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Title Insurance for your Home

When you are out looking for your new home, it’s not on the top of your mind: title insurance. But, it should be. It’s one of the most important parts of the home buying process. Something that can protect owners of real property events and matters that can be brought up from the past. Imagine spending your nest egg on a down payment, closing costs, and a few years of mortgage payments. Suddenly, an heir to a former owner is suing to obtain the home, arguing that it never should have been sold to you in the first place. There is no reason to worry if you have title insurance, yet many homeowners decline it. Once they know how it is created to protect them from unknown claims against their property that can pop up years down the road they are less inclined to resist.

Title insurance is much more than a lender requirement. It’s knowing that what you are buying is free of any third party claims to ownership or use of any part of it. It assures the homeowner that they are clear of anything that would affect the ability to sell or borrow against their new property.  After thousands of real estate closings here at Title First, we can give you a rundown of the most common issues we can save you from:

Mistakes on titles, especially lately, that are transferred through a sale of foreclosure without certain rulings met, thus making the transfer of the title invalid.

Mistakes within all the paperwork brought to a closing. Somewhere along the line, there may be a forged signature or recorded documents that have been signed by people without legal authority.

Mistakes made during the probate process for the previous owner that overlooked someone else’s rightful claim (undisclosed heirs) to the property of someone else’s interest in the property. Misinterpretation of wills and deeds.

Mistakes made in the description of the property.

Mistakes were made where claims, tax information, or easements had not been recorded properly in the public record.

Mistakes missed of liens on the property or judgments against the previous owner.

Mistakes in unpaid taxes or mortgages and unpaid debts.

Investors need to be alert when protecting their investments. Title insurance assures the homeowner that the title to the property purchased is free of any defects and is “clear to close”. It is a guarantee that all matters of record that could harm the title of the new property have been disclosed and resolved. Title insurance protects the homeowner against any potential claims should an undisclosed event threaten the ownership of the property. Give us a call today at Title First Agency: 1-866-320-8400

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Rising Energy Prices and Tips to Keep Your Bills Down

With prices surging worldwide for heating oil, natural gas, and other fuels, the U.S. government said Wednesday it expects households to see their heating bills jump as much as 54% compared to last winter.

Whether you heat your home with a furnace, boiler, or central heating, there are ways to save money on your monthly bill. Begin now to winterize your home as the cooler temperatures are ushered in. It’s always a good idea to have your furnace inspected as well as stock up on filters. A dirty filter makes your furnace/heat pump work harder which leads to higher heating bills. Change the filters about once a month.

There are simple things that add up that will help reduce your monthly bills.  A few inexpensive ideas:

Turn your thermostat down. According to the Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10 percent a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7-10 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours a day.  Those eight hours can be while you are away at work. They also suggest having your thermostat set to 68 degrees when you are at home and dropping that even lower when you’re sleeping.

Run your ceiling fans in reverse. Hot air rises, so run your ceiling fan at a slow speed in reverse (counter clockwise) to push the warm air back down to floor level. Most ceiling fans have switches that allow you to change the direction of the motor rotation. 

Take advantage of the sunny days. Open your curtains and blinds on the south facing windows through the day,and feel how that sun heats up your home! Make sure you close them again once the sun sets to keep that heat inside. 30% of heating loss in a home happens through the windows, so the thicker the curtains and the shades – the better!

Seal up leaks. Check out your walls, windows, ceilings, doors, light fixtures, outlets and switches for any escaping air. Look for things like hole and gaps. Adding simple weather stripping around your windows and doors is the easiest and cheapest way to help keep the warm air in your home. Ducts tend to get small leaks over time which allow the heated air to escape. An easy and inexpensive fix to these leaks is using metallic tape found at any home improvement store. When you are not using your chimney, make sure the flue is shut to prevent warm air from escaping.

The Bottom Line: Bundle up! It could be an expensive winter ahead when it comes to heating your home. Check with your electric company to see if they have “even billing” where you spread your winter payments out over the whole year, paying the same amount each month. For now, the first step is to find the problems around your home and identify where you could be more energy efficient.

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Examples of Upgrades That Might Not Add Value to Your Home

If you’re considering jumping into this crazy housing market or if you just want to make some upgrades that will retain value, remember that not all home improvements add value to a home. Talk to a Realtor before you start making any major improvements if you aren’t sure.

Upgraded bathrooms will add value, however, avoid going overboard. According to a National Association of Realtors Research Group study, updating a bathroom is one of the most popular home improvement projects in the United States. It’s also one of the few home improvement projects with the potential for increasing value close to how much you spent on it. But only if you do it right. Make it simple. Add fresh paint, updated lighting, and repairs to any damage you did to the bathroom over the years. If you can keep the remodel under $5,000 start to finish, you can potentially turn a profit. It’s tempting to go with high-end appliances and overly extravagant bathrooms definitely fit in the category of projects that will actually hurt your home’s resale value. 

Fresh paint will always help a home look its very best, but steer clear of bold, bright, or dark colors. Painting the interior or exterior is a low-cost improvement that makes a big statement.  White, tan, and gray in various shades can make a home look clean, open, and inviting, even if none of these colors are your favorite. You may prefer reds, purples, deep blues, hot pinks and the like, but don’t assume that buyers will. They may look at it as an expensive paint job they don’t want to tackle.

Buyers want an upgraded kitchen, but renovating using high-end appliances won’t guarantee you’ll get your money back when it’s time to sell. Instead, focus on the most worn or dated parts of the kitchen, such as flooring and countertops, and go for mid-range appliances if they even need an upgrade.

Many homeowners believe a swimming pool or hot tub will add value to their homes, but a pool or hot tub can decrease a home’s resale value, especially if you live in a cooler climate where pool season is minimal. The high cost of pools does not end after installation. Routine maintenance also is expensive and most buyers know this. Families with younger children tend to stray away from homes with pools. With the cost to build a pool, maintenance expenses and a very minor potential value increase, a swimming pool addition simply isn’t worth it for most homeowners.

The Bottom Line: Your best bet would be to contact a trusted professional Realtor in your area. She will be able to advise you about what you need to do to prepare your home for sale. Many buyers spend too much money upgrading their home before putting it on the market hoping they’ll recoup those costs in the sale and that does not happen often.

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Why Isn’t My House Selling?

Once ayou decide to sell your home, that’s all you want: to sell your home. The worst nightmare can be your home sitting on the market with minimal showing and no offers. How frustrating in today’s hot seller’s market.

There can be hundreds of reasons why a home isn’t selling, some more common than others.

Priced Incorrectly: Even if everything about your house is on point, if it’s priced wrong for the current market, it’s not going to sell. Be sure to use the best Realtor in your neighborhood who will provide you with a list price that they derived from looking through comps. The Realtor’s price may differ from the price you want to list it for, but at the end of the day, the listing price should be guided by comparables, not emotions. When residential real estate inventory is low, the market is hot for sellers. But that doesn’t mean buyers will overpay for a home. 

Online Photos are Subpar: The first stop for buyers is usually Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia as well as Realtor websites. If they see a home with terrible photos and bad lighting, they will keep on scrolling. Don’t use an i-phone, hire a photographer. Professional photos will make your home look at its very best online. They know all the right angles to give you the best light possible. They make homes look larger and showcase their best features. Make your home stands out against all the other homes people are seeing online. Money spent on photography could mean less time on the market and more money at closing time.

Beautiful Online but Not Once Inside: Too much furniture, galleries of personal pictures on the walls, or knick-knacks everywhere can make it too hard for buyers to imagine that they live in your house instead of you. Are your bathrooms clean? Your walk-in closet jam packed or organized? How about your appliances in the kitchen – do they sparkle? Not every buyer is a pet lover, so seeing, hearing, or smelling your dog or cat is something to be avoided at all costs. Don’t let your mess cost you a sale.

Needs to Much Work: A long list of maintenance issues can turn buyers off and potentially decrease the value of your home. More importantly, buyers expect the condition of your home to match the description. The more repairs that are needed, the less likely a buyer will want your house. Many buyers simply don’t want to deal with the cost or effort of doing repair work, even if it’s just a bunch of small repairs, such as tightening a handrail or replacing a broken tile.

No Marketing: You’ve got great pictures, but your Realtor might not be using the many social media resources. Social media should be an essential piece in your Realtor’s marketing package. There should be very focused marketing – your home should be directed towards the correct audience (age, financial status and motivation of buyer) for your home. Highly targeted online marketing can include specialty websites, targeted online ads, and targeted and boosted social media engagement. The more buyers your home is exposed to, the more showings there will be, and the higher chance of an offer being received.

The Bottom Line: Hire an experienced, knowledgable Realtor. To find that person ask neighbors, look at homes for sale in your area on the internet and see the photos used, look through social media at who is using it properly to market homes, and then interview several. Taking for granted the importance of hiring a top agent can stall the sale of your home.

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Seller’s Guide to Home Inspections

The challenge of the home inspection process is that there is so much relying on the outcome. The seller is almost always biased; he or she believes the residence is in better condition than it probably is. Thus, a pre-inspection might make sense and could be potentially more profitable.

A lot of sellers consider doing an inspection of their home before it is listed. Doing so enables the seller to fix any issues that would come up during the buyer’s inspection. Most major defects that are found were not known to the sellers and unfortunately one out of every 20 real estate transactions hits this bump and almost a third don’t even make it to closing because of issues that turned up during the buyer’s inspection.

While each inspector will bring a unique point of view to an inspection, all professional home inspectors cover the same areas. They will inspect the exterior including walking the roof to inspect the roof covering materials and
the other components above the roofline when it’s safe to do so. They will examine the eave gutters, downspouts, chimneys, grading, drainage, driveways, walkways, porches, decks, balconies, patios, exterior wall
claddings, and other exterior components.

They will inspect the plumbing, electrical, heating, and cooling systems including the operation of plumbing fixtures and water heaters. Inspectors examine the interiors of the electrical system main and sub-distribution panels
and the operation of heating and cooling equipment including, in some instances, removal of heating and cooling equipment access panels to permit closer examination of interior components. They will inspect solid-fuel heating
appliances such as wood stoves and fireplaces. Inspectors may enter under-building crawl spaces and attic spaces; open closets, cabinets, and cupboards; and enter and inspect every room of the home including garages and the function of automatic garage door operators.

Reasonable buyers should not expect a home to be perfect. However, they do expect it to be habitable and in decent shape. That means that some major defects will be a problem—possibly big enough to kill the sale if a home inspector finds them. There are three types of repairs that sellers are usually required to take care of after an inspection:

Structural Defects – any physical damage to the load-bearing elements of the home, including a crack in the foundation, roof framing damage, and decaying floorboards.

Safety / Health Problems – all homes must meet certain safety standards including mold, wildlife infestations, and exposed electrical wiring.

Building Code Violations – the absence of smoke detectors, use of non-flame retardant roofing material, and use of lead paint after 1978.

Once the inspector’s report is in hand there are two basic choices: Make the repairs or put it on the market at a lower price. Making certain repairs before you put your house on the market makes sense when the repairs are relatively small and inexpensive. There are cases when doing a repair before putting a house on the market won’t make sense. For major repairs, like fixing a crack in the foundation, it might be better off to have a contractor take a look and estimate the cost of repair, then lowering the sale price accordingly.

The Bottom Line: Sellers may use a pre-listing home inspection as a way to streamline the sale process in hopes of closing faster. Already knowing the issues that are going to come up during the buyer’s inspection, the home can be priced accordingly, which will give you stronger negotiating power.

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Perfect House, Wrong Neighborhood

When a home buying budget is tight, there’s always the temptation to buy a fantastic, big house in a less costly area. However, buying a home in an undesirable neighborhood might be a huge mistake, especially when it’s time to resell in the future. Occasionally, there are some qualities you can’t discover about a neighborhood until after you’ve moved in. But there are ways to scout out red flags ahead of time.

When you see homes that are rundown throughout the community, it could be a sign that the residents have given up and the neighborhood is in rapid decline. A street that is full of homes with broken/cracked windows, overgrown, unkempt yards, home vacancies, gutters filled with leaves and vines, sagging rooflines, pooling water in yards, homes with obvious chipping paint & broken fences should sound off an alarm. It’s a clue that the neighbors don’t take pride in their homes and with no upkeep, they can end up decreasing the property values for the entire street.

Are there too many houses that are for sale in the neighborhood? When driving through notice if there is an abundance of “for sale” or “for rent” signs. It everyone is trying to sell, it’s probably not a coincidence. There are plenty of reasons this could be going on, but it’s important to have your Realtor dig in and find out the details. Also, check with the local police department and find out about the crime – a real reason people would be making a mass exodus from the neighborhood.

How is the local school system? Are there fewer students enrolling? A sure sign of a healthy community is a blossoming school. Another reason to have a good, knowledgable Realtor with you – he/she should know all these details or at least where you can find the information about the schools.

Most streets have some cracks and bumps but are you noticing big potholes in the neighborhood? This could mean that this is an area of neglect in the city. Is the local park a mess? If you can see that there is no organization to take care of the streets, the parks and any public spaces in the neighborhood it is a sure sign that the property values are headed down.

Drive through the neighborhood on a beautiful day. Do you see people out and about? Kids playing ball in yards? Bike riding? Anyone sitting on front porches? A big red flag if you don’t see people. This could signal that residents stay inside and don’t allow their children to play outdoors because they don’t feel safe outside. Again, check with the local police department.

The Bottom Line: Attention to the surroundings of any neighborhood is important. Often, the focus is on the home and how perfect it is for you, but a huge part of the way you live is where you live. You’re purchasing a home AND the neighborhood. A good Realtor will remind you that the overall area the home is in can/will impact the resale value of the home. Buying a home in an area that is decreasing will create problems in the future.

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What To Expect From A Realtor When Selling A Home

Prepare Your Home

An experienced Realtor will know how to maximize your property value so you can receive top dollar for your home. They will identify what improvements you should make to your home to increase the amount it will sell for. They will have the name of the best inspector in your area to check on the roof, sewer, drainage, fireplace, pool, etc., and then advise you to complete the repairs or to leave as-is for the buyer. They’ll also be able to recommend the best service providers with reasonable prices: an inspector, handyman, painter, landscaper, stager, etc.

Stage Your Home

First impressions are everything. It only takes 10 seconds for a buyer to decide whether or not they love the home. Those 10 seconds start counting down as soon as the buyer steps through the front door. If you want to wow the buyer, make sure that the first thing they see makes them feel welcomed and inspired. Staging can help your place look its best during the sales period without the cost or expense of a renovation. Your Realtor will help you get your home to that point so that it makes that positive first impression among potential buyers, from the time they look at the listing photos, to the moment they walk in the door. Buyers can’t imagine themselves in your house if it’s full of your family photos or souvenirs from your vacations, so invested, good Realtors will be upfront with you on what should go into storage.

Professional Photos

Once the home is prepped and stage, it will be ready for a photoshoot. Be sure, when interviewing Realtors to hire that they offer professional photography as part of their service. Today, buyers are online searching for a home and the photos are what’s piquing a buyer’s interest in your home and prompting them to take the next step in contacting their Realtor. Your Realtor’s and connection to a professional photographer will produce images that resonate and appeal to sellers. And the more photos the better.

Determine the Price

Maybe the most important task of a Realtor is setting a fair and competitive selling price for your home that will increase your odds of a quick sale. He will create a comparative market analysis (CMA) to review comparable homes nearby that are currently on the market, pending, or have recently sold. This will give you more information on what people are willing to pay for homes that are similar to yours, so, together, you can set a competitive price. The best Realtor will avoid giving in and just saying a price that will make you, the seller, happy. He should price each home using his training, understanding of the market and comparable sales.

Market Your Home

Your Realtor should blow away others in this arena. She should know how to get the word out using every available social media platform as well as any marketing channels that are available. Check out her website and social accounts. If she is lacking, maybe she isn’t the one for you. The photos should be phenomonal as well as videos.

Negotiating and Closing the Deal

The job of a Realtor is to get the most money for their clients home in the least amount of time. His ability to negotiate relies heavily on the local and national real estate market. More often than not though, the purchasing and selling of a home occurs quickly and must make decisive financial decisions during the negotiation process.  He should know you, the seller well and be aware of what is and is not negotiable. If an offer is made, he should let any other parties that have been interested to give them a last chance to make an offer. He will guide you through all of the paperwork and steps that need to be completed in the closing process and be there to hand over your keys to the new owner. 

The Bottom Line: Selling a house involves a lot of work. There are so many little details and loose ends that must be taken care of. It is crucial that you interview and find the best Realtor in your area that can not only sell your home faster and make you more money, but they can also make the selling process much less stressful.

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Technology Upgrades That will Add Value to Your Home

Over the past few years, smart technology has become more accessible and affordable. Not only can smart upgrades make your home more convenient and efficient, but they’ll also make it much more attractive to potential buyers in the future. In this healthy seller’s market, smart renovations will improve the value of the property of your home. Enhancements like your thermostat, lighting, keypad door locks, fire detectors, and security camera systems.

Smart Thermostat: The advantage is its ability to learn a household’s patterns and adjust heating and cooling according to when a home is occupied or is about to be occupied. This reduces the use of heating and cooling systems when nobody is home for significant periods of time. During the Summer, you can set your thermostat to a temp while you are away so you do not waste energy. You are able to program the thermostat to come on a few minutes before you get home. Many are able to be adjusted by your smartphone while on your way home. A thermostat might seem to be a basic feature of your home, but it can have a big impact on your energy bills. Almost half of the monthly energy costs are controlled by your thermostat.

Smart Lighting: To really impress potential homeowners, a good Realtor will showcase the smart lighting by demonstrating it throughout your home. Smart lighting gives flexibility because it can be controlled by timers, as well as by setting up schedules and monitoring bulb statuses remotely. Smart lighting eliminates the switch on the wall. The network does all the work for you, automatically, though you can still program the lights to respond as you wish. They can feature sensors with the ability to identify people and when they need light, as well as how much they may need. Smart lighting will save money on utility bills. They’re very energy efficient; allows for calibration of when each light should be on. When you travel, you won’t have to physically alter the settings of each smart light or check to see if it is off before you leave. Everything can be done remotely, from afar.

Smart Keypad Door Locks: Install a smart lock to keep your house secure.  It’s as easy as using an app that you will program new access codes into the lock, even set schedules for when those codes can be used. You will be notified when it’s used, which gives you the ability to keep an eye on who is in your house and when.

Smart Fire Detectors: A smart fire detector is the one essential every home should have. Traditional alarms depend on you being around to hear them, a smart smoke alarm will alert you when something is wrong, no matter where you are. A smart smoke detector can warn you of a fire in its early stages, allowing you and your family enough time to get to safety. If there are any potential problems with smoke (or CO2) these can quickly alert you, no matter where you are in or out of the house, and even tell you what room it’s sensing trouble in.

Smart Security Camera Systems: The latest smart home security systems pair with your smartphone so you can view cameras, lock doors, arm or disarm security points, and receive instant notifications on alarm triggers wherever you are. Home security systems often lower your home insurance cost since they can reduce the likelihood of home invasion or theft. 

The Bottom Line: Be in control. Smart technology doesn’t just stop at security. Home automation functions enable you to control various aspects of your home, too—such as adjusting your thermostat and turning on or off the lights, coffee pot, or other appliances. If you ever forget to switch your bedroom light off in the morning before heading to work, for example, you can correct your mistake, from anywhere. All you need is a smartphone, iPad, or desktop computer. Upgrading to make your home smarter by adding smart features is among the five best (and easiest) ways to increase your home’s value as well as help it to sell faster than traditional homes due to the spectrum of advantages offered.

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What Home Buyers Really Want Right Now

What do new home buyers want? The answer is simple: updated kitchens and bathrooms. But that’s not all. Too many homeowners make the mistake of not adding home features buyers want the most when it comes time to sell their house. A few additions on the top of “most wanted” in a home list beyond the popular large, open kitchen:

HOME OFFICE: More than 13 million Americans work from home, according to the most current U.S. Census data, and all signs point to that trend continuing. That makes a home office important for many buyers. As you would list rooms like kitchen and living room, a greater amount of people working and schooling from home means “home office” should be included in the listing. Or, consider saying there is a room as a potential home office.

ACCESSIBLE LAUNDRY ROOM: According to a nationwide survey of recent and prospective homebuyers conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, 87% of respondents wanted a laundry room, making it the most-requested feature on their list. No more dark basements. Today’s home buyers seek a bright and large laundry room with plenty of storage, counter space for folding clothes and it’s always a plus to have a utility sink.

ENSUITE MASTER BATH:  If your master bathroom only contains a shower stall or a tub and not both, you’re going to be at a big disadvantage when it comes to selling. According to the latest annual report published by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), a whopping 76% of millennial buyers consider this their top must-have. When pushed to specify, potential buyers also revealed that they’d want the tub to feature whirlpool jets and that the shower should have multiple heads. 

CENTRAL AIR CONDITIONING: Nearly seven in 10 homeowners said they would be willing to pay more on central air conditioning — the same as new kitchen appliances and more than any other feature. Central air conditioning was considered “very important” by more than 60% of people in all age groups.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: This is a top home feature that has earned high marks to home buyers. As the cost of energy continues to rise, many home buyers today are looking for homes that are going to be easier and less expensive to run long term. Consider installing LED lights or using a programmable thermostat.  These features can be attractive to home buyers because they often result in saving money on utility bills.

The Bottom Line: Low inventory and hot listing features like the ones above can equate to multiple bids. If you are connected to the best Realtor in your neighborhood, he/she will be able to tell you what people are looking for right now.

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Title Insurance Myths

MYTH: Nobody needs title insurance

Everyone needs title insurance. You may think you know the entire history of the house you’re purchasing, but it’s impossible to know everything. Title insurance protects your right to the property in the event that a previously unknown heir claims ownership of the property if it is later revealed that the “sellers” were not the rightful owners, or if liens against the property resurface. If you have an owner’s title insurance policy, you will not be responsible for paying any of the fees associated with protecting your right to the property, should these types of issues arise.

MYTH: New construction homes don’t need title insurance

Your home could be brand new, but the land on which the house is built isn’t. Chances are, the land had several previous owners before construction began. Buying property on such land opens you up to certain risks tied to ownership issues from previous owners.

Disputed wills, easements, and property liens are just a few of the issues common to land ownership. You could get caught in between the mess and end up losing your resources or, worse still, your new property as well. Title insurance is crucial even for a new home and should be among your list of priorities during the closing process.

MYTH: If no one challenges ownership, then the title policy is a waste

At the closing, when you purchase a title insurance policy, the closing company does the bulk of the work behind the scenes. The title company goes through many steps to make sure that everything is in place by that time, including conducting a comprehensive title search and identifying any potential issues. The team investigates the entire history of the property to ensure that you, the buyer, will be aware of any problems that will need to be addressed before closing. By the time the closing comes around, the title company has completed a great deal of research and legwork for you.

MYTH: Title insurance offers only minimal protection

When you purchase a home, you receive the “title” to the property. This title is your legal right to own it. Early in the home buying process, a title search is conducted to review the history of the property and uncover any issues that could limit your right to ownership. Even after the most meticulous search of public records, there can be hidden title defects, such as tax liens, forged signatures, claims by ex-spouses, and recording errors. These title defects can remain undiscovered for months or even years after you purchase the home.

MYTH: Title insurance is the same thing as homeowner’s insurance

Homeowners insurance protects you so you have the resources to pay for any damage that might occur to your property. Title insurance protects you from anyone else claiming your home is theirs or for some prior owner’s back taxes or encumbrances or any other real property dispute

Title First Agency: Dedicated to innovation and passionate about service, Title First Agency is your comprehensive, nationwide resource for title and real estate settlement services. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Title First has branch offices throughout the Midwest and a robust virtual partner network throughout the country. Title First got its start in 1956 as an affiliate of a local law firm and has since emerged as one of the largest independent title agencies in the nation. Proudly servicing Realtorslendersbuildersdevelopers, law firms, buyers and sellers, Title First is equipped to serve your residential and commercial title and settlement needs.

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