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New Rates In Response To OCI Bulletin

Wisconsin title companies recently revised rates in response to State regulatory pressures from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (the OCI). There has been a lot of confusion over the recent rate changes. Indeed, there have been suggestions that the new rates have nothing to do with the OCI’s recent Bulletin and that title agents can continue to offer any rates or discounts they wish.

In fact, an OCI Bulletin sent a clear warning about rates and when discounts are allowed. The OCI warned title companies that:

  • Discounts must be made pursuant to a filed rate program.
  • Discounts can only be offered for risk-based reasons.
  • Discounts may not be made for purely competitive reasons.

This is a significant change in how the OCI regulates title rates. The result, however, has not been significantly higher rates. Title companies have filed new rates that are actually lower than previously filed rates. And they filed rate-discount programs that allow rates to remain competitive.

A Short History Leading Up To The New Rate Filings

The state has always required title companies to file their rates. The filed rates must be approved and cannot be “excessive or inadequate.” Over the last two decades, however, stiff competition led title agents to discount their charges from the filed rates on every single closing.  For instance, the filed rates on the sale of an average home ranged between $900 – $1,300. Yet, local title companies in Dane County and Milwaukee discounted from these filed rates, charging anywhere from $400-575. Title companies offered these substantial downward deviations from filed rates for strictly competitive reasons.  Arguably, the discounts were excessive and the rates inadequate.

The OCI Bulletin Set Limits on Discounts

The OCI signaled a significant change in enforcement of the law. The Bulletin reminded title companies that they must charge filed rates and these must be neither excessive nor inadequate. The OCI outlined when and how companies could offer discounts from filed rates, emphasizing that discounts could only be made based upon a “rate deviation program” that is based upon risk factors.

The OCI has made clear that it will no longer allow downward deviations (discounts) from any company’s filed rate based upon “market competition.”  Now, any discount must be (1) documented, (2) based on a filed “deviation program,” and (3) made for risk or actuarial reasons. This is a significant change in policy and enforcement.

New Rates – Lower than Previously Filed Rates

Most underwriters responded to the OCI’s actions by filing new rates that are lower than previously filed rates. They generally allow discounts if the title agency is provided with an older (prior) title insurance policy for the property. The filed discounts range from 10% to 20% of the rate and reflect the lower risk in insuring a property where there is already a policy in place.

The result will be a modest increase in prices in the Dane County market and a drop in rates in many areas of the state. In 2011, for example, a typical $200,000 title policy might have cost about $575. Today, that same policy will cost $665 – $750 (assuming the property had been insured previously). This represents an overall increase of less than 1% of the typical seller’s closing costs. Buyer title costs remain unchanged and refinance rates remain fairly static with lower prices on high end properties.

Overall, rates in Wisconsin are still very low compared to regional and national averages. Homestead Title writes for three underwriters and continues to have competitive rates and incredible service. For a rate sheet, contact us at Home@HomesteadTitle.net.

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