US-style title insurance threatens solicitors' remortgaging business

THE HEAD of a leading conveyancing firm has joined forces with an insurance company to announce title insurance plans which could deprive conveyancing solicitors of a large slice of their work.

Brian Marson, of Bromley firm Marsons, has become a director of a UK subsidiary of US insurer First American Title Insurance Company.

And the solicitor says he is in talks with several UK mortgage lenders over the insurance company’s plans for a bulk title issuing scheme for remortgages which would cut out the need for a solicitor to be instructed.

If Marson’s scheme takes off, the insurers would provide lenders with an insured statement of title which would cover an adverse local authority search entry as well as solicitor or borrower fraud and forgery.

Marsons, which is hooked up to the Land Registry by computer, would become the title issuing agents for the policy.

The potential market for the service is huge. Last year there were more than 300,000 remortgage transactions.

“The lenders could close a mortgage deal within a few days, rather than having to wait the three or four weeks it can take if they instruct a solicitor,” said Marson.

“It will give them control over their planning.”

Title insurance of the kind envisaged by Marson has dominated the US market for a long time where, unlike in the UK, the accuracy of the land registry is not guaranteed.

Up until now the guarantee which is attached to the UK land registry has been seen as a fundamental barrier to the importation of a similar system in this country.

However, building societies and banks may be attracted to an insurance package which could both speed up their transactions and provide better cover than the land registry guarantee.

In Canada, which has a similar legal system to the UK’s, a title insurance scheme has recently been introduced.

Michael Coogan, head of legal services at the Council of Mortgage Lenders, commented: “Title insurance is an interesting idea which would be worth looking into.

“The CML is always in favour of streamlining the conveyancing process and the idea might have some attractions to lenders, although it is not something we have looked into in detail so far.”