Behind the Scenes: Interview with a Title Officer

Home ownership can be short and simple or long and complex, but one thing is for certain- title agencies are integral in uncovering issues in a home’s past so that your ownership rights are protected.

But what is title insurance and why do you need it? Journey behind the scenes in the title insurance industry with Kari Buck, one of PNWT’s amazing Title Officers, as she answers these questions and more.

Can you give me a brief explanation of what title insurance is?

Title insurance assures a buyer that they are the rightful owner of the property they’re purchasing. We, [the title insurance company], are saying that our policy is protecting them from a situation where someone challenges their ownership. This protection covers things like fraud and forgery, improperly executed documents, and judgements or liens. We also assure a lender that they have a valid and enforceable lien on the property. As Title Officers, we work diligently to eliminate any of these possible title issues before they have the chance to appear.

Can you share a little bit about your personal journey into the industry and becoming a Title Officer?

After I graduated from Washington State University (Go Cougs!) I was job hunting for something temporary in Pullman before I moved back to the west side. I began at another Title company and was thrown into handling all the recordings. It was a sink or swim situation; luckily for me, I swam. This was before electronic recording, so I had to drive thirty minutes each way to the courthouse to get documents recorded. Eventually, I moved to an assistant role where I completed supplementals (changes to the title commitment) and policies.

When I moved back to the Kitsap area in 2015, I applied for a job at Pacific Northwest Title. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with great mentors who have guided me along nearly every aspect of the title department, learning the ins and outs of the industry, and ultimately moving into the role of Title Officer. I love problem solving and being able to find solutions to any issue that comes across my desk. There’s usually more than one way to solve an issue, so as Title Officers we get to brainstorm creative solutions to issues, which means I never stop learning! Ultimately though, I love helping people and building relationships with our clients. I never suspected the temporary job I took back then would lead me to where I am today!

Who needs title insurance and is it required?

Title insurance is not required to convey, or transfer, land. It is only required if our customers are taking a loan from an institutional lender or closing through a Title and Escrow Company.

That being said, some of the greatest property ownership obstacles occur when transfers are improperly executed. For instance: if a deed is missing a vested owner’s signature, then that property hasn’t suitably transferred ownership and now multiple parties have an interest. Other issues can include incorrect legal descriptions, liens or judgments connected to the property, and encroachments. That’s why it’s always a good idea to use a Title and Escrow Company- to avoid such costly mistakes.

Can you choose your title insurance company?

Yes! The customer has the final decision. However, since most people aren’t buying houses regularly, the title insurance company a customer works with will typically come from the recommendation of the real estate agents or lenders. That choice is usually made based on who they most enjoy and feel comfortable working with and we do our best to let all our customers know how much we appreciate and enjoy working with them, too!

Is title insurance like homeowners’ insurance?

No, these are two different types of insurance. Title insurance covers some of the issues we’ve previously discussed, but it does not cover things like floods, fires, theft, or other damages to the property – those matters are handled by Homeowner’s casualty insurance.

Additionally, homeowner’s insurance is paid yearly (or monthly, quarterly, etc., depending on the agreement) whereas title insurance is a one-time premium that is paid for when you first purchase real property or when you take out a loan from an institutional lender.  An owner’s title insurance policy is good for the entire time a person owns the property. If a person buys a house and they sell it three years later, then that’s how long the policy lasts. If someone has ownership of their home for 50 years, then the policy is good for the entire 50 years.

What’s the difference between a title commitment and a title policy?

A title commitment is the starting point – the promise to issue a title policy at the end of the transaction – and the title policy itself is the final product.

The title commitment gives information on involved parties, the legal description, and a plat map showing the boundaries of that plot of land. Additionally, it might reflect matters that are of public record like surveys, agreements, easements, deeds of trust, property taxes, or any other recorded liens. It will also show any title requirements that need to be fulfilled before we are able to close.

The title insurance policy is the final product that reflects most of the special exceptions listed on the commitment as well as details about the purchase or loan but won’t show items we worked to clear from the public record. Most importantly, the policy includes in-depth explanations about coverage and how to contact the insurance agency should the owner need to file a claim.

Title commitments can be overwhelming for any person, as they contain a substantial amount of information, which is why it’s recommended for buyers to read over the document prior to closing.

I’m always reminded of one specific story involving this. The CC&Rs for this particular property stated that the homeowners couldn’t have any farm animals on the land, but the purchasers wanted to keep their chickens. Because they reviewed the CC&Rs on the title commitment, the buyers were able to ask questions about the restrictions prior to closing to come to a resolution. This could have been a very different situation if they hadn’t known about the restriction beforehand.

Therefore, we recommend customers take the time to carefully read all documents on the title commitment. If there are any questions or concerns, they can always call the Title department.

What do you do for fun when you’re not at work?

I’m kept busy by my two girls (ages 3 ½ and 1 ½). We like to be outside enjoying one of our many local parks or beaches. It’s been interesting having them be so little during Covid because now that things are returning to normal, they are experiencing a lot of firsts. It’s so nice to have the parks and trails available for my kids to explore. They’re so little that just throwing rocks on a beach is the most amazing thing to them; it’s adorable. We’re only a short distance from the ocean and the mountains, so we have amazing options.

When I do get kid free adult time, I’m either getting some girl time in or time with my husband. He and I enjoy dinner dates and are trying to eat at as many local places as possible. It’s always fun to try somewhere new!

What makes PNWT special and why do you choose to work here?

I love how our Title Department strives to give the best customer service. The customer is our highest priority, and we strive to give each customer the care they deserve. We want to make sure that every person we interact with is happy and has a wonderful experience with our company. It feels great when we get those calls asking for help because it means they trust us enough to call for whatever they need.

It’s also a huge benefit when you enjoy working with your co-workers and that is a big reason why I choose PNWT. We care about each other, and everyone is always ready to help in any way they can. I love being able to find the small joys in the everyday and I can do that here. PNWT cares about our wellbeing and nurtures our professional development. Overall, I feel PNWT is special because of our commitment to each other and our customers.

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