Title Tips by Tute
Volume 8, Number 2
Is anyone hiring? That Tute was not the ideal examiner par excellence for the employment period just ended was "news to me" during a recent employment review. In the interests of benefiting others despite personal misfortune, Tute is prepared to share the lessons learned from that exemplar of corporate life. Some of the facts have been rearranged slightly to protect the insured customers, and all the comments have been painfully rewritten in the form of positive comments, rather than as received. Surely somewhere in the annals of literature there is a character whose misfortunes exceed those of your humble author, but at this precise moment in time, the name escapes me. I have renamed this "How the Title Examiner Adds Value to the Underwriting Process." It was originally presented as "How Tute Has Made My Staff Miserable For The Last Six Months."
If you are obtaining copies of instruments for the underwriter, or the staff attorney or the closing officer, look at the copy requested. Does it reference a plat? Order a copy. Is there a penciled notation (this only applies to books, I know!) in the margin? Is the document you are looking at the third amendment to the second restated whatever it is? Do you wonder what might be contained in the instrument at that additional reference? Do you think the underwriter will wonder? Look at it and then call the office to ask if it is wanted also. When you can tell the person how it affects the document they know they want, they may decide they want that one too, or will know they don't.
If your office uses a summary sheet to write up the title exam, use it. It represents someone's effort to simplify your job by providing a format for reporting the most common information you might find. If there are delinquent real estate taxes, delinquent storm water fees and a weed lien, and no space on the form for weed liens, make a notation on the summary sheet, don't just attach the printout and assume the underwriter or closer will see it. If you make adverse conveyance or chain of title sheets, send them in with the search with a note asking for a copy to be sent back for your private "I'm never pulling all those books again" files. If you weren't as thorough as you might have been (see above) your notes on the adverse sheet may provide all the information the underwriter needs to keep going forward.
Feel free to share this one with the folks back in the office. If you receive a recording, make sure all the pieces are there. If the document says a property description is located on an attached Exhibit A, confirm there is an attached "Exhibit A." The one attached to the deed of trust isn't going to help, directly. See Be Creative below. If the recording check is for $19, look for a recording tax exemption. If it isn't there, ask for one, rather than saying to yourself, they'll figure it out after the Clerk rejects the recording. If the mandatory cover sheet is not attached, tell someone immediately, rather than placing the recording to the side, thinking that you will mention it when you next call the office, only to have it get buried under a stack of later arriving searches, recordings or other interruptions.
If the seller owns more than one property by virtue of a prior deed, and conveys away property described generally as the property received in that prior deed, read the conveyance document completely. If the last line says, "No part of Parcel II is hereby conveyed," flag it for the underwriter. They might be just as busy as you are, miss that line, and inadvertently include property that should not be included.
Keep a watchful eye on your title as it unfolds
Apply everything you know about the transaction to your search. If during the course of your title examination, evidence of a utility company pole line easement appears on a survey of a leased portion of the property for which you found no grant of an easement, tell your underwriter. Look for alternative grantors. VEPCO doesn't always do a title exam. Maybe it was recorded outside the chain of title, maybe they took the easement from a tenant, and maybe they took it from a neighbor. Regardless, they have a claim of title and facilities in place on the ground. Don't make the underwriter read all your notes and copies so they feel like they are doing the search all over again. Report it on the summary sheet.
Go to the next level
If you find a lis pendens or a mechanics lien filed against your property, don't stop there. Go to the law and/or chancery indices and find out if the claimant filed suit. What is the status of the suit? Knowing that information allows the underwriting staff to make requirements that allow the transaction to move forward. Perhaps 99% of the time a simple requirement for a release will be the first and only alternative presented to the customer. On that other transaction, when the customer says "That isn't going to happen, what are my other choices?" you've made your team look good because your underwriter or their staff attorney can present options which are not purely "hypothetical." They don't know anything other than what you told them; so tell them things they need to know.
Your underwriter doesn't want to hear how hard it is out in the record room. They know. They were out there once upon a time themselves. They may even regret leaving the relatively quiet and tranquil existence of the record room for the "hurly burly" of the office and the "I can't get anything done because the phone rings, the fax dumps another 'Turbo-Rush-ASAP' on my desk, the e-mail has more exclamation marks than Tute's latest column" existence that came with that (in retrospect) totally inadequate pay increase. Don't call to tell them the deed doesn't have a property description, even though the deed of trust does; or that the back title doesn't cover all the property described in the contract; or that the street that bisects the property doesn't appear to have been closed yet, even though the building has been there for ten years. You know the title needs to be done, and there are fifteen or twenty more waiting for you to finish. Find a way. Just do it. Dazzle us with your brilliance. Gloat a little . . . when you're finished.
Do more than is expected of you.
If the title examination involves five generations of intestate succession, with four or five people in each generation, some of whom swapped their fractional interests back and forth . . . don't throw up your hands in frustration, write on the report "It's a mess, here it is" and move on to the next exam. The underwriter is going to have to duplicate much of, if not all of, your work to reach the same conclusion, and then they will still have to organize it so it can be presented to the ultimate customer in a way that makes any sense at all. Even if they disagree with your organizational style, they'll thank you for making the effort.
With all that on the resume, Tute probably needs to buckle down and stay where I am. Who would hire that sorry piece of work? Perhaps if I follow this most excellent advice, my next review will let me ask for a raise. Or at least forgiveness.