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When I've shopped around for car insurance and health insurance, there are large differences in cost and also in the type of policy. I just bought a house, and I noticed that there seems to be no difference in the cost of title insurance from company to company (Stewart, First American,...). All of the online estimators as well as the company employed by my lawyer told me that the lender's policy would be 542 dollars and the owner's policy would be 2311 dollars. (If this question turns out to be location dependent, for background the house is on Long Island in New York State.)

  1. Such invariability suggests to my cynical mind collusion and price fixing. Why is there no variability in price ?
  2. RESPA (Real Estate Settle Procedures Act) according to Wikipedia entitles me as a home buyer to choose a title insurance company. What is the point of RESPA if there is no variability in the price or product ?
  • Fwiw, title insurance is of questionable value unless there is some reason to believe the title is in doubt, eg the house was owned jointly by multiple parties or there was something odd in its history. . My lawyer's advice was that I could just about flip a coin; the cost was trivial compared to the rest of the closing costs, but the odds of it of ever being useful were pretty minimal too. Caveat emptor. – keshlam Feb 2 '16 at 15:29
  • Interesting numbers. Title insurance in Canada is typically around $50. – DJClayworth Feb 2 '16 at 16:55
  • While my bank said the owner's policy was optional, my lawyer strongly recommended we buy it. – user2309840 Feb 2 '16 at 17:12
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There have been a variety of allegations of price fixing in the market over the years, and some lawsuits. There are some slightly cheaper options for title insurance in most states if you are willing to look around (mostly by cutting out the insurance agent), but you have to know where to look.

See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/realestate/saving-money-on-title-insurance.html

  • Thanks. Sounds like I should have asked my lawyer about Entitle Direct. – user2309840 Feb 2 '16 at 14:48
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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.

  • Unlike most states, New York's real estate settlements and closings involve lawyers. – Jasper Feb 2 '16 at 6:56
  • In point of fact, my lawyer chose the title company, and I am worried he had an arrangement with them that he did not disclose to me. I was presented with the charges for title three days before closing as a fait accompli (total of about $8000 for about a $500,000 home), and in fact the charges were $250 short of the actual. At closing, a title agent was present who charged this extra $250 for his services. – user2309840 Feb 2 '16 at 14:46
  • One more comment: As a first time home buyer, it would seem almost impossible for me to know how well the various title agencies compare using your criteria. Is there an equivalent of Consumer Reports where home purchasers rate the agencies? If I don't trust my lawyer, how can I possibly determine which companies are better? – user2309840 Feb 2 '16 at 15:03
  • @user2309840 -- The only feelings of "bait and switch" I have had when dealing with Seattle-area title, escrow, and settlement services have had to do with two things: 1) Misunderstandings with banks about whether the banks' "official checks" are as acceptable as "cashier's checks". (The title insurance companies accept "cashier's checks" and "wire transfers", but not "official checks". Also, "ACH transfers" are not the same as "wire transfers".) 2) During busy times, incorrect (but honest) estimates of how much backlog there is in the title research department. This can result in… – Jasper Feb 2 '16 at 15:58
  • … unintentionally choosing a title insurer that will take a few more days to close the transaction that one might have hoped. I have not had any "bait and switch" feelings with respect to pricing of the services provided by title, escrow, and settlement services. – Jasper Feb 2 '16 at 16:01

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