By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Remember privacy? It’s what most Americans enjoyed a few decades ago. Today, it’s elusive and rare. It’s simple for any of us to find just about anyone with a few clicks on a keyboard.

In an effort to reduce the solicitations for carpet cleaning, bogus tax filing services, mortgage insurance scams and such, I tried to make the information on my recent home purchase a little more private. The result was somewhat effective.

How do these companies and salespeople find out you’ve purchased a property? It’s highly unlikely that they got it from the title company or real estate broker. We don’t share information with third parties unless we must. Government entities are about the only ones we disclose details.

However, property owner information is public and online in Texas. Our county tax appraisal sites allow people to search the owner of a property by property address or owner name. It’s pretty hard to make your ownership information private on those county web sites. But, I’ll explain how below:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When you buy a home, don’t you get a guarantee of clear title? Well … no.

Isn’t that why you buy a property through a title company and get title insurance? To get clear title? Not exactly.

That’s not the phrase we like to use in the title business. Those two words “clear” and “title” together. They can cause anyone within the walls of a title agency to cringe, squirm and scowl. It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

I had the audacity to use the expression “clear title” in a recent Title Tip. Just pin my tail and call me a donkey. Must have been too much holiday eggnog.

So how do you get clear title to a property? You don’t.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

A reader writes: “I bought a home in 2018 and my taxes are escrowed by my mortgage company. How do I get a homestead exemption to get a discount on my taxes? Do I need to repeat the process every year? How much does it save me?”

You most definitely want to know how to file for a homestead exemption for your 2019 property taxes. To get a homestead exemption, you must own and live in the property as your principal residence as of Jan. 1 of that tax year. So, if you purchased in 2018, you may apply for that exemption after Jan. 1, 2019.

A homestead exemption removes part of your home’s value from taxation, so it lowers your taxes. I don’t know the details about your home to tell you how much a homestead exemption can save on your property taxes, but it is generally about 20 percent. Given the property tax rates in Texas, it is worth the few minutes it takes.  

To qualify, your home must also be owned by you as an individual (or individuals). A corporation or other business entity doesn’t qualify for this exemption. Do not pay someone else to do this for you. It is free and you can do it online in a few minutes.

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to apply for a homestead exemption in the DFW area:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

In case you’ve been out of touch lately, we’re experiencing a federal government shutdown.

The U.S. government doesn’t shut down too often. But when it does, there is a ripple effect. Some areas feel the effects more than others. We shouldn’t feel it too much in the title business unless it continues. The longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely it is we will feel a negative impact on DFW real estate market.

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[Editor’s note: Merry Christmas! This week, we’re taking time off to focus on our loved ones, so we are sharing some of our favorite stories from this year. Keep an eye out for our top features from the archives as we rest and get ready for a brilliant 2019! Cheers, from Candy and the entire staff at CandysDirt.com!]

Happy Holidays! It’s been a busy year in the title business. Yay!

We shared quite a variety of title and real estate related information with our readers over this past year. It ranged from the simple (Title Terms) to the more complicated concepts (like Property Rights). For folks who don’t deal with title issues every day, we hope we shed some light on a few things.

As we wind down year, let’s take a look at the most popular Title Tips in 2018. Our most talked about Title Tips this past year were:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

It’s easy to make the general statement that all title companies are the same. They all offer the same services, and in Texas, they all charge the same for title insurance. However, it’s like saying that all Realtors are the same, or all home inspectors or insurance companies are the same.

A closer look will reveal that there is often a difference in the level and quality of service between companies. Working with a reliable, experienced, and caring professional can make the difference between an easy, positive transaction and a nightmare experience.

Which title company you get into bed with can be like a marriage. Regardless of how it goes, you’re stuck with them for the duration of the time you own your home.

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I have been hearing all week long that something was afoot at North American Title Company, that a big announcement was coming Friday, and that there has been a lot of personnel movement as of late.

Well, comes word that North American is merging some of its operations with a Silicon Valley-based start-up that was created to disrupt and streamline the $15 billion title insurance industry with technology. It’s called fintech: computer programs and other technology supporting or enabling banking and financial services, and it’s one of the fastest-growing investment areas for venture capitalists.

The company is States Title, and the CEO is Max Simkoff. The two-year-old company’s motto:  “We believe real estate should be simpler, safer, and cheaper to buy, to sell, and to own.”

As we know, buyers use title insurance when buying and financing the purchase of a home. I have often wondered exactly what Title companies do, hence our own Lydia Blair has been educating us the last few months. (And then there are isolated, rare Title Company nightmares.) Basically, title agents scour public records to ensure that buyers (and lenders) avoid liens and ownership disputes on properties, and guarantee full ownership of a property.

But by using technology to scour public records, tech title companies could charge buyers less, which could also eliminate the use of title agents: industry experts say that could result in a 25 percent savings for consumers on title premiums.

Title companies are also highly regulated. So it was a pretty big deal when States Title, a California-based start-up, was approved by regulators this August. States was the first tech-focused title company to be approved in the Golden State. California’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, believes “new technology and more competition would help lower costs for consumers”.

“Title-insurance transactions are often labor intensive and suffer from delays,” Jones said in a statement. “States Title uses a digital platform which is data-driven and automates the process.”

(Speaking of disruption, just wait ’til blockchain hits the title biz.)

According to The Real Deal, the title industry has historically been dominated by four companies: Fidelity National, First American, Old Republic, and Stewart Information Services Corporation. Fidelity bought Stewart for $1.2 billion in early 2018. But Disruptors are creeping in:

But tech has started to play a larger role in the industry. The startup company Spruce recently raised $15.6 million, and Daniel Price’s OneTitle launched in 2014. OneTitle focuses on issuing policies, while Spruce focuses on acting as title agents. Price previously told TRD that he thinks title insurance “is at a major inflection point. This is an industry that has seen perilously little innovation for more than a century.”

North American, which was founded in Dallas, was acquired by national homebuilder Lennar Corporation last year and is a wholly-owned subsidiary.

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Background Checks

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When buying or selling a home, get ready to reveal some private details through background checks. We’re going to pry, inspect, confirm, clarify, authenticate, and document a lot about you, your finances, and the property. Some of the surprises we unearth would shock your mother, but maybe not your banker.

Just how deep do the folks involved in your transaction probe? Well, there isn’t any kind of testing that involves getting ink on your fingers or peeing in a cup. Nor do we care about your driving record, your education level, your health, or your résumé.

But we will start with requiring your Social Security number and date of birth. We’ll also need to know your past and present marital status, and where you plan to reside after the sale.

As a seller, we’ll run a search of both your name and the property. When something unexpected pops up, like an Abstract of Judgement, a tax debt, or a couple of child support liens, we’ll tell you. This would be the time to ensure your spouse is aware of it as well.

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