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Our title insurance is also high

Floridians pay more for title insurance, and have only about six providers to pick from, a report says.

By TOM ZUCCO
Published July 18, 2006


Florida homeowners are paying premiums as much as 136 percent higher than consumers in other states for comparable title insurance, according to a preliminary report released Monday by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

The report, funded by a provision of the 2006 Florida Legislature, showed that six title insurance companies wrote nearly all of the business in the state.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said OIR, which reviews title insurance rates every three years, will begin a more comprehensive study of rates.

Usually required to close a real estate deal, title insurance is protection against such things as unpaid taxes, liens or other problems with the title to a property. It is designed to provide assurance to the homeowner and lender that ownership can be transferred without encumbrances. Mortgage lenders require it for an amount equal to the loan, but the buyer pays the premium, usually up front.

Title insurance premiums in Florida totaled $1.8-billion in 2004, the latest year for which data was available.

The study found that was an increase of about 310 percent from 1995, attributable at least in part to the recent building boom and an increase in mortgage refinancing.

The average cost of title insurance was $2,048, or about 14 percent of settlement costs.

Among other conclusions in Monday's report:

- Average title insurance rates in Florida are 99.2 percent higher than comparable rates in surrounding states such as Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas.

- Title insurance premiums are a larger share of property and casualty premiums in Florida 5.4 percent than the U.S. average (3.6 percent).

- Six companies - Fidelity National Financial, Attorneys Title, First American Title, Land America, Stewart Title and Old Republic - wrote 99 percent of the premiums in Florida in 2004.

"We will combine the data from this study with an analysis of what consumers are presently paying to set fair and accurate rates for this industry," McCarty said in a statement.

Tom Zucco can be reached at zucco@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8247.