Having spent my career in real estate law, I’ve seen many different title insurance companies operate in the St. Louis area—some successfully, some less so.
To an outsider, title insurance may feel like a straightforward commodity industry, making the differences between companies seem unimportant. But there are several areas in which your title insurance company can serve you and your client—or fail you, depending on the circumstances.
While True Title wants to be your go-to title insurance provider and escrow agent, most realtors will need to work with several companies over the course of their career. But how can you know if the company you’re working with is serving you effectively?
St. Louis Realtors: How to Choose Your Title Insurance Company
Unlike so many other consumer services, there is no reliable source for title company reviews. That said, new realtors and home buyers don’t have to look too far for solid recommendations. Any experienced real estate professional should be able to point you in the right direction.
A word of caution, however: Section 9 of the RESPA prohibits realtors from requiring buyers and sellers to use a specific title company “as a condition of sale.” Realtors can (and should) guide their clients throughout the home-purchasing process including coordination of the due diligence and settlement logistics.
Consumers, however, have final say on selection of service providers—including title agencies.
For realtors, it’s a way to put their clients at ease. For buyers and sellers, it’s good to know you have a say if you sense your title company doesn’t appear to be serving your best interests.
Here’s how great title insurance companies can—and should—serve their clients.
Your title company should be underwritten by a reputable national agency.
Since title insurance companies assume the risks in real estate closings, they have to be able to pay-out when a deal goes bad. High-performing title insurance agencies minimize risk as much as possible. But when title claims inevitably arise, they need broad shoulders and deep pockets.
The prudent-and-safest route, therefore, is to choose title agencies underwritten by at least one of these national title insurance companies:
- Fidelity National Title Insurance Company (includes Chicago Title & Commonwealth Title brands)
- Old Republic National Title Insurance Group
- Stewart Title Guaranty Company
- First American Title Insurance Company
These “Big 4” underwriters provide the underlying title insurance policies for approximately 90% of the real estate transactions insured in the United States.
This isn’t a knock against smaller, more regional underwriters, but having a large national underwriter is important, particularly on the higher-end transactions.
Excellent customer service will make a closing go more smoothly.
A good title insurance company will give you a definite point of contact, clearly delineating the person who is responsible for your file. This is often, if not always, the closing officer. Client satisfaction often starts-and-ends with the relationship between you, your clients, and the designated title closing officer.
You should also make sure the closing office is a comfortable and inviting space. This goes for the people in the office too. Are they friendly and positive? Does there seem to be drama behind-the-scenes?
Your title company affects the experience of the homebuyer or seller, and in the end, reflects on you, the realtor. Customer experience is the #1 factor that drives your future referrals. Choose a place where your clients—and you—are clearly important to the seller, receiving the same kind of personalized service you’d like to be known for.
Choose a local, St. Louis-based title insurance company.
First, your title insurance company should have an office accessible to you and your client. But you should also choose a company with deep roots in your community and a vested interest in seeing it succeed.
Local companies have a higher level of commitment to the real estate professionals they work with, resulting in higher levels of customer service. Also, working with people who know local customs and laws (see #4) provides additional assurance your transaction will get closed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
Knowledgeable staff will come through for you when the going gets tough.
The more deals you close as a real estate agent, the more chance you’ll run into problematic title issues that require specialized legal and underwriting knowledge. A good title insurance company will have professionals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and solve problems that fall outside the norm.
That’s another reason why your title insurance company should be local. St. Louis, as with every other region, has laws specific to our area. Not only that, each nearby county and municipality adds layers of complexity to the process. You want, not just skilled-help, but skilled local help.
As a member of your professional network, your title company’s expertise shouldn’t be overly-specialized. You want to be able to refer colleagues in other disciplines: commercial real estate brokers, mortgage bankers, real estate lawyers, and others.
Size isn’t everything, but it matters.
The title insurance company you use should be sufficiently staffed with sufficient depth in its personnel to accommodate the cyclical nature of the title insurance business. A company that may have the capacity to handle your business in the winter may drop the ball during the summer months.
Your title company should be able to scale-up, being malleable enough to stay productive as the market fluctuates.
At the same time, as stated before, the title companies that grow beyond their local area may not serve you with the same care and knowledge that a local company has. And companies that grow too quickly may not be building the corporate culture and systems that allow for premium service.
The price should be reasonable—not too low, not too high.
In some states, title insurance is a set price. In Missouri and Illinois, title insurance fees are negotiable for the most part. However, that doesn’t mean title insurance should be a race to the bottom, where you need to shop for the lowest rate. A cut-rate competitor may beat a quality title insurance company out on price, but that company may not have the knowledge, experience, and flexibility needed to do quality work.
A good title insurance company will set its price commensurate with the industry as a whole. They may not be the cheapest, but they should be competitive.
At True Title, We Love This Stuff!
Providing excellent customer service to our St. Louis-area customers is our passion. We enjoy making the process easy for you. We also like rolling up our sleeves doing the hard work our profession requires.
If you’re looking for a great place to close your real estate business, we want to do good work on your behalf. Let’s talk.