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Searchers, Abstractors, And Examiners
by Robert Franco | 2007/12/24 |

Does anyone know the difference between a "searcher," an "abstractor," and an "examiner?" These terms are used so interchangeably today that you have to wonder if anyone can even make a distinction between them - well, I can. My definitions may be different than others, and some may not agree with me. But for what its worth, let me explain my take on it.

Searcher: Searchers were used in the equity market for property reports. Rarely was title insurance issued on the work product of a searcher. They can find a copy of the deed, get tax information and find any open mortgages and liens. Barring anything complicated, they may even be able to report a proper title vesting. Vendor management companies built large networks of unskilled searchers that could quickly churn out basic current owner searches.

I have known many "searchers" that I would never trust to search a title for title insurance purposes. They don't possess the depth of knowledge necessary to identify many potential problems that can be crucial when insuring title.

Abstractor: Abstractors were used to provide all of the information necessary for a title agent to review to make determinations of insurability. They report all of the same things a searcher would, but they also look deeper and understand more complex issues surrounding title. They were able to spot appurtenant easements, erroneous court proceedings, future interests, reversionary interests, problems affecting access, etc. Abstractors would report all of these things, and provide copies of those that the insurer should review before making a determination of insurability.

Abstractors know how to create a proper chain of title and search all of the various interests out to report a complete and accurate title vesting. They are able to show any missing interests that may need to be corrected prior to issuing title insurance.

Examiners: Examiners possess all of the skills of an abstractor, plus many of those of a title agent. They are familiar enough with not only the title but also the insurance side of the equation to be able to state the requirements for insuring the title. A good examiner can prepare a title search suitable to go straight to a typist to prepare a title commitment. The agent can then review the commitment and the examiners search notes for accuracy and sign off on it.

So why is this even important anymore if the industry has completely lost sight of the differences? Simply because we have too many searchers that consider them selves to be abstractors - or even examiners. They don't realize their own limitations and most of the time, neither do their clients. Clients expect to be able to pay abstractors and examiners the same as they have always paid their searchers, and they expect the same miraculous turn-around times as well. After all, a search is a search, right? ...WRONG.

A searcher should never be used for a title search that will be used to issue title insurance. There is much more to issuing a title policy than finding deeds and mortgages. Searchers simply do not have the expertise to recognize the complicated title issues that must be identified prior to insuring title. Give me a smart chimp and couple of free weekends and I could probably teach him to be a searcher... but he will never be able to be an abstractor or examiner.

What is the effect we have seen from losing sight of the difference between these categories?

Source of Title Blog ::

  • Declining prices: If the client doesn't know the difference, they expect an abstractor to provide their searches for the same prices they pay their searchers.

  • Automation and Off-shoring: If it is perceived that there is no difference between a searcher and an abstractor, then it is assumed that they are all providing deed and mortgage information. That can readily be obtained online, whether automated or compiled manually in India (they might even be using smart chimps, who knows).

  • Lack of Respect: Because so many searchers consider themselves to be abstractors, and the industry cannot distinguish between them, the entire profession is grouped under the same umbrella. Despite the additional skill and knowledge of the abstractors and examiners, they are judged to have the same value of the unskilled searchers.

  • Higher Claims: Searchers are often used interchangeably as abstractors and examiners in the title insurance industry and their lack of knowledge causes more claims. It isn't necessarily the short search alone causing the higher claims, it is that searchers are used rather than abstractors and examiners. Often times, a current owner may be sufficient for title insurance purposes. Though I don't agree with the practice, if the current owners were prepared by more skilled abstractors or examiners, some of the claims that result could be avoided.

  • Rising E&O Rates: E&O companies do not distinguish between searchers and abstractors either. Thus, they insure the work done by searches and their claims affect the rates of the professional abstractors and examiners. Even if the searcher, abstractor or examiner doesn't have E&O coverage, there may still be a claim on the title agent's or VMC's E&O policy. So long as the work is being done by the inexperienced searchers, we all pay the price of higher E&O rates.

  • Lack of Regulation: I have often argued that what this industry really needs is regulation of those preparing the evidence used to issue title insurance policies. However, without any generally accepted definition of "abstractor," as the term is used generally to refer anyone who prepares title searches, how can they be regulated? Regulation should exist to ensure that only skilled professional abstractors and examiners are used to provide title evidence used for insuring titles. The first step is dividing up the categories of those providing title searches to distinguish between the qualified and unqualified.

Of course, all of this is irrelevant if the industry doesn't care. And, it appears that many do not. I don't know how many times we have reported title problems that our clients do not correct. If they are going to insure over defects regardless, then there is really no point in spending more money and waiting longer for a reliable abstractor to provide a quality product.

I have shared a few stories before of title agents that don't know the difference between a lien and an easement. I had a client inform me that our search was "deficient" because we reported an easement with no amount. When I told her that it was an easement, there was no amount, she replied "Well then how am I supposed to get a pay-off?" She then proceeded to tell me that I had to revise my report and remove the easement because "they didn't ask for them." We did not.

Once, when we reported a husband and wife in title as tenants in common, we received a mortgage to file that had "DECEASED" typed on the husband's signature line. When I called to inform them that his interest would need to probated, they told me to file it anyway. We returned it to them with a note explaining the problem and they sent it directly to the recorder's office to file anyway.

If underwriters continue to sign agents that really have no business being in the title industry, quality title searches really don't matter. It is really no wonder so much of the title work is being done online and off-shore. You can easily obtain a legal description and mortgage and lien information online. If they aren't going to pay any attention to the contents of the search, why waste the money?

What this industry really needs is more agents who understand title insurance, who care about the quality of title work they receive, who listen to their abstractors, and... a way for them to differentiate between a searcher and an abstractor or examiner. Until that happens - until we have some quality assurance from end to end - the industry will continue to spiral into decay. Title insurance will continue to lose its value and we will see more claims, higher E&O, and more punishment in the press.

Robert A. Franco


Categories: Abstractors, E&O Insurance, Title Industry, Title Problems

1956 words | 9035 views | 11 comments | log in or register to post a comment

yes robert the title business is go...
yes robert the title business is going to the dogs. i see lots of wanna be searchers, abstractors, or examniner. they take them right off the farm out of the fields from plowing and put shoes, a shirt on them and give them a clipboard and say go do some titles. some of which don't even carry title insurance.  
by charles jetter/cfj enterprises llc | 2007/12/24 | log in or register to post a reply

Here is what I can gather the rough...
Here is what I can gather the rough definitions are in the Philadelphia area:

Searcher: Used for anyone who walks into the courthouse to do search work for a living.

Title Searcher: Same as your definition of abstractor.

Credit Searcher: Same as your definition of searcher.

Some title searchers get annoyed when they hear any credit searchers call themselves “title searchers”. A few credit searchers refer to themselves as “abstractors” to make their jobs sound more sophisticated, but our definition of what is an abstractor hasn’t existed for decades since no one has prepared a proper “abstract of title” in the area for decades.

Examiners: Examiners rarely go to the courthouse, but instead stay in the office and examine the briefs of title and write-ups prepared by the searchers to verify what to certify on the title and what objections to raise based on matters both inside and outside of the record. In the old days, the examiners would look at a fully prepared abstract of title and prepare the write-up (title report) themselves. The examiner had usually been an abstractor for several years prior to becoming an examiner. Examiners, by our definition, have largely disappeared. Instead, the job of examination is usually done either by the title agent or the title searcher, especially the independent searchers whose customers don’t understand the examination process.

Abstractor: Abstractors would take the chain of title and run every name in every office in the courthouse and make “abstracts” (copies or written summaries) of every document that they found under the names they ran including those that likely had no affect on the title. They would then collect all of these documents and put them in the form of an “abstract of title” which they would hand to an examiner to review and generate a title report (write-up). The last abstract of title I ever saw from my county was made sometime in the 1960s.
by David Jenkins | 2007/12/25 | log in or register to post a reply

Robert: If clients believe that tit...
Robert: If clients believe that title insurance will solve everything (no matter how poor the search) why should they care? If they understood that simply filing a claim may take months to deal with and you may not like the answer. All while this is going on your title is frozen , can't sell or mortgage the property. Maybe this type of knowledge will help clients seek title companies that show important items , not "insure over" them by being "silent" due to a lack of knowledge. 
by edward | 2007/12/26 | log in or register to post a reply

Jee Wiz Wally, you mean I have to R...
Jee Wiz Wally, you mean I have to Run every name in the title for a specific amount of time. Can't I just put in the address and see what comes Up. What gives with these jufgments they didn't show up under the Address, Why can't I put my Pool over that Utitlity Servitude & What gives with this predial Servitude & Restricitive Covenants? Easement whats that LOL 
by Peggy Pond | 2007/12/29 | log in or register to post a reply

Without Title examiners, as the ind...
Without Title examiners, as the industry has seem to banish with their "save the company $$" standards, claims are going to happen in the very near future. It's unfortunate that so many of us that have mad careers in this industry are now backing away from what we truly love doing. I don't wish this upon any company or fellow title personel, but with what they had and what they now use, it's bound to happen, unfortunately.
JLM, California
by Jeanne M | 2007/12/31 | log in or register to post a reply

What easements? What County Aid Li...
What easements? What County Aid Lien? You mean there's really a thing called a "Quiet Title"?????? Does that really affect the PIQ????? OH MY! 
by Jeanne M | 2007/12/31 | log in or register to post a reply

Maybe Geico should adopt a new slog...
Maybe Geico should adopt a new slogan: "So simple, even an abstractor could do it!" 
by Scott Perry | 2007/12/31 | log in or register to post a reply

Here, Here Robert. You nailed the B...
Here, Here Robert. You nailed the BIG problem...the Underwriters do not seem to care about the quality of the Insurance they are underwriting. They will sign anyone who they perceive can bring in business, regardless of their experience or ethics(and they will give 80-92% of the premium.)

I can only HOPE that Blogs like SOT, and organizations like NALTEA can set a decent standard. I can only HOPE that a hand full of like-minded title pros will grow into a significant enough number that we can make a positive difference and influence Underwriters. But until Underwriter focus moves off the bottom line, I fear off-shoring (not just for title plant posting which I am really okay with) but for high-level abstractors and examiners will quickly take our place. We are very rapidly becoming analagous to the debacle of the sub-prime mortgage crash and for the very same reasons!
by Jeanne Johnson | 2007/12/31 | log in or register to post a reply

Great article & oh so very true...
Great article & oh so very true.
As I was told by an employee at a title company "it is worth the risk"!!!
by Amanda | 2007/12/31 | log in or register to post a reply

What am I?

Robert, After reading your article, I am really confused as to what or who I am.  I've always considered myself to be a very good Title Searcher, however, according to you, no one should use my title search reports for title insurance.  So, you tell me what I am.

I began my first job in the industry about 30 years ago after working as a mapping coordinator for the County Assessors Office and working as a Tax Assessor.  I was then, hired by a title company as a "title searcher".  After training classes of First American, I moved on to work for a Title Search Company, again hired as "title searcher".  Later, hired by another title company as "title searcher".  10 years experience at this time working as a "title searcher".  The title company I worked for, closed down and I took a position as "lead title searcher' with a real estate firm, whom was later bought out by a corporate national company whom kept me on as their "Property Expert", in which I trained other "title searchers", examined their searches and wrote commitments.  I left that company to work for myself, as, you guessed it, a "title searcher".  I went in to business for my self (as a title searcher) before merging with a title company whom kept me on as their "title searcher".  Left that title company to take a position with a new company as a title officer (fancy name for a title searcher who examines and write his own commitments.   A few years later, I went back to the previous company as a "title searcher" who after a couple of years realized that I was more than just a"title searcher" and renamed my position "sr. title searcher". My last day with that company was last Friday.  I am currently pondering as to whether go in to business for myself or search for another job in the title industry.  So, in my 34th year searching, what title do you feel that I should put on my resume?  Title Searcher, perhaps?  Tim Brouillet



by Cheryl Brouillet | 2011/05/10 | log in or register to post a reply

To Tim/Cheryl Brouillet...

I cannot tell you which category you fall into merely from your list of prior job titles.  That is, in part, the problem here.  The terms are used interchangibly today.  The point of my post was to show that the terms have meanings that are being ignored by the industry.

Which category you fall into depends on your knowledge level and how you do the job.  What you call yourself, or what other have called you in the past, are not really relevant to the job you do.

Given the fact that the industry seems to consider this a distinction without a difference, it probably doesn't matter anymore.  But, I find that kind of sad.

Robert A. Franco

by Robert Franco | 2011/05/16 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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