By Broderick Perkins
Here's an unexpected bonus for selling your own home -- you get to choose your own title or escrow company.
Sellers actually have a contractual right to pick any service provider, including the title or escrow company, but sellers who hire real estate agents rarely do. By tradition, the listing agent virtually always preselects who'll handle escrow, based on an agent's "working relationship" with companies.
Buyers have less choice.
"When the property is sold, the title company has been selected. The buyer's agent is not going to insist on another company and risk losing the deal," said William Singh, broker-owner of InTouch Realty in San Jose.
That's out of touch with reality.
Working relationships may begin with good intentions, but if it continues without periodic, objective reviews, it becomes a personal preference not necessarily in your best interests.
"It just feeds the Realtor's strategy to keep the consumer dependent and ignorant," said Becky Swann, president of the International Real Estate Digest, IRED.com.
Also, major suits filed this year claim title and escrow companies routinely charge consumers more than is due, sometimes for services not rendered.
The choice is yours.
Here are a few tips to help you choose your own title or escrow company.
-- Educate yourself about escrow.
-- Begin with several referrals from those you trust, family, friends, co-workers, and others who've recently had a satisfactory escrow. Don't let a do-it-yourself bias cause you to over look a referral from a real estate agent.
"We work closer with escrow officers than consumers. We know who the best officers are," said Robert Aldana, host of "Let's Talk Real Estate," a South San Francisco Bay community cable program.
-- Ask for a referral to the title or escrow officer, not the company. The officer should be familiar with the type of home you are selling, particularly condos and multiplex homes.
-- The escrow office should be conveniently located or able to tap branches near you.
"I've had to travel to some town close to the real estate agent's main office, or near the seller, usually at rush hour, to sign off on the papers. When we were the sellers, I did not want to have to travel more than a few miles to get to the escrow office," said Grace Morioka, owner of Commoncents Management, a San Jose condo management firm.
-- Consider a professional who is patient, exacting and willing to give you the time and information you need to understand escrow.
"If the escrow person is "short" with you or you are put on hold for a long time, it is probably an indication of the type of service you can expect," said Jim Cortese, a vice president with Stewart Title in San Jose.
-- Compare costs. Title and escrow fees can vary by hundreds of dollars. Ask for all escrow costs from title insurance and escrow service fees to all the little so-called "garbage fees" that crop up in escrow.
Broderick Perkins has been a consumer journalist for 20 years. Experienced in print, electronic, and consulting journalism, he is chief executive editor of San Jose, CA-based, DeadlineNews.Com, an editorial content and consulting firm.