Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Small Agents Deserve a BIG Voice

I have been in the business for 13 years, the bulk of those years have been spent within Small Title Agents. In short, Small Agents are different. We don’t have Order Entry Personal, HUD Prep Staff or Policy Officers… Small Agents have a “Donna” who does 13 different jobs before lunch and we have an “Annette” who searches, examines, types, closes, records and remits, while somehow finding the time to pay the office bills. Now I find myself an Owner of a Small Title Agency and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I surmise that there are three main challenges that, while shared by Large Agents and Underwriters are magnified by our size, the first of which is Time Management. I simply do not have the time to keep up on every legal debate that challenges the industry. My time is spent logging orders, attaining new business, typing commitments, closing loans… You get the picture. Small Agents are lucky if they get to eat lunch, or even dinner for that matter, yet alone find time in their day to keep up on the progress of the latest Senate Bill that could potentially affect their Agency.

The second problem I see is a Lack of Resources. Yes, we do fine. Bills are paid, payroll met, remittances up to date. The real issue is that our small size means our human resources are limited. When you’re a company of 4 or 5 people, a busy day trumps all else. When we have a 7 closing day or a 12 order day… It’s all hands on deck! This lack of additional resources makes it very difficult for us to stay up to date on new regulations. Moreover, the lack of resources makes it difficult for Small Agents to plan for changes within our industry, as it’s harder to see them coming.

Third and perhaps the most unfair, small agents suffer from a Lack of Political Respect. Yes, the big boys underwrite us, but we aren’t them. Not only is our Industry a Cornerstone of our modern society, the role of the small agency is absolutely key to insuring the backbone of our nations economy. Our customers may love us and respect our opinions and we may be very well thought of within our City or County but the fact remains that alone we just don’t have the voice we need.

It is for all these challenges and more that I choose to be a member of the ILTA. Membership is the first step towards alleviating the great burdens of the challenges I believe we face. Membership and Participation within the ILTA allows me to focus whatever time I have on potential regulatory matters that are going to alter my business. ILTA gives me the added Educational resources that I need to keep my staff’s knowledge up to date in this changing environment. And most importantly, ILTA Membership and Participation gives me the Political Respect that I need to make sure that my livelihood and the livelihoods of my employees are being taken into consideration.

Make no mistake; the Title Insurance Industry is under attack from multiple sides. Small Agents, it has never been more important for our voices to be heard. I hope to see you on ILTA membership roles and indeed hear your thoughts on the challenges you face at meetings and conventions to come.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I'm Back!!!!


It's been a while and I'll be back with more of my rantings on the Title Insurance industry here very soon. Just wanted to show you all the reason I was away for so long! My baby girl Emaline...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Inspiration…

It comes from mysterious places, doesn’t it? I had just enjoyed a movie with my 9 months pregnant wife when I happened to notice a facebook message on my blackberry. My inspiration came from a simple reply to a status update in which a friend of mine was sad because her husband had gotten home from work after 10 PM. You see my friend’s husband just happens to be in management for a competing title company in the Chicago area, and yesterday was the famous Last Day for a Refi to Close and Fund. So, what was the reply that was the inspiration for this blog post? The reply read, “Gotta love the title business.”

Is this what the Title Business has become? Since when did we have to work 60 or 70 hours in a week to insure first lien? Shoot, is insuring first lien even what this is about anymore? I don’t want to be part of a business that forces us to work like dogs for our nightly bowl of kibble. The title business isn’t and shouldn’t be preformed in sweatshop like conditions. I’m ashamed that a small group of companies have changed the perceptions of an entire industry. I can’t tell you how many title company owners I have heard utter the phase that they are, “a family first company.” I guess that by “family first” they must mean their own. How can the ownership expect their staff to work from 7 am to 9 or 10 pm and still have a family life? Shame on you…

I remember the title business used to be about doing a good search of the public land records, providing an accurate commitment, closing and funding a transaction as per the lenders instructions and providing a clean title policy to the Lender and/or Owner. Now it seems as thought the business has changed into doing a quick search on the Internet, providing a clean commitment no matter what, waiving exceptions via credit reports or just because you don’t want to upset a client, preparing deeds and legal documents even thought it’s the unauthorized practice of law in Illinois and very much illegal, and finally closing whenever and wherever we can… Then maybe, once it’s all over with, you might get a policy a year or two later. Does this sound familiar to anybody? Shameful and sad.

I do love the title business, but I refuse to accept that this is what its become. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, maybe I’m out of touch, but maybe, just maybe I like going home to my family just as much as my customers do.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reaction to ALTA’s Policy Licensing Initiative…

The American Land Title Association (ALTA) has been long accused to caring only about the interests of the Underwriters, or more appropriately, their Donors. ALTA is too slow to change, lacks the clout it deserves, and generally fails to inspire the rank and file in the title industry. For too long, ALTA has been nothing more than a Social Club for the CEOs and Vice Presidents of our Underwriters. I have to admit, that up until the last few years, I was in agreement with this line of thinking. You might ask, what has changed? Why am I now seeing some light at the end of the tunnel of these problems? Simple, I have gotten involved.

Our state Land Title Association’s are the backbones of ALTA. We are the support structures that give ALTA its strength to tackle the issues that affect us all. Now, it is true that I am often disappointed with the lack of speed with which ALTA works, but I attribute this to the general speed of Washington politics. Action comes slow, but in this marketplace, inaction as opposed to overreaction can be a positive thing.

I see the most glaring problem with ALTA being its lack interested parties. Our industry, especially when it comes to our agents, fails to take proper ownership in our Association. How is ALTA going to advocate for us when we don’t stand up and be counted. ALTA sometimes makes this difficult, with yearly membership fees, exorbitant pricing for conventions, and their confounding hierarchy, but the benefits of making your voice clear are abundant.

It is with great hope that I say I support the Policy Licensing Initiative. I hope that writing that $195 check to ALTA each year (or hopefully a bit of a larger check for membership) will force agents to speak up. Let ALTA know what is affecting your day to day business. Tell ALTA what current legislation will do in your marketplace and to your company. As much as I like Mike Pryor, he isn’t a mind reader and neither is the Board of Governors. They represent a segment of the industry but members and non-members alike must take some ownership in the importance of our national image and our national product. At worst ALTA now has a larger war chest to fight the battles that need fighting, but at best, ALTA now has a new pool of invested parties to lead us into the next generation of Title Insurance.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Looking ahead…

At the Illinois Land Title Association we are a month from our first Committee meetings of the year. Our new President Paul Cozzi would like to usher in a new age of mentorship within our industry. I firmly stand behind this initiative as without the mentorship of my first boss to the mentorship of my current ownership, I wouldn’t be were I am today. I can’t imagine a time when I will know all there is to know about Title Insurance, but I sure as heck can pass down the knowledge that I have gained over the years.

We are a hard industry to learn… Somewhere between office work and a skilled trade. I would ask all of my readers to help the younger employee within your company. Help them to gain the knowledge that you were taught. This is the same knowledge that will guide our industry for generations to come.

Have a wonderful Labor Day Weekend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What do consumers want…

I mean what do they really, really want? When a consumer is choosing a title company with which to close their transaction, what are they looking for? For that matter, are they looking? If not, why? With all the press going to companies such as Entitle Direct where supposedly the consumer can save 35% on their title charges, you would be downright stupid not to shop around. The local title companies must only exist to prey on the consumer and charge exorbitant and outlandish fees from their neighbors. It seems to me that the mysterious stranger from out of town must always have your best interests at heart.

I would argue that Entitle Direct has actually hit on something with their approach. Consumers should absolutely shop around for title insurance! I can’t stress this enough. Title Insurance is a must. Your lender is going to require a Policy on a refinance and you must furnish clean title to your new buyer on a sale. But when it comes right down to it, a title policy is a title policy. So Entitle and others like them take the approach that if the end product is the same, then price must be the only factor with which a consumer should comparison shop. As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.”

So if it’s not just price, what is it? The answer isn't that hard to figure out… Trust. The consumer must not only trust that the end product will protect them or their lender, but they also must trust that they aren’t being taken advantage of. The consumer wants to know that the policy they paid for is priced fairly and completed in a professional and safe manner. Why? Simple, in the end, Title Insurance is really Title Assurance.

Who can the consumer Trust? The internet is the wild wild west, anything goes. I don’t know anything about Entitle’s underwriting practices, but for the sake of this post, I’m going assume that they are even handed and accurate. But here’s the thing, you don’t know. They are their own underwriter, they don’t have to answer to Chicago Title, Fidelity National Title or Old Republic when they aren’t doing something correctly. Your local ALTA title agent does and has strict standards set by their underwriter. Some may call us the middle man, but we have checks and balances. The consumer has true Title Assurance.

Now as to the 35% that Entitle Direct is going to save you. I don’t fault them for marketing this way. I don’t know what the other markets they do business in are pricing at. I can tell you this though, in the Chicago Market, where I do business. I am going to save you 42% on a refinance… Not on some fictional rate but off of Entitle’s quote. IS that a special deal? No… That is every single day. Am I special? No, not really. The market dictates that a refinance should cost a certain amount in Chicago and Entitle is just that much more expensive.

Would I have put a link to the Entitle Direct website if I coulldn't beat them? So don’t believe the hype… Shop around, but shop local first! You’ll save time, save money and you’ll be Assured of that fact. You can Trust in that fact!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not so Scientific, but…

The results are quite clear. With 57% of the vote, Old Republic is your favorite national title underwriter. No other underwriter managed to garner over 14% support. I’m not really sure that this was truly a vote for Old Republic, as much as it was a vote against the Fidelity family. Am I wrong? Why?

Have a great week!