5 Title Insurance Questions to Consider when Purchasing a Home

5 Title Insurance questions to ask when buying a home

For most people, purchasing or refinancing a home happens only a few times in a lifetime.  And thus the topic of title insurance is only top of mind for a fleeting moment once every few years.  So if you’re in the process of selling or buying real estate, here are a few refresher questions you may want to consider with regards to the topic of Title Insurance.

1. Are title insurance rates regulated in Washington state?

Yes.  All title insurance rates and policy forms are filed with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.  If the Commissioner finds that a title insurance rate is excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory, he can order the modification of the rate on a prospective basis.

2. What type of coverage will I need?

To help real estate Buyers and Sellers make an informed decision as to the level of coverage to choose, we have created a side-by-side comparison chart that compares the risks covered by the ALTA Homeowner’s, Standard, and Extended Policies that we offer at Ticor Title.  Download & view the chart by clicking the link below:
Residential Title Insurance Policy Types

3. Who Pays for the title insurance premium in Washington State?

In Washington State, the Seller customarily pays for the Buyer’s owner policy and the Buyer pays their lender policy.

4. Who determines which title company will provide the coverage?

Ticor’s Current Ratings:

Financial Strength/ Claims Paying Ability Ratings
Standard & Poor’s – A
Moody’s Investors Service – A3
Fitch Ratings – A-
A.M. Best Co. – A-

Lace Title Rating Corporation (Claims Paying Ability Rating)
Ticor Title Insurance Company – ADemotech, Inc. (Financial Stability Rating)
Ticor Title Insurance Company – A’

Typically the title insurer is already chosen by the Seller in order to examine title and flush out potential title issues on the property before an offer is made on the property.  The Buyer may decline to use the title company previously specified by the Seller and use a title company of their choosing.  However, if the Seller previously received a preliminary title that Buyer declines to use, the Buyer shall pay any cancellation fees owing to the original title insurance company.

5. Should I be concerned about the claims paying ability of my title insurance provider?

A title insurance provider’s claims paying ability is determined by the amount of reserves held to pay claims.  Due to the state of the real estate market over the last 4 years, a title insurer’s claims paying ability has become more critical as the number of claims filed have sharply increased.

Do you have comments or thoughts regarding any of these questions?

Please share below!

Betrayed with an Uninsured Deed…

Beware of uninsured deeds.An escrow officer in one of our sister operations opened a purchase transaction for $347,000. She ordered the title report and the order was assigned to Casandra, a commercial title officer. Casandra issued the report reflecting two owners of record: Maysa Alhelow, a single woman and Thomas Paul Helo, a married man as his sole and separate property.

The escrow officer processed the order and once she received all signed documents and monies, shipped the documents for recording. It is normal and customary in California, where the property is located, to record prior to disbursing the escrowed funds. The escrow officer was waiting for recording confirmation.

Uninsured Deeds

Uninsured deeds in the chain of title always pose a whole new level of risk for a title insurance company. Title officers are taught to scrutinize those types of deeds for obvious signs of forgery or other misconduct on the part of the grantors and grantees. The title officer in this particular order did just that and ultimately halted a transaction that would have inevitably caused a title claim.

When the recording package arrived Casandra noticed only Alhelow signed the deed to the new buyer, and not the co–owner Thomas Paul Helo. Casandra called the escrow officer and asked why there was no deed from Thomas. The escrow officer explained that she was told the owners had recently recorded a deed, wherein Thomas conveyed his interest in the property to Alhelow.

Casandra located the recorded deed from Thomas to Alhelow.
She inspected the deed and noticed the following:

  • Deed was uninsured
  • Deed was not notarized by a Company–approved notary
  • The signature of Thomas Paul Helo appeared to be VERY different than his signature on other recorded documents

A New Deed was Needed

As a result, Casandra called the escrow officer and insisted Thomas sign a new deed in the presence of an employee or Company–approved notary. The escrow officer called the number she had for Thomas, but Alhelow answered the phone. The escrow officer explained the need for a new deed from Thomas. Alhelow responded Thomas could not possibly come into the office to sign the new deed as he was in Los Angeles and would not be returning anytime soon. The escrow officer informed her it was not a problem as Thomas could sign at one of our Los Angeles offices. Alhelow said she would contact Thomas.

In the meantime, the escrow officer did some research, found a Los Angeles number for Thomas and contacted him directly. When she explained the need for him to sign a new deed, Thomas confirmed he did not sign the first deed conveying his interest to Alhelow, and he had no knowledge the property was even being sold!

“…and he had no knowledge the property was even being sold!”

The escrow officer asked Thomas if he was even interested in selling the property and he stated, “No.” The escrow officer immediately resigned from the transaction, knowing full–well Thomas was not going to agree to the sale.

A Forgery Indeed

It was later discovered that Thomas’ brother, Kahir Tim Helo, had actually forged Thomas’ signature on the deed. And the escrow officer and Casandra discovered Kahir is Alhelow’s boyfriend! Ruth C. Escobar, who notarized the forged deed, works for a tax preparation office in Bakersfield. It is unclear as to what identification Kahir provided the notary.

Casandra’s keen observation of the uninsured deed disclosed a forgery and prevented a future claim from the real Thomas Paul Helo.

Our Title Insurance Policies Insure Against Forgery

Thomas’ brother and his brother’s girlfriend were attempting to sell the property without Thomas knowing, so they would not have to split the proceeds with him. Our title insurance policies insure 100% against forgery. Had Our Company closed and insured the transaction, and later Thomas Paul Helo made a claim to his interest in the property, we would have had to defend our policy holder – the buyer. As the insurer, we would have had to settle with Thomas in order to obtain a valid deed and cure the title defect for the new owner of the property.

Thoughts or questions? Please share below!

Zoning questions? Here’s how we can help…

Is my property subdividable?
Can I start a home-based business here?
Are there height restrictions?
Zoning Map Example - Seattle

Buyers or sellers may ask questions like the ones above. The answers may often be found deep in the zoning code for a particular neighborhood or parcel.

Verify zoning jurisdiction

When questions about land use or zoning come in to our Ticor Title Customer Service team, the first thing we’ll do is verify which jurisdiction the property is in. This is important because zoning can be under the jurisdiction of a city or the entire county. There’s no point in calling Pierce County Planning and Land Services if the property is inside the city limits of Tacoma and vice versa.

To make matters more complicated, the same zoning code designation could be used by more than one city, and it could mean different things in different jurisdictions. (For example, R-4 in the city of Bellevue has a minimum lot width of 65’ while in Covington the minimum lot width is 30’. Setbacks, minimum dimensions, and height restrictions may be very different from city to city, even if they use some of the same codes.)

Your Ticor Title customer service team can help connect  you with  the right department where an engineer or technician will be able to answer your client’s questions with authority!

Connect with the right department

Click the image to download a printable version of this article.

It’s important to get the facts. Your client may be basing important decisions on the answers to their questions.  Zoning and related issues are subject to changes due to annexations and/or changing regulations. You or your client will want the most current and direct information possible. Your Ticor Title customer service team can help connect you with the right department where an engineer or technician will be able to answer your client’s questions with authority!

In some cases, the zoning classification may not be exactly what you or your client was hoping for. Fear not. There may be options. Check with the jurisdiction to see if they might allow a variance for a specific parcel. If all the neighbors in an area agree, it may also be possible to request a rezone that would affect a whole block or neighborhood. (Link to Map 1) In cases where the surrounding zoning is all like-kind, it may be harder to get a variance or rezone than if the neighborhood is a patchwork of different zoning codes.

King, Pierce, and Snohomish zoning resources

Consider CC&R’s

In addition to zoning regulations, another possible factor to consider may be CC&Rs. A change that fits within the current zoning code regulations may be prohibited by a property’s CC&Rs. For example, a property that is zoned SF 5000 in the City of Seattle may have maximum height of 30’ in the zoning code but the same property may also have a recorded view easement or plat covenants that limit homes on the lot to a single story. When the various regulations conflict, the rule of thumb would be to abide by the most restrictive among them.

To see the unincorporated county zoning on a map, check out these great sites:

Often cities will provide mapped zoning information as well, often in a PDF format. Here are a few examples:

Often cities will provide mapped zoning information as well, often in a PDF format. Here is a link to a great site with links to city web sites and municipal codes:  http://www.mrsc.org/codes.aspx

Be thorough in your research

As with many property issues, there’s more to than story than meets the eye. The information provided by your title company is usually just the tip of the iceberg. Buyers and sellers should always perform  thorough research before making any big plans or decisions. In fact, it might be a good idea to consult with a land use attorney.

Do you have thoughts or questions? Please share by commenting below!

The Probate Path – Single at Death

Recent blogs have discussed probate issues, or problems associated with a “lack of probate.” If a home is to be sold but the record owner is deceased it is imperative to identify who now owns the property. The transaction can then close if the proper parties execute a deed to the buyer.

We are not talking here about joint tenancy or trust property, but rather where title was vested simply in an individual.

There are three basic situations when the owner has died:

Probate Paths - Single at Death

Click the image above to view a printable version of the chart.

  • First, the owner was single – not married or a domestic partner.
  • Second, the owner was married or a domestic partner, but it was separate property (not community property).
  • Third, the owner was married or a domestic partner and it was community property.

Of course, each of these has additional variations, mostly relating to whether the deceased had a will, and whether or not the estate (with or without a will) is being probated. If there is a probated will, devisees (those named in a will) will get the property or the proceeds from the sale if it’s sold before the probate is closed. If there is no will, then state law provides who inherits. It can get complicated to work it all out.

It may be helpful in such cases to see a chart following the path to a successful closing. In this and future blogs we will show basic diagrams applicable to each situation. This month we start a fairly simple one – a deceased owner who was single at the time of death.

Deceased Owner – Single at Death

Sam Smith, a widower, just died. The home is listed by Rolf, who tells the Realtor® that he is Sam’s nephew and only heir. The title company gets the order and finds the death certificate, but doesn’t find a probate case. Having no other information at this time, the title company vests title in “the heirs and/or devisees” of Sam, and asks Rolf for a “lack of probate” affidavit. This affidavit is designed to identify relevant facts to allow the title company to assess its risk, including whether or not there is a will or a probate (which could be any county in Washington or in another state), the size of the estate (to determine if estate taxes apply) and other valuable information. The goal is to find out who can actually convey the land (and for escrow, who will get the proceeds of the sale), so that the risk is at least minimized, if not eliminated, that an unknown heir will come forward after the title has been insured.

No Heirs?

At some point, if there are no heirs at all, the home would eventually escheat to the State of Washington. In such cases, a probate may be opened, but here there are no easy answers. Usually creditors will open a probate and attempt to sell the property, with excess proceeds going to the state after the sale of the home.

Rolf completes the affidavit, and says that Sam never had children, and that his parents are also deceased. Sam did have a sister, but she is also died. She did, however, have an only son – Rolf who in turn is Sam’s nephew.

The laws of descent (RCW 11.04.015) provide that inheritance would be in the following order:

  1. Spouse, if any, or if none, then
  2. Children if any, or if none, then
  3. Parents, if alive, or if not, then
  4. Siblings, and if none survive him, then
  5. Grandparents, or if none, then
  6. Children or grandchildren of the grandparents and on down the line.

So, it would appear that the nephew is the sole inheritor and can sell the house. Now, it’s only the word of the nephew on the affidavit, but it is sworn under oath. It’s a judgment call on the part of the title company to decide the veracity of the nephew – is there a hidden will? Other heirs he’s just not mentioning? It is a risk, but the sworn affidavit is something for the title company to go on.

The chart below gives a simple guide to follow with these facts. There are four “paths” to follow. The first doesn’t apply, because although there is no will, neither is there a probate. The second doesn’t apply since there is neither a will nor a probate. The third doesn’t apply, because there is no will. So, we are left with the fourth path – no will and no probate. It requires the lack of probate affidavit, and a deed only from Rolf (as the sole surviving heir of Sam Smith, deceased), the child of a sibling, because Sam left no living kids, grandkids, parents, brothers or sisters.

Probate Paths - Single at Death

Click the image above to view a printable version of the chart.

Questions or comments?  Please share below!

Ticor Title Fact Sheet – Q3 2011

The financial strength and claims paying ability of a title insurance company is very important in these times of change in our industry. With Ticor Title in the Pacific Northwest you can rest assured that our commitment to you is established on a rock solid financial foundation. The fact sheet below will give you a sense of how we did in Q3 2011.

Ticor Title Seattle - Q3 2011 fact sheetTicor Title is a member of the Fidelity National Financial family of companies (“FNF”); the leading provider of title insurance through its title insurance underwriters – Fidelity National Title Insurance Company, Chicago Title Insurance Company, Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company and Alamo Title Insurance. FNF underwriters issue more title insurance policies than any other title company in the United States.

As a company, we produced another strong quarter despite the continued difficult real estate market. This achievement can be attributed to our local employees’ ability to manage challenging market conditions and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. One such opportunity came with the meaningful decline in residential mortgage rates beginning in August.

This decline led to a significant increase in refinance order volumes. Total refinance open orders per day in August increased nearly 30% over July, and September totals remained nearly equal with August levels. As a result of the decline in mortgage rates, the quarter’s mix of business favored refinance transactions. Overall, during the quarter our direct operations opened 596,000 total orders and closed 378,800 orders.

Our commercial title business was strong again during the third quarter and generated over $99.1 million in revenue, which accounted for more than 26% of total direct title premiums in the quarter compared with 19% in the same quarter of 2010.

Collectively, the FNF title brands remain the largest and the most profitable in the industry. As always, we remain committed to managing our business with discipline, providing the best possible customer service, and remaining the financially strongest title insurance provider for our policyholders, clients, and partners.

Which Title Insurance Policy Should I Choose?

Standard, Extended, and ALTA Homeowner's Title Insurance Comparison

What is the difference between the various types of owner’s title insurance policies?

We hear this question often. There are three types of owner’s policies; Standard, Extended, and ALTA Homeowner’s. It’s important to note that the ALTA Homeowner’s Policy is specified by default on the NWMLS (Northwest Multiple Listing Service) Form 22.

Title Insurance Choices

Why would the ALTA Homeowner’s policy be the top choice? The ALTA Homeowner’s policy offers the highest level of protection for homeowners that exceeds the coverage of the Standard or Extended policies. Some home buyers may not be aware of the risks to title that exist and thus not understand the explicit value of broader coverage. Nonetheless, buyers should know that they always have a choice.

What makes the ALTA Homeowner’s policy unique?

We’ve written an article specifically about the ALTA Homeowner’s policy that explains the benefits to the homeowner, the deductibles, post closing coverage, and the cost.  For further information, please click the following link:

ALTA Homeowner’s Policy in Plain English

Standard, Extended, and ALTA Homeowner’s comparison

In comparing the three policies, it’s easier to make an informed decision if you can see the risks covered in a list or tabular format. The side-by-side title policy comparison below will make it clear what makes each policy unique.

Please keep in mind that if you have questions regarding your title insurance policy or level of coverage, we are here to help.

Policy Protection Against the Risks of:

ALTA Homeowner’s Standard Extended
Record defects, liens, encumbrances, adverse claims or other matters not known or disclosed to the new owner that attach before date of policy
Forgery or Fraud in connection with the execution of documents
Undue influence on Grantor or mental incompetence of Grantor
Undisclosed or missing heirs
Wills not properly probated, mistaken interpretation of Wills and Trusts
Conveyance by minor(s), Conveyances by Corporation or Partnership without proper legal authority
Incorrect legal descriptions, non-delivery of deeds
Delivery of Deed after Death of Grantor
Clerical errors in recorded legal documents
Unmarketability of title as insured or lack of legal access
Unrecorded liens
Survey and Boundary questions
Claims of parties in possession not disclosed by the public records
Easements or claims to easements not disclosed by public records
An existing violation of a subdivision law or regulation affecting the Land: 

  • You’re unable to obtain a building permit
  • You are forced to correct or remove the violation; or
  • Someone else has a legal right to, and does refuse to perform a contract to purchase the Land, lease it or make a Mortgage on it.

This covered risk is subject to:

  • A customer deductible amount of either 1% of Policy Amount or $2,500.00. (whichever is less)
  • Title Company’s Maximum Liability is $10,000.00
Certain zoning issues that force you to remove or make modifications to your existing structure. 

This covered risk is subject to:

  • A customer deductible amount of either 1% of Policy Amount or $5,000.00. (whichever is less)
  • Title Company’s Maximum Liability is $25,000.00
You are forced to remove your existing structure (s) because it (they) encroaches onto your neighbor’s land. 

This covered risk is subject to:

  • A customer deductible amount of either 1% of Policy Amount or $2,500.00. (whichever is less)
  • Title Company’s Maximum Liability is $25,000.00

Post Closing Coverage:

Another party owns an interest in your title
Another party has rights affecting your title resulting from leases, contracts or options
Another party has rights affecting your title resulting from leases, contracts or options
Another party has an easement on the property
Your title is defective
Another party has the right to limit the use of your land
Your neighbor builds any structures, after the policy date, other than boundary walls or fences, which encroach onto the land


Condo or Co-op, What’s the Difference?

Seattle Condo or Co-op

Washington has a lot of condominiums, but also its share of cooperatives, especially in the Seattle metro area. On the surface they may seem similar. So what exactly is the difference between a Condo and a Co-op?

What’s a Condo in plain english?

A Type of Subdivision

Both condo and co-op units are a type of land subdivision but neither requires city or county review or approval as is done with a platted lot.

A condo unit is created by a state statute (RCW 64.34) which requires a complex and expensive survey to locate each unit as a “parcel” of land. The unit occupies airspace within the main parcel. The unit’s boundaries are in simplest terms a “box” with six sides (typically the walls, floors and ceilings of what looks like an apartment in a building). Everything within the box is the unit, owned 100% by the unit owner. Title to the unit automatically includes a percentage interest (as tenant in common with all owners) in the common elements – everything outside the box. The common elements are not a separately owned or taxed parcel. While a homeowners’ association manages the property pursuant to the recorded declaration, it owns no real property.

Each unit is taxed independently, and can be sold and mortgaged just like a platted lot. A failure to pay taxes or the mortgage on a unit has no bearing on the title to any of the other units, and thus no lien can arise solely on the common elements such that it would affect the title to any unit or the project if foreclosed.

What’s a Co-op in plain english?

A co-op unit is similar to a condo unit one respect: the space occupied by the unit owner is usually also a “box.” But, there is no survey defining the location of the boundaries, so there is no “legal” description of the unit that meets the standard of a condo unit or a platted lot. Also, all of the property, including the units and the common elements, is owned by a cooperative corporation, which also acts as the homeowners’ association. A co-op buyer gets stock in the cooperative corporation (only unit owners can own the stock) and what’s called a proprietary lease to the unit that allows exclusive possession. This unrecorded lease is often for a nominal monthly amount, although assessments can be significant.

“This means, of course, that if assessment collections fall short all unit owners risk losing title to their units in a foreclosure.”

The entire co-op property is a single tax parcel and especially in newer projects is often encumbered by a mortgage. It’s up to the association to pay the taxes and the mortgage, with a significant monthly homeowner assessment to cover those expenses. This means, of course, that if assessment collections fall short all unit owners risk losing title to their units in a foreclosure.

Co-op Membership

The documents creating a cooperative, unlike a condominium declaration, are not recorded, and in many cases the association does not want them to be. Most co-op boards also have stringent membership requirements, including significant financial assets that make it harder for first time buyers to qualify. And, in addition to pre-approval of buyers by the board, it often has first refusal rights when a co-op unit owner wants to sell. One advantage of all this is that co-op projects tend to be more stable in an otherwise changing real estate market. At the same time, it can be more difficult and time consuming to sell a unit even when market conditions are good because the pool of qualified buyers is smaller.

Condo vs. Co-op Seattle(Photo credit: Jeff Croft via Flickr)

Unit financing can be had, but it’s usually not a real estate loan. Rather, a bank might offer a personal loan secured primarily by the unit owner’s shares of ownership in the co-op corporation. Some banks do offer financing similar to real property loans, including some secondary market backing. But even with a good loan-to-value ratio (say 80%) the amount of any blanket co-op mortgage must be subtracted from the value of the land. A co-op owner cannot pay off a portion of the mortgage allocable to that unit, so the “equity” that is actually available for a real property mortgage on a single unit can be quite small. Title insurance, which may be available if the unit lease is recorded, is often not utilized or of limited value to a buyer or lender.

Co-op transactions involve specialized paperwork because of the transfer of the stock interest and lease (or a new lease from the association) and requires a Realtor® experienced in helping pull it all together.

Questions or comments? Please share below!

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20 Reasons for Title Insurance

20 Reasons for title insurance - insuring the home ownership dream We Hope You Never Have A Title Claim.

Americans have the future in mind when they buy a house, and they purchase homeowners insurance to help protect that future. But with homeownership comes the need to protect the property against the past, as well as the future.

Title insurance protects a policyholder against challenges to rightful ownership of real property, challenges that arise from circumstances of past ownerships. Each successive owner brings the possibility of title challenges to the property.  So to illustrate how title insurance protects the home ownership dream, we present 20 reasons for title insurance:

20 Reasons for Title Insurance

  1. A deed or mortgage in the chain of title may be a forgery.
  2. A deed or a mortgage may have been signed by a person under age.
  3. A deed or a mortgage may have been made by an insane person or one otherwise incompetent.
  4. A deed or a mortgage may have been made under a power of attorney after its termination and would, therefore, be void.
  5. A deed or a mortgage may have been made by a person other than the owner, but with the same name as the owner.
  6. The testator of a will might have had a child born after the execution of the will, a fact that would entitle the child to claim his or her share of the property.
  7. A deed or mortgage may have been procured by fraud or duress.
  8. Title transferred by an heir may be subject to a federal estate tax lien.
  9. An heir or other person presumed dead may appear and recover the property or an interest therein.
  10. A judgment or levy upon which the title is dependent may be void or voidable on account of some defect in the proceeding.
  11. Title insurance covers attorneys’ fees and court costs.
  12. Title insurance helps speed negotiations when you’re ready to sell or obtain a loan.
  13. By insuring the title, you can eliminate delays and technicalities when passing your title on to someone else.
  14. Title insurance reimburses you for the amount of your covered losses.
  15. A deed or mortgage may be voidable because it was signed while the grantor was in bankruptcy.
  16. Each title insurance policy we write is paid up, in full, by the first premium for as long as you or your heirs own the property.
  17. There may be a defect in the recording of a document upon which your title is dependent.
  18. Claims constantly arise due to marital status and validity of divorces. Only title insurance protects against claims made by non-existent or divorced “wives” or “husbands.”
  19. Many lawyers, in giving an opinion on a title, protect their clients as well as themselves, by procuring title insurance.
  20. Over the last 24 years, claims have risen dramatically.

Rely On Ticor Title To Protect Your Investment

20 Reasons for Title Insurance

Click the image above to download a printable version of this article.

Every owner, purchaser and beneficiary, whether by a deed or contract, should have an insured title. The entire investment depends upon the quality of title. If you are buying real estate mortgages, you are paying for a good title and you should see that you have one. If either fire insurance or title insurance is omitted, your security is not complete.

When you purchase real property, rely on Ticor Title to protect your interests. You’ll be insured by a company backed by a long history of successful title operations.

Our title policy protects you against unforeseen defects in title.   And whether this is your first or fiftieth real estate investment, ask your real estate agent or broker to specify Ticor Title during your transaction.  Thank you!

What other reasons for title insurance can you think of?  Please share below!

Fake Short Pay Letters? True Story…

Short sale fraud

Leading the way.

The FNF Family of Companies is the leader in the industry. Being the leader is not always easy. Many times we are the first ones who uncover the latest schemes and, as a result, issue a new policy and procedure. It is our settlement agents who are on the front lines implementing the new policy and often hear, “No other company makes us do this!”

This story illustrates just how important it is for us to follow the Company policies and procedures even if no one else requires them.

Joy Turner, senior escrow officer for one of our sister branches, opened a sale transaction. The seller was in the process of negotiating a short sale with his lender, Bank of America, through the services of a third-party short sale negotiation company. There were no real estate agents involved. The buyer was purchasing the property using a private lender and the sales price was $200,000, pending approval from the existing lender.

On June 10, 2011, Bank of America issued their short pay letter approving the sale for $200,000. Per the letter, the closing was to take place no later than June 27, 2011. As the 27th approached, it was clear the buyer and seller were not going to meet this deadline. It did appear the transaction was going to close, but they just needed an extension of a few days. Joy told the seller she would need a revised letter extending the closing deadline.

The new lender’s funds came in on June 28, 2011 and so did the extension letter from Bank of America. The new deadline for closing on the short pay letter was July 1, 2011. On the morning of June 29, 2011 Joy worked to get everything together for recordation and disbursement. Per Company policy, Joy knew she needed to contact the loss mitigator at Bank of America to confirm the terms and amount shown on the short pay letter.

Something’s Fishy
Something about the extension letter and HUD-1 approval Joy received from Bank of America didn’t look right. First, the communication did not come through www.equator.com. This was unusual since approval letters were delivered using this online system for every Bank of America short sale Joy had closed recently. Joy picked up the phone and called the person named on the HUD-1 approval. His name was Vitto Pastor. Joy found it odd his title shown on the approval letter said Senior Operations Analyst, Business Operations, since it is usually a loss mitigator who issues short pay approvals. She left him a message.

“…according to their records, the seller had never applied for a short sale”

Shortly thereafter Joy received a returned phone call but it wasn’t from Pastor. It was Kenneth Teele, senior investigator at Bank of America. Kenneth advised her Pastor did work for Bank of America – but not in their Loss Mitigation Department and Pastor did not issue the HUD-1 approval letter. Kenneth went on to explain the HUD-1 approval and short pay letter she received were fraudulent and, according to their records, the seller had never applied for a short sale. He also revealed the outstanding loan balance for this loan exceeded one million dollars.

Joy left a message for the seller to call her, stating there was a problem with the short pay approval. Instead of returning her call, the seller e-mailed Joy asking her to send him copies of everything he signed, including the short pay letter. Joy again asked him to call her, but he responded by saying he was in a meeting and would call later. He never did.

The Buyer’s Perspective…
The buyer called to find out if his file had closed. Joy was in another closing so she asked one of her colleagues to tell him we would not be closing as the short pay letters were invalid. The buyer’s only response was, “Oh really?” Joy also attempted to contact the third-party negotiation company who never answered the phone or responded to her calls or e-mails.

The buyer’s lender contacted Joy on July 1, 2011, asking her to return the loan funds to them. Joy verified with her Operational Accounting Department the funds were being sent back to the same account they came from and reported the incident to her manager, Lisa.

Lisa shared the details with all the escrow officers in her operation and notified National Escrow Administration. Turns out, this was the 15th time our Company had been the target of this scheme. The bad news is, 14 of these closed and our claims department is currently working on them. The good news is Joy Turner prevented us from falling prey a 15th time.

Moral Of The Story
Joy’s transaction involved a $200,000 short sale on a loan with a balance of more than one million dollars. Had Joy accepted the short pay letter and closed, Bank of America would have rejected the nearly $200,000 short pay. The Company would have had to either unwind the deal or face a potential loss of more than $800,000 to obtain a lien release, and deliver both free and clear title to the insured buyer, and a first lien position to their new lender.

Following Company policy can seem cumbersome, but this story proves it is well worth the extra effort.

Questions or comments? Please share below!

What Happens Between Signing and Closing of Escrow…

What happens between signing and escrow closing

Note: This Article was originally published October 25, 2011. An updated version with current information is available here: What’s the Difference Between Signing and Closing Escrow

What’s the difference between “Signing” and “Closing Escrow?”

When people talk about a real estate purchase, they sometimes use the terms “signing” and “closing” interchangeably in reference to the event when the buyers sign documents with Escrow. However, there are several events that take place between the buyer’s signing appointment and the actual closing of the real estate transaction. Let’s take a moment and review that process.


What happens after escrow signingDownload a printable article here: What Happens Between Signing and Closing of Escrow

Signing of Documents:

Escrow receives the loan documents (if applicable) from the Lender and prepares them for the buyer to sign along with final statements and any other required documents.  Upon receipt of the loan documents from the lender, the escrow closer prepares the HUD 1 settlement statement and all other legal documents required for the transfer of title into the buyers name.

Lender Reviews Documents & Funds the Loan:

Once the loan documents have been signed, the escrow officer delivers them back to the lender for review. When the lender is satisfied that all required documents have been signed and all outstanding loan conditions have been met, the lender will notify escrow that they are ready to disburse the loan funds to escrow. Upon receipt of the wire from the lender, the escrow officer is authorized to send the transfer documents to the county for recording. The time frame for review is normally 24 to 48 hours.

Excise Tax:

Real estate transactions in Washington State that involve conveyance of property require consideration of Excise Tax. All appropriate tax amounts must be paid before the county will allow the Deed conveying title to be recorded.

Deed of Trust:

A legal document that evidences an agreement of a borrower to transfer legal title to real property to an impartial third party, a trustee, for the benefit of a lender, as security for the borrowers debt.

Warranty Deed:

The legal document used in most states by which title to real estate is conveyed from one party to another.

Recording is Authorized:

Once recording is authorized by the lender, documents are hand carried (in most cases) to the county recorder’s office by the title insurance company. The Warranty Deed is recorded first, showing the transfer of the property to the buyer, with the Deed of Trust recorded next. Recording the Deed of Trust just after the Deed insures the lender’s first lien position on the property.

Recording Numbers Received:

Recording numbers are the unique numbers given by the county recorder’s office to a properly executed legal document thereby making it part of the public record. In other words, when we have recording numbers, the buyer is “on record” as holding title to the property.

Now We Have Closed Escrow

Once the deeds have been recorded, and funds are available to the seller, we can say that we have “closed” and the new owner may take possession of the property as set forth in the Purchase and Sale Agreement.

Do you have questions or thoughts about the escrow process?  Please share by leaving a comment below!