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2021 State of the Title Industry Roundtable Recap
ALTA Best Practices Business Strategy For Title Agents Industry News Title Agent Tips

2021 State of the Title Industry Roundtable Recap

Justin Nedell

2021 wasn’t so radically different from 2020 in terms of a continued adaptation to extreme volume, the ever-changing coronavirus environment, and embracing innovative approaches to closings. With steady growth in home prices, an ongoing high level of demand, and new ways to speed up the transaction process, we did our best to cope with this year’s tumultuous environment.

We hope by this point you’ve already seen the results from this year’s State of the Title Industry survey, but in case you haven’t, we gathered several industry experts for a discussion on this year’s results. The core topics of the conversation lead us to uncover several savvy strategies for tackling the challenges the title industry is facing, and those to come.

 

— Prefer to watch the webinar? Click here to view it.

 

A Little More About Our Panelists

We invited three notable professionals for our panel of experts in this year’s discussion. The first was Mary O’Donnell, the CEO & President of Westcor Land Title Insurance Company, the largest underwriter in the United States. She was also recognized as one of HousingWire’s 2021 Women of Influence.

Second to join us was Lindsay Hall Harrison, who works at a Florida Underwriting Counsel at Stewart Title. She’s joined us on several podcast episodes and has been featured in our blogs as well due to her experience on the Board of Directors for the Florida Land Title Association.

Our third panelist was Scarlett First, an agent at Frontier Secured Title Company in Goodland, Kansas. She and her company focus on providing optimal customer service in every real estate transaction.

This Year’s Primary Challenges

Hiring, Training, and Retaining Fresh Talent

For Mary, hiring and training ranked at the highest importance for her company. She suggested that companies think outside the box to tackle a diminishing labor force. This year’s survey results highlighted the growing number of professionals approaching retirement with an increase from 7.6% to 9.3% of people aged 65 and older. A slight increase was shown in the 18-24 years old group – up from 1.5% – indicating that new talent is joining the industry, however, an imbalance between newcomers and veterans is still apparent.

Mary gave us an example of creative initiatives – high school internships. Her company offers internships to high school students, not just college students, to allow them to learn on the job, as most title professionals have done themselves.

 

“Look at it [strategic hiring] as an investment.” - Mary O'Donnell

 

Although it can be challenging to carve out the time to work with students or young professionals, it’s a long-term solution to the labor challenges to come. Retaining this fresh talent and catering to their needs will keep them in the industry in the long run.

Promoting a Career in Title

Scarlett was on the same page as Mary in exposing young students to the title industry. When presenting to high school students in her community, they could not answer the question, “What is a title agent?” That experience has pushed her to be more vocal about the title industry in a manner that resonates with people unfamiliar with the many parts of a real estate transaction. 

 

Mary and Lindsay echoed this idea of promoting career opportunities within the title industry in a way that is appealing to younger generations. Millennials and Gen Zers want career growth, a good salary, and, more importantly, a job with a social impact where they can do something meaningful. The title industry offers all of those items.

Looking To The Future

Lindsay made the excellent point that the pandemic altered the paths of many young professionals, especially those in retail and hospitality. Attracting people who already possess customer service skills allows for a smooth transition into title industry roles. Additionally, she reminded us of matching personalities to positions so that a role makes sense for a candidate and they ultimately have a greater sense of fulfillment.

Exposing new people to the title industry extends to various cultural backgrounds. All three panelists agreed that diversity in hiring practices would be critical for the future of our industry.

 

Between 2020-2040, 70% of new homeowners will be Latino - Urban Institute

 

We as an industry must find methods to connect with homebuyers as more of them continue to come from distinct cultural backgrounds, speak other languages, and have unique needs in their homebuying journey. Cultivating a stronger level of connection with customers is vital to keeping up with the modern homebuyer.

Hiring people from other communities also creates a more extensive network of professionals who may be introduced to the industry and supports company growth. According to research, diversity also increases profitability for companies and allows their market reach to extend further than companies with a monolithic workforce.

 

Title Industry Technology: Does It Always Help?

Although many advancements in title production software bring new ways to complete a closing, it can sometimes add more strain than efficiency. All three panelists agreed that a lack of cohesion and understanding meant that new technology didn’t always speed up the process.

 

According to our survey results, 96.6% of companies use some sort of title production software.

They ranked in popularity as follows:

  • Softpro (20%)
  • Qualia (15.7%)
  • Resware (15.3%)
  • Closers’ Choice (11.9%)
  • DoubleTime (10.6%)

 

Remote Online Notarization Use Grows

Mary pointed out that the use of RON comes down to lender hesitancy and the lack of a fully cohesive process. The hybrid use of RON technologies can sometimes create more work for a title agent when part of the process is digital, and the other part is keeping it “old school.”

 

“If we could get on to a national set of minimum standards, we would be in a much better place for being able to move forward [with RON].” - Lindsay Hall Harrison

 

Lindsay echoed the lack of cohesion in law hampering the adoption of RON for certain transactions or buyers, particularly foreign buyers. Being able to work with customers that are beyond a title company’s region would open up more business opportunities. The mixed-use of RON coupled with conflicting laws and consumers lacking awareness slows the adoption process entirely.

Mary reinforced the age-old concept of knowing your customer when considering RON use. A first-time homebuyer is much more likely to embrace the experience of closing on their home in person versus a customer who has been through it more than once. Offering the option is an excellent complement to your already existing customer experience.

 

How many title professionals said they added RON to their offerings after COVID? Watch the webinar to find out!

 

Consider Outsourcing Title Production

Although outsourcing can help many companies improve efficiency and reduce workloads, it’s not a one-stop solution for every company. Mary advises professionals to make two important considerations:

  • Where would outsourcing fall within your current workflow
  • Will outsourcing complement or confuse your current workflow

 

Our survey results indicated that a few items make the most sense for title companies to outsource.

 

What do title agents outsource? 

  • 83% outsource municipal lien searches
  • 75% utility searches 
  • 73% title searches
  • 71% Tax information
  • 59% UCC searches

 

In Scarlett’s case, they don’t have the luxury of outsourcing because many municipal offices require in-person searching of public records. Outsourcing isn’t a good option without the advanced access to those records that other counties might offer.

Lindsay reminded everyone that just as title agents perform due diligence for consumers, they should be doing the same with the outsourced services vendors. American Land Title Association (ALTA) best practices must be followed where document privacy is a top priority.

 

The Year Ahead

Both 2020 and 2021 have opened up new horizons for the title industry and exposed areas for improvement. Whether it be in hiring for the future, utilizing technology in a cohesive manner, or finding ways to work with the resources you already have, it’s been a great opportunity to refine business strategies.

2022 looks like another year of high-volume closings, high demand, low supply, and a reimagined concept of homeownership for younger generations. All of our panelists feel optimistic about the future of the title industry in terms of a strong market and staying busy. Plus having a stronger use of technology and strategy to make closings even smoother than the last two years.

 

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Justin Nedell Content Marketer

Justin Nedell is a full-time Content Marketer for PropLogix and writes blogs, facilitates webinars, and crafts up other digital content for the company. He lives in Austin, Texas, and enjoys traveling near and far, hiking, trail running, snowboarding, and spending time outdoors as much as possible.

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