title policy, for a money lien by the city.  The Lien was not recorded with the respective county.

First American Title searched title, prepared a title commitment, closed the loan, and issued a title policy on the date of closing.  An enforcement order regarding a lien for the violated ordinance had been issued prior to closing, but had not been recorded with the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Court until two weeks after closing.  The question is whether the term “public records” (as used in the contractual language in the title policy) included information available at the city, but not yet recorded with the county.

First American argued, according to statute, that there a is no constructive notice until a  lien is filed with the Clerk of Court.  Hon Realty argued that because the enforcement order for the Lien was available at this city it should be construed as public record.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, citing  Florida statute 695.11, the states recording statute for liens filed against real estate. which says the Lien is not constructive notice until made part of the Official Record.

We believe the circuit court judges made a good decision.  By reading the statute exactly as it was written, it is clear what the abstractor and title company are responsible for.  The title insurance industry, abstractors and searchers are already burdened with a significant search process, made more complex by the variety of liens and places to search, which vary by state, county, township, and city.  Had the city correctly followed the statute and promptly recorded the lien, there would have been no issue and First American would easily have located and paid the lien.  Kudos to the 11th circuit

Do Title Companies Need to Deal with the FACT Act?

As of Nov. 1, 2008, compliance with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) will be mandatory. The legislation requires that banks develop policies and procedures consistent with Customer Information Program rules to identify potential instances of identity theft. Creditors and financial institutions are obligated to implement a written program that would satisfy the requirements to detect, prevent and mitigate identity theft. They need to know the suppliers and vendors assisting them due due diligence to comply.  But how does that afect you as a small title company or abstractor?

It would be in your best interest to take a FACT Act course so that your company can say “Yes, we are familiar with and compliant with the FACT Act.”Question by Jeanne Johnson to Fact Act Consultant:







Does the FACT Act apply to Title Companies and Closers of real estate transactions that handle private information such as SSN’s, DOB, and other private information?

Title and real estate closing companies would only be directly covered by the Red Flag regulations if they also engaged in activities that would make them “creditors” under the rule.

They would be indirectly affected, however, if they are service providers for creditors since the creditors are required to make sure that their service providers have identity theft prevention policies to protect their customers’ information. They may well be asked for a contractual agreement to that effect. 

Melanie Berg
Wolters Kluwer Financial Services
Product Manager

6815 Saukview Drive
P.O. Box 1457
St. Cloud, MN 56303
1-800-397-2341 ext. 105732
320-240-5732 tel
320-469-6365 cel
[email protected]


Info On Home Closing

Home Closing 101: An Educational Initiative of the American Land Title Association