Land Title Technical Stuff

Title Insurer Held Liable for Title Agent’s Actions

Insurance Journal (05/03/10)

Thurston County (Wash.) Superior Court Judge Paula Casey has ruled that the state insurance commissioner may hold an insurance company liable for the actions of the company’s appointed agent. “If you allow someone to do business on your behalf, it only stands to reason that you can be held responsible for what they do,” said Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. In an April 23 order, Superior Court Judge Paula Casey ruled that Chicago Title Insurance Co. could be held responsible for illegal inducements offered to solicit title insurance business by one of its appointed agents, Land Title Co. of Kitsap County Inc.   Read full article at Insurance Journal

What Happens When Your Title Underwriter is Defunct?

A statement in A.M.Best’s special report posted by the freelibrary reports:

Title insurer failures are more bad news for homeowners trying to sell or refinance property in the current down market; as such transactions can trigger a title search and a potential claim. Recourse for policyholders can be difficult and, at best, slow, as very few states cover title insurance under their guaranty funds.

 

With the recent bankruptcy of LandAmerica, Commonwealth Land Title, etal, I wonder what has become of the liability for their title policies? For those who have legitimate title claims written by those underwriters, including lenders in this messy foreclosure and short sale market, what happens? Clearly, the title commitments that are being closed today show many title issues, with judgments, foreclosures and under-water sales commonplace. It seems some of the title problems were missed because of poor search and examination procedures, and lessened searches during a busy market. Anyone care to speak up? 

 

Read the full report here.

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.

Definition of Marriage Changed in Dictionary

I caught a Closer Licensing Course last week.  Among the many issues that we discussed in drafting legal documents, was a conversation about marital status.  We talked about the fact that in Minnesota, you are either married or not.  If you are separated, you are still married.  If you are divorced, you are not married.  We also talked about the fact that marriage is recognized anywhere within the United States.  If you are married in Pennsylvania, we accept that marriage in Florida.  But the question came up as to whether or not we recognize marriage between two men or two women?  My response was that I had not run across that issue.  I suggested that they may want to talk to their underwriter.  Rule of thumb however it is that we accept marriages created anywhere within United States.

Interestingly enough, I saw a blog articles today in the Adjunct Law Prof that Marriage is no longer limited to opposite-sex unions, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which defined marriage as “the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage,” in a post.

Any thoughts from title insurance underwriters or title agents?  Has anyone come across this issue? What was the response? And how does that affect title searches? We always searched Mrs. John Smith if we knew Mary Smith was married to John Smith. How do we search Jim Jones, married to Tom Brown?

 

Who Has to Sign the Mortgage Documents?

One of the most common sources of confusion at closing seems to be who must sign the mortgage docs. It seems to befuddle even experienced closers of title companies and title agencies. Does the Deed have to match the Mortgage and does the Mortgage have to match the Note? Many are sure that when there is a husband and wife, the closer should prepare the Warranty Deed in both names in joint tenancy, and then prepare the mortgage to exactly match the names on the Warranty Deed. They are not quite sure about signatures on the Mortgage Note, however, because lenders sometimes require others to sign the Note as well.

Truth is, in Minnesota (not necessarily all states) it takes “one to buy and all to sell,” meaning a person can buy real estate without their spouse going into title. There may be good reason for that. Say one spouse has significant financial exposure due to the business she owns. The husband may want to go into title in his name alone, so that should a bad business climate come along and the wife has judgments filed against her, the judgments will not attach to the property.

Also, far as joint tenancy – that may not be the best solution for all spouses. For example, Harry and Mabel, both elderly, have lost their spouses. A winter romance comes along and they decide to be married. They pool their funds and buy a home together. Both wish for their children to inherit their respective halves upon their death. They want to take title not as joint tenants, but as tenants in common.

However, Minnesota, as many states do, has an automatic interest of the spouse in the homestead. Now how do we know if they are living in the property as their homestead? Answer is: we don’t. Therefore, to be prudent, we ask spouses to subordinate any interest they might have, by signing the mortgage. They don’t have to be in title to sign the mortgage. But by signing the mortgage, we have cleared the potential interest.

Best Practice: ALL parties who show in title must sign all mortgages, and rule of thumb is to get their spouses to sign as well. Yes, I recognize that some real estate is unlikely to be homestead, but to be safe, get your underwriter to sign off on not getting the spouse’s signature. After all, that apartment building could also contain the apartment that your client claims as home.

As far as the Mortgage Note, it is simply a personal pledge to repay the full amount of the debt. So if son and daughter-in law, for example, need a little assistance in buying their first home, Mom and Dad may help it happen by, in effect, guaranteeing the loan. Mom and Dad sign the Mortgage Note but do not have to go into title (unless the lender demands it.)

As a disclaimer, this is NOT intended as legal advice, and those who prepare legal documents should be careful to seek legal advise to fulfill the intentions of the title holders. This is merely information from a seasoned closer and title examiner who has seen problems crop up due to misunderstanding how it the documentation works.

Ohio Decides Case Against Race Notice Rule

 Printed with Permission from Robert Franco, Source of Title
“It is every title agent’s worst nightmare – a valid second mortgage is missed and the first mortgage is refinanced without paying it off. Then, the new mortgagee forecloses and discovers that its lien may be in second place.  The lender has a claim on their title policy, but all may not be lost… the doctrine of equitable subrogation can put the lender in the shoes of the original first mortgagee that they paid off, saving their priority.  But, should the court apply such a remedy to rectify the negligence of the title agent?  This was the focus of a recently decided case in the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District in Cuyahoga County – ABN AMRO v. Kangah.
On July 5, 2000 Kangah obtained a first mortgage from First Ohio Mortgage in the amount of $68,916, and a second from the Cuyahoga County Department of Development (“CCDOD”) in the amount of $7,500.  Both mortgages were properly recorded on July 12 with the CCDOD mortgage specifically referred to as the subordinate security instrument.

In May 2001, Kangah refinanced with ABN AMRO (“ABN”) and received proceeds totalling $77,000.  The ABN mortgage was filed on June 19, 2001.  First Class Title Agency failed to discover the CCDOD mortgage and paid off First Ohio, the outstanding taxes, and the fees and costs associated with the transaction.  On November 7, 2001 the First Ohio mortgage was released of record.

On November 8, 2006 ABN filed a foreclosure complaint and, not surprisingly, CCDOD filed an answer and cross-claim asserting that it had the first and best lien on the property.  ABN argued that the doctrine of equitable subrogation applies because it paid off the first mortgage and intended to hold the first and best lien on the property.  And, it was always the intent of CCDOD to hold a subordinate lien.

The general rule in Ohio is that the first mortgage that is recorded has preference over a subsequently recorded mortgage.  “The priority of a mortgage is determined by reviewing the recording chronology.”  However, the court went on to explain the exception to the rule.

In some circumstances, the doctrine of equitable subrogation can overcome the general statutory rule.  Equitable subrogation arises by operation of law when one having a liability or right or a fiduciary relation in the premises pays a debt by another under such circumstances that he is in equity entitled to the security or obligation held by the creditor whom he has paid.  In order to be entitled to equitable subrogation, the equity must be strong and the case clear.

In other words, a third party who, with its own funds, satisfies and discharges a prior first mortgage on real estate, is subrogated to all rights of the first mortgagee in that real estate.  Therefore, if the parties intended, a mortgagee who satisfies the first mortgage steps into the shoes of the first mortgagee.

The court went on to note that the doctrine of equitable subrogation has not been uniformly applied across Ohio.  Some courts have refused to apply it when the party asserting its applicability is negligent in its business practices (i.e., failing to record the mortgage in a timely manner), and the party is in the best position to protect its interests.  A couple of courts have declined to apply it when a title company failed to discover a preexisting and validly recorded mortgage, “in essence, eliminating the doctrine altogether.”  Other courts have allowed the equitable remedy where the title company “mistakenly failed to discover a preexisting and validly recorded mortgage.”

There are two competing policy concerns at issue with equitable subrogation in such a case.  First, the title agency was negligent in failing to discover the CCDOD mortgage.  It searched the title and issued coverage to protect ABM from a loss due to its mortgage not having the first and best lien on the property.  Should the doctrine reward the party who was negligent in performing its duties?

Second, CCDOD had bargained for a second mortgage position.  If Kangah had not refinanced, CCDOD would have still been in second place.  Is it fair to reward it by allowing its mortgage to assume the first priority because of a mistake made by the title agent?

In this case, the court found in favor of ABN and applied the doctrine of equitable subrogation. 

In the case at hand, we find that the doctrine of equitable subrogation applies because ABN intended to hold the first and best lien on the property, CCDOD agreed to its subordinate security interest, ABN’s title company’s failure to discover CCDOD’s mortgage lien was a mere mistake, and CCDOD was not prejudiced by its inferior position.”

There are two relevant issues conspicuously missing from the court’s analysis, however.  First, there is no mention of the amount of the First Ohio payoff.  At best, if the doctrine does apply, it would only protect ABN up to the amount that was owed on that mortgage – ABN could receive no better rights than First Ohio had at that time.  Of course, depending on the amount the property sold for at the sheriff’s sale, this might be a moot point.  However, the court should have indicated that ABN’s priority lien was limited by this amount.

Second, the court really didn’t discuss the issue of whether CCDOD was prejudiced by the application of the doctrine.  It merely assumed that since it bargained for a second position, it was not prejudiced by the subrogation.  This may not be entirely correct.  If the CCDOD mortgage had been found, the refinance could not have taken place unless CCDOD was paid off or it agreed to voluntarily subordinate its lien.  This would have given CCDOD the opportunity to evaluate its position and insist that it be paid off in 2001. 

Furthermore, Kangah borrowed about $8,000 more with ABN than it had with First Ohio.  Depending on the terms of the loans, this could have created more of a hardship for Kangah than he had under the First Ohio mortgage, making it less likely that CCDOD would be paid.  For example, if the terms of the ABN mortgage were such that the rate and payment increased more than it would have under the First Ohio mortgage, it could have been a contributing factor to Kangah’s default and eventual foreclosure.  (Was the ABN loan a variable rate sub-prime loan?)

Equitable subrogation is, as the name implies, an equitable remedy.  Its application should be determined on a case by case basis and applied with caution.  It is difficult to say in this case whether the court got it right – it very well may have.  However, courts should be cautious to make specific holdings in such cases and thoroughly evaluate the equities at issue. 

Robert A. Franco
SOURCE OF TITLE 

What does Mortgage Modification mean to the Title Industry?

The Title Insurance industry has slowed to a crawl. Most of the business at the closing table is either a foreclosure or a short sales. And with Congress’ plan to modify existing mortgages, even that pittance will be drying up. 

Congress plans to modify existing mortgages to lower rates so borrowers can afford their monthly payments.  How does this affect the title industry you ask? In the past, when mortgages were modified, title policies were still in the picture, because intervening liens were a concern. For example, let’s say Sam Smith wanted to modify the terms of his loan by increasing the loan amount. You were the first mortgage lender. If you modified the loan, you had to worry about what that would do to your 1st lien position. If there was a second mortgage or a tax lien on the property, changing the terms of your loan might bump you into second place or third place. The title industry therefore stepped forward with updates to the policies. we checked for intervening liens, we got subordination agreements from the secondary lien holders, we recorded lots of documentation, and endorsed the policy with matching fees for our work.

So, how is this different? Think about it. Titles on all of these troubled loans have already been insured. But this time, they likely won’t need to be insured again. The new loan modification law will generally decrease the interest rate and that will be an advantage to any secondary lien holders, putting them in a stronger position. Therefore, the modification should stand on its face, and no endorsements should be needed. So, there won’t be any need for that title review, or an endorsement to the policy, or new title insurance premium fees. Their might be a pittance for sitting down with the consumer to sign the modification agreement and record it (and with the new RESPA law, title companies won’t even be able to mark up the recording fee.)

Loan modifications are good for the consumer, and good for the economy. They help neighborhoods. They keep banks out of the painful REO business. But they provide little role for title companies. Ouch – another big ding for an already hurting industry.

Are You Ready for the New RESPA HUD-1

Title Companies – All those line items for: Settlement or closing fee, Abstract or title search, Title examination, Title insurance binder, Document preparation, Notary fees, Title Insurance premiums, courier fees, Admin fees, fax fees, email fees, processing fees,  are going away… Fees will be either elimninated, or at the very least, reduced to cost under the new RESPA. No longer will the common mark-ups be acceptable, nor can they be hidden from the customer in a myriad of confusing fees.

Under the new RESPA law, courier fees, admin fees, closing fees and dozens of other charges cannot be hidden in those miscellaneous line items 1102-1199 on the HUD-1.  Title companies will now have to PRINT new all-inclusive rates. These will be filled in as a single item on ONE LINE – line1101. And title companies will have to hold to that number for the lender, because the lender is responsible for overages if settlement charges do not match the HUD-1. Title Companies will also have to legitimately back-up the numbers with specific reports as to their validity, and maintain those reports, so that HUD can audit their authenticity.

While this will make comparison shopping much easier for the consumer, and will force title companies to sharpen their pencils, it will be difficult for an industry that for a long time has used marked up fees for additional revenue. It would seem that no one is anxious to go to the new HUD-1 before he has to – it will cost title companies some serious revenue!

Are you ready for the change? This is NOT simply a matter of updating your software, it means a lot of planning and preparing detailed numbers for all those items on the closing statement. Actual out of pocket costs must be averaged and lumped into a single number for line 1101. (Other lines are intended for third party providers, for example, Line 1102 is only to be used when using a non-title company third party vendor for closing.) When the new numbers are available, schedules must be printed and distributed for your lenders to use on the new GFE, and for savvy consumers to see as well.

Watch for the complete gory details in my soon to be released online course: The new GFE Based HUD-1

MERS Ruled Nominee and Not Lender in Foreclosure Actions

A Florida Circuit Court judge has ruled that MERS cannot stand as plaintiff in foreclosure cases, prompting MERS to suspend all foreclosure actions in Florida. The Circuit Court Judge ruled that MERS could not sue for foreclosures because it was the Nominee (i.e. the firm into whose name the mortgages were transferred in order to facilitate transactions, while leaving the customer as the actual owner of the mortgage) because MERS did not hold the mortgage notes that were still in the hands of the original lenders. This essentially put MERS into the status of a debt collector, instead of the lender, giving them no legal status to foreclose.

Read more detail here at  MSFraud.org.

Mezzanine Financing – Leave it to Professionals

An excellent Blog Article for the uninitiated about Mezzanine Financing. It reminds us WHY we need to leave it to the professionals!

Unlike a mortgage, a mezzanine loan is not a lien against a piece of commercial real estate. It is a loan secured by the assets of a business entity. A title search will not turn up mezzanine loans because they are not attached to a properties ownership documents. In this way they do not violate any provisions of a 1st mortgage that precludes a 2nd.

Info On Home Closing

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