There are few problems with titles and when there are problems the title companies normally quickly solve them. Realistically locally title companies are probably seldom chosen because of their title duties. Their escrow duties are much more visible.
Real estate agents quickly identify individuals at title companies who put extra effort into making sure the escrow moves ahead smoothly and closes when planned. If the key title people move to a different company, the real estate agent will also probably try the new company to keep the same title person(s) working on her escrows.
Ask several agents which title company (and representative) they like to work with. As long as the company is one of the major companies, you will probably get a good title insurance policy and diligent escrow work.
The most visible action done by a title company for a buyer or seller is the estimated closing cost statement and final closing cost statement. A real estate agent can give a buyer or seller an estimate but the title company has more precise specific information. I have a web page which presents estimated closing costs which in turn shines light on some of the things that happen during escrow.
If it turns out you will be paying then the best advice I can give you is to use the company your Agent suggests. We all have long standing relationships with specific escrow officers and work as a team to deal with issues which may arise.
You have no reason to fear about kickbacks for such situations. The RESPA act is very effective in dealing with any illegal activities and guilty parties are severly punished even to the point of loosing their licence in addition to substantial fines.
p.s. Your crash course would be greatly facilitated by chosing a competent Realtor to guide you through the process. The reality of life is that when you set out you have no way of knowing what questions to ask.
eeny meenie miney moe?
strips of paper in a hat pick one?
Pick a number between 1 and 10
Picking a title company is much like picking any other company.
Do your research.
Check testimonials and complaints from others.
Usually the title companies do it right.
Ask your agent and their broker for their opinion.
Harold Sharpe - Broker
So Cal Homes
California Department of Real Estate Broker License # 01312992