In the Seattle area, title insurers usually provide escrow and settlement services. They compete in a few ways:
- Speed of performing the title search. The firms work hard to not hold up the close, which means turn-around times measured in days, not weeks.
- Speed of recording paperwork. Again, the firms work hard to record documents promptly, which means turn-around times measured in workday hours, not days.
- Clarity of instructions to the people signing documents and "bringing money to the table". This is an area where the title insurance companies and most banks (with local branches) are not on the same page.
- Convenience of working with the company's staff. Many firms have local offices, which do the work locally, and return phone calls promptly. Others outsource the work to people half-way across the country, and/or do not return phone calls promptly.
- Convenience of location(s) for signing the closing papers. Some firms have just one local office; some offer a choice of local office; and some have no local offices. Many offer "mobile notary" services, which can handle the closing at the signatories' home(s) or office(s).
- Price. Some firms include "mobile notary" in their standard settlement charge; others do not. There are differences in the cost of the title insurance, or in the cost of the settlement services. These price differences are usually in the range of the incremental charge for "mobile notary" service.
Depending on the lender, these services are often far cheaper than call-center-based national lenders' estimates for the cost of title insurance and settlement services. As far as I can tell, banks with local branches provide accurate estimates for these costs.
The biggest effect of the law (that lets you choose your title insurer) has been to discourage kick-backs from the title insurer to the mortgage lender. In the past, one form of kick-back was to create a joint venture (partly owned by the title insurer, and partly owned by the lender) to perform title insurance and/or settlement services. These joint ventures have become less common since customers started shopping for these services themselves.
In the Seattle area, you can shop for title insurance, escrow, and settlement services by calling firm(s). You can ask for the pricing for common services, based on your property value and mortgage amount. Ask whether the price includes mobile settlement. Find out if they have a branch that is a very convenient location for the settlement. Also ask how long it is currently taking the firm from receiving the title insurance "order" to when the firm is ready to close. If the firm says that things are "backed up", take the time estimates with a grain of salt.
I avoid any firm that is difficult to get hold of. The firms with local offices seem to either have a knowledgeable woman pick up the phone, and/or return calls promptly. (Something like 90 percent of the people working in the local offices are women. They say they deal with the stress of rapidly turning around paperwork better than men.) The firms that have outsourced the work halfway across the country seem to be difficult to get hold of.