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Jeremy Hobson: We can blame a lot of things for contributing to the weakness of the housing market -- too many houses, too few jobs, banks that are unwilling to lend.

But LA Times consumer columnist David Lazarus says we should also blame the title insurance industry. David, good morning.

David Lazarus: Good morning.

Hobson: So first explain what title insurance is.

Lazarus: It's essentially a product that allows the lender to know that the property is yours, that there haven't been any changes in your life, that there are no liens against the property, and then the lender can then proceed with confidence that everything's on the up and up.

Hobson: OK, so what's the problem? How is title insurance holding us back from a healthy housing market?

Lazarus: The problem is that a lot of people are refinancing within a relatively short space of time; oftentimes within a single year. And as a result, they're asking, 'Wait a minute, why do I have to pay full freight again on the title insurance when somebody has checked these records just a few months ago?'

Hobson: So when you refinance your loan, you're having to pay for a brand new title insurance?

Lazarus: Exactly. Now, title insurance companies say this is fully fair because they can't know what has happened to your property even days after the last refi -- and they have a good point there. On the other hand, we need to be a little reasonable about this. If a title company is doing a search of public records within a relatively short space of time, much of its work has already been done. And that's why title companies routinely will offer discounts of 20 percent or more for a second refi within a short space of time, because even they are conceding that it's not as hard to do this the second time around.

Hobson: So what can people who have to dabble in the world of title insurance do?

Lazarus: Shop around. It turns out that the various title companies offer different rates for these services, often varying by hundreds of dollars. So make sure your mortgage broker or your real estate professional shops around for the best deal. And then, if you are refinancing within a relatively short space of time, ask about the discounts. Often times, title companies aren't very forward in saying, 'oh yes, we'll provide the discounts' unless you ask. So make sure your broker does that.

Hobson: Thanks for giving us another thing to worry about, David.

Lazarus: Always here to help.

Hobson: L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus, thanks a lot.

Lazarus: Thank you.

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