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If the Obama administration's proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency passes into law, that agency would oversee many consumer financial products, including the title insurance, which is now largely state regulated.

But consumers don't have to wait for the political infighting to subside before they get good service for a decent price.

Understanding the process can shave hundreds of dollars off the price and protect you from abuse.

Here's a brief primer on title and escrow services.

Title companies are hired, in part, to issue title insurance protection for home buyers and lenders. Lenders require the service to protect them against loss resulting from claims by others against your new home.

The title company investigates the title to make sure it is clear of any encumbrances, such as liens or judgments, forgeries or fraud and any other title anomalies and then issues a policy to protect you from any claims that turn up later. Because title searches are conducted each time the home changes hands or, perhaps, during a refinancing, the searches rarely turn up title claims, but you have to pay for the search.

Escrow services provide a neutral third party, through which is funneled the paperwork, money, transaction instructions and other details of a home purchase or mortgage refinance. The companies hold onto, and then exchange, disburse and transfer deeds, other documents and monies related to the transaction.

In some areas, escrow attorneys provide the escrow service. In other areas, combined title and escrow companies do the work. In most cases, title and escrow services are purchased as a package.

Local custom dictates who -- the buyer or the seller -- pays for what, or the costs can be negotiable between the buyer and seller.

All the expenses associated with title and escrow costs from tiny recording fees to title insurance premiums can add up to thousands of dollars, and those fees can vary widely from one company to another.

What many real estate consumers overlook is that they can also negotiate with the title and escrow companies and shop around for the best deal.

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