Title premiums are priced based on the home’s purchase price and loan amount. For example, for a $500,000 home with a $400,000 mortgage, title insurance will cost the homeowner approximately $3,390.
Until recently, in the District, title insurance premiums and all other settlement fees and charges were wholly negotiable. That meant that although the various title underwriting companies published title insurance rates, title agents were free to negotiate those rates competitively. All other settlement costs, such as settlement fees, document preparation fees, title examination fees and the like, were also negotiable. Price-conscious consumers could comparison shop online or by phone to obtain the lowest possible prices.
The law became effective Jan. 1, 2011, as part of a comprehensive new regulatory scheme to license and regulate title insurance underwriters, agents, rates and continuing education requirements in the District. While there did not appear to be any emergency market groundswell driving this legislation, it did bring title insurance regulation into conformity with the surrounding jurisdictions in some ways.
However, because of these new regulations, D.C. consumers will be paying more for their title insurance and overall settlement fees in the future.
The new law appears to solely benefit large real estate brokerage firms that have entered into affiliated business arrangements with title companies. These arrangements are typically between real estate brokers, mortgage lenders and/or title insurance companies.
In practice, the real estate brokers “steer” their clients to their affiliated lenders for a mortgage loan and to their affiliated title companies for settlement and purchase of title insurance. In return for these referrals, the revenue from those affiliated entities are legally “kicked back” to the real estate broker through a revenue-sharing arrangement based on equity ownership of the captive title company.
In the past, the most common way non-affiliated title agents competed with this “closed loop” was to offer economic incentives to match or beat the affiliated companies’ rates. Those practices are now expressly illegal.
“If you were really seriously interested in increasing competition, you would require the real estate brokerages to divest themselves of their title insurance affiliates,” said Peter Antonoplos, partner in the JDKatz Law Firm with offices in the District and Maryland.
According to District of Columbia Associate Commissioner for Insurance Philip Barlow, the rationale for the regulation was to ensure that similarly situated homebuyers received identical pricing from the settlement agent. Barlow explained that it was perceived to be unfair to only offer discounts to those savvy consumers who asked for them at the expense of those borrowers who didn’t.