Tim Gerding considers himself a smart, dollar-conscious consumer.

The Wells Fargo analyst got a great deal on a used truck by visiting Craigslist, and he recently saved hundreds of dollars by shopping around for insurance.

But Gerding, who bought a home in Champlin last month, didn’t question his Coldwell Banker Burnet agent when the only company the Realtor recommended for closing the deal was Burnet Title — even though the two companies share the same owner and Burnet charges more than other title companies surveyed by the Star Tribune.

“I’m kind of kicking myself,” said Gerding, who could have saved about $250 by going elsewhere for closing services. “We could have put that money toward paint in the new house.”

Burnet officials declined to comment.

Like most home buyers, Gerding didn’t know how to find a good deal on title services. But most title companies make it easy by putting an online fee calculator on their websites.

In a Star Tribune survey of the 20 leading companies in the Twin Cities, the total price for insuring a $250,000 home with a $200,000 mortgage — including all fees and premium costs — ranged from $1,600 to $2,000.

If buyers are depending on a recommendation from a real estate agent or loan officer, they should get more than the name of a title company, according to the Minnesota Commerce Department. Commerce suggests the following questions: “Why is your Realtor referring you to the specific company? Does your Realtor have any business or marketing arrangements with the company? Will your Realtor receive any referral fees or other compensation (such as meals, free advertising, sports tickets or prizes) if you use the company?”

Under federal law, real estate agents are required to disclose any financial ties between their companies and any affiliated title companies at the time they make a referral. They cannot, however, require a customer to use the affiliated company.

If real estate agents are fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities, they would help buyers find cheaper coverage, said Prentiss Cox, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and former consumer advocate for the Minnesota attorney general.

“The vast majority of people have no idea that they have a choice here,” Cox said. “It’s a huge consumer problem.”

Jeffrey Meitrodt