What is a Title?
Land is as old as time itself. Like the structures built on it, land is "real property," meaning that it can't be moved or hidden. Because real property is valuable, many people want to claim ownership. "Titles" came about as a means of legally proving who owns the property.
Through the centuries, however, a parcel of property may change hands dozens of times. At any point along the chain of ownership, problems may arise that cast a "cloud" over a title, putting a claim of ownership in doubt. Such as:
- Long lost relatives or past owners could show up, sometimes from long ago, with a claim to the property that supersedes yours.
- Sometimes people fraudulently sell houses that don't belong to them. For example, the husband of a divorcing couple could forge the signature of his wife, and abscond with the proceeds of the sale.
- In a court of law, the rights of the wife could be upheld and the property could go to her, no matter how much money the unsuspecting purchaser had placed in the house.
How do you protect yourself from mistakes, fraud, and other complications?
Through title insurance. It protects your claim to your property from potential problems caused by irregularities that may have occurred in the past. Dollar for dollar, it's one of the most cost-efficient forms of insurance for property owners. Its relatively low, one-time premium covers you against legal problems that could cost tens of thousands of dollars-and even the loss of your property.
What is an Escrow?
An escrow is an arrangement in which a disinterested third party, called an escrow officer, holds legal documents and funds on behalf of a buyer and seller, and distributes them according to the buyer's and seller's instructions.
People buying and selling real estate often open an escrow for their protection and convenience. The buyer can instruct the escrow officer to disburse the purchase price only upon the satisfaction of certain prerequisites and conditions. The seller can instruct the escrow officer to retain possession of the deed to the buyer until the seller's requirements, including receipt of the purchase price, are met. Both rely on the escrow officer to carry out faithfully their mutually consistent instructions relating to the transaction and to advise them if any of their instructions are not mutually consistent or cannot be carried out.
An escrow is convenient for the buyer and seller because both can move forward separately but simultaneously in providing inspections, reports, loan commitments and funds, deeds, and many other items, using the escrow officer as the central depositing point. If the instructions from all parties to an escrow are clearly drafted, fully detailed and mutually consistent, the escrow officer can take many actions on their behalf without further consultation. This saves much time and facilitates the closing of the transaction.
What is an easement?
An easement is a right to use the land of another for a special purpose. For example, the city may have plans to build a sewer line sometime in the future. If the sewer line runs through the back of your yard, and if the city has an easement on the underground portion of your property, this might cause your prize roses to be dug up, or prevent you from building a pool in your back yard.
What is a property lien?
If a property owner fails to pay his or her taxes, the IRS can obtain a lien on the property, which gives the government a claim to that property in case of nonpayment of debt. If the owner sells the property without settling the tax lien, the IRS can legally get the new property owner to pay the original property owner's back taxes. And if the new property owner fails to comply, they can lose their new property.