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Reflecting on 2021’s Biggest Moments
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Reflecting on 2021’s Biggest Moments

Justin Nedell

The title industry and real estate industry as a whole deserves more than a pat on the back for making it through the last couple of years. Through perseverance and determination, title professionals met the needs of their customers and closed on homes in record-breaking numbers.

Both 2020 and 2021 challenged us in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. Those who have been in the industry for quite some time would probably say this has been one of the busiest periods of their entire career. It was a year of refining processes, utilizing technology, staying cyber safe, and avoiding burnout along the way.

Beyond being busy, the title industry accomplished much more – navigating new mergers and acquisitions, a combination of remote work and top events, raising money for good causes, and finding ways to invite newcomers to the industry in the years to come.

 

A Crazy Busy Year

2021 presented more transactions than ever before. A whopping 6.5 million homes were sold in 2020 and this year brought the industry a projected 7.1 million sales. According to the 2021 State of the Title Industry (SOTI) report, individual workloads grew as well, with a 7.9% percent growth in the number of respondents who reported handling between 21-30 closings each month. 

Record-low mortgage rates bolstered an influx of refinancing activity as well. According to Freddie Mac, roughly $2.6 trillion dollars in inflation-adjusted refinance originations passed through 2020, which was double that of 2019. While the industry was tackling all this work, it had other concerns to address as well such as the Cloudstar attack that left many worried about the security of all third-party vendors. Cybersecurity on multiple fronts became a top priority and educating employees was a big part of that.

Labor shortages, rising costs of supplies, and logistical challenges caused the construction industry to waver in its efforts as well. The already high demand for homes only increased when single-family homes weren’t being built fast enough. Those who already owned a home took to buying a second home or vacation rental with demand peaking at 91% higher than pre-pandemic levels. The promise of permanent remote work, stimulus money, unspent salaries, and low mortgage rates boosted this demand for those who could afford it.

 

Avoiding Burnout

Sky-rocketing workloads and the stress of a pandemic are a perfect recipe for burnout to develop among employees, so organizations need to stay cognizant to overcome it. Title agents are susceptible to this type of exhaustion when coping with a remote or hybrid work model and addressing the concerns of stressed-out homebuyers.

According to a recent report from Limeade, burnout is the primary source of people leaving their jobs in the last six months. Thankfully, there are many ways to avoid burnout, apart from taking breaks and eating well. One of the most important aspects is to separate your work from your personal life, especially if you’re working fully remote.

Four ways to avoid burnout:

  • Exercise to boost endorphins and energy levels during lulls
  • A proper night of sleep in a space that doesn’t mix with your work
  • Setting work/life boundaries so you’re not working past hours
  • Schedule video meetings for times when you’re energetic

 

A Continued Shift Towards Consolidations

Companies throughout the year were combining efforts to create a more streamlined closing process. As portions of the real estate transaction are advanced through technology, companies can come together through mergers and acquisitions within the industry. The intersection of this technological advancement and experienced title companies fosters a more streamlined process for homebuyers and sellers. 

While still a long way off, the trend seems to be shifting away from independent, small, and local title companies. Not only did we see consolidation among title businesses, but we also saw it among third-party vendors.

Significant mergers and acquisitions in the past year:

  • Strattam Capital acquired Action Title Research
  • Acrisure acquired Tempo Title
  • Compass acquired both First Alliance Title and CommonGround Abstract
  • Blend, a digital lending software company, acquired Title 365
  • PropLogix acquired ASAP Lien

 

Charitability Charges Forward

It was equally important to give back in a year of celebrating tremendous growth. Led and chaired by Mary O’Donnell of Westcor, the ALTA Good Deeds Foundation was founded in October of 2020 as a way to “bolster charitable efforts of title and settlement professionals” through donations from the industry.

2020 was a huge year for the foundation, with over $500,000 in donations within just a month, but 2021 was equally impressive with over $800,000 raised. The foundation awarded $143,000 in charitable grants dispersed among 23 organizations after distributing $125,000 back in March.

ALTA members didn’t stop there – an additional $5,000 donation was given to support Hurricane Ida recovery efforts through the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation. Reflecting on such generosity, Mary O’Donnell said, “the stories of these organizations and the ALTA members who support them were incredibly moving and telling of our industry’s commitment to building and strengthening local communities.”

 

Leaning Into Remote Culture

Working and helping customers remotely was a challenge at the beginning of the pandemic, but now, the industry is tackling tasks and utilizing technology to handle closings like champions. There are numerous ways that companies can embrace the remote and hybrid world we now live in, whether it be in the office or finding ways to connect with the industry.

 

Fostering Connection in a Remote World

PropLogix found ways to create a connected working environment in our remote world. For starters, having gatherings with all our employees was a way to stay connected, and we accomplished this through morning “huddles” and company-wide competitions.

During these company-wide meetings, employees are celebrated, teams are recognized for their hard work, financial updates are shared, and company-wide updates are made. This allowed employees to put faces to names, understand the business’s health, and celebrate the year’s accomplishments.

Other ways to bring employees together:

  • Virtual happy hours for a little added fun
  • Health competitions to promote time away from your desk
  • Virtual game nights for multiple teams
  • Video submissions for company-wide competitions
  • A day devoted to a company-wide virtual world/gathering

 

Reaching Goals and Measuring Success

Keeping everyone motivated and on track to reach their goals was another considerable component of uniting employees in a remote world. Celebrating employees’ success and hard work was a new challenge when you can’t stop by their desks to congratulate them. Equally as important was encouraging employees to stay focused during their workday and have measurable goals to strive towards. 

One way PropLogix celebrated accomplishments was by using a platform called Nectar. It offers monthly points to be distributed from one employee to another and messages of gratitude to be shared on a continuous feed that employees can view. The recipient can use the points to buy gift cards, company gear, and other fun items.

As for goal setting, managers and employees had one-on-one meetings to discuss their goals for the year, which were then entered into Netsuite, our employee resource portal. Those goals could be viewed throughout the year to establish measurable success once the year closed. Additionally, specified KPIs and consistent conversations between managers and employees cultivated a streamlined process for productivity and success.

 

Remote and Hybrid Events

Many of the events we know and love operated a little differently this past year, but the energy and enthusiasm of the title industry made them something to remember. Whether the event was entirely remote or a hybrid of remote and in-person, they offered the opportunity for many professionals to come together and learn about the industry.

Remote components of events like ALTA ONE and Inman Connect allowed a wider range of attendees to interact with the title industry as a whole. Busy parents, smaller companies, and those who didn’t feel comfortable gathering with others were able to join in on the fun. It’s a new era of events that has opened the industry’s eyes to the importance of making them more accessible in the future.

Additionally, many companies, such as PropLogix, offered various webinars throughout the year. These webinars bring together experts within the industry (and outside of it) to cultivate conversation, answer questions, and allow for thoughtful discussions on important topics.

 

Remote Online Notarization Made a Leap

Remote online notarization made significant jumps in 2020, but this past year allowed the industry to understand the technology better and confidently offer homebuyers the option to close remotely. According to ALTA, there was a 228% increase in the number of title companies offering digital closings. 

Additionally, the results of the State of the Industry survey this year showed that 62.2% of title professionals had added RON or eClosing solutions at some point between 2020-2021, and 17.6% stated they’re in the process of adding it.

Reasons to utilize RON technology:

  • It’s an opportunity to grow your title business
  • Busy real estate investors love the convenience of it
  • eSigning and RON reduce closing times
  • Offering RON allows your business to stay ahead of the competition

 

This adoption process was needed on both sides of the table, too – educating homeowners on its availability in select states, how it works, and why it’s beneficial to them was a large part of the effort. Beyond understanding RON features, eClosing solutions are another important aspect of launching the real estate industry into the future. There is still progress to be made, though, as RON adoption is only half of the equation, and advocacy is needed in states that have yet to adopt it.

 

The SECURE Act is trying to fix this. It’s a push for a unified utilization of RON, which would allow for a more streamlined operation throughout the country. There are now 37 states that have fully adopted RON for consumers. It’s a matter of both utilization and adoption – states have adopted the technology, but are they using it to its fullest capacity?

 

Redefining Recruitment and Hiring

Hiring in the title industry continued to be an important topic of discussion, but it was more widespread as the entire economy faced the ongoing pandemic and, later, the Great Resignation. It’s projected that by the end of 2021, one-in-four Americans will have quit their jobs.

The title industry needed to take a new approach to address the aging workforce that it currently has, and we saw this in the SOTI 2021 report results. Hiring and training new staff ranked highly as a challenge among all respondents. It’s no secret that this elusive side of real estate is unfamiliar to many job seekers yet offers incredible opportunities.

 

Opening the Opportunities to Others

Remote work and this rollercoaster of job changes opened a window for the title industry to take advantage of – where the people shifting industries can be introduced to the world of title production. It’s a battle to market the career paths and appeal of being in title to entice people to pursue it as a career.

Key benefits of working in title:

  • No college degree to start
  • High demand
  • Great pay and benefits
  • Upward mobility and career development

 

Pushing for a Perfect Match

A better system was introduced during the year for matching a person to a position, as defined by Lindsay Hall Harrison. For example, people who worked in hospitality and the restaurant industry had a shared connection with title professionals – serving customers effectively and working in a fast-paced industry. It was better to match people with specific skills and personality traits to positions that supported their success in the industry.

Another component of matching people to a position within the industry involves a thoughtful approach to interviews. Rather than asking the standard questions about someone’s background (which may not be directly related to title work), it’s more important to focus on their skills. Behavioral interview questions allow interviewers to have a peek into their experience with that type of focus, so be sure to utilize them in your interview process. Making these precise decisions in hiring is a more efficient way to retain talent, rather than hiring and training people who may not stand the test of time.

Lastly, it’s easy to rush through the process with candidates who are likeable and when there is a great need for fresh talent, but in doing so your company may be overlooking candidates who are not as outgoing in an interview, yet have even better skills for a specific position. It’s as important for a candidate to be a match for your company as it is that your company is a match for them. Companies should be taking their time in hiring, just as we focus on the details during the due diligence process for homebuyers.

 

— Check out floridarunsontitleinsurance.org for more info

 

The Year Ahead

It appears that 2022 will be another year of numerous closings, high demand among homebuyers, a low supply of affordable homes, and a redefined approach to homeownership for young buyers. Mortgage rates are predicted to reach 3.6% by the end of the year, rents will outpace home prices, and the price for a single-family home is expected to continue rising.

Due to the affordability challenges and permanence of remote work, many people will continue the trend of buying homes in markets outside of their current state, as was the case when remote work began last year. These markets offer lower prices and less competition than tough markets like Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Miami, and so on.

Realtor.com’s top markets for 2022:

  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Boise City, Idaho
  • Spokane-Spokane Valley, Washington
  • Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Indiana
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Providence-Warwick, R.I.-Massachusetts
  • Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, South Carolina
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington
  • Worcester, Massachusetts-Connecticut
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida

 

As for the title industry, there will be several key objectives to remain focused on for 2022. A continued effort to attract, hire, and retain top talent will be of the utmost importance as well as diversifying those efforts. 

Between the continued growth in Hispanic homebuyers and Gen Z’ers focus on diverse neighborhoods, it’s important to have a workforce that represents that. ALTA has already put committees in place to bring together experts on the subject and how to make an impact. Just as the industry did last year, we can overcome the high demand and related challenges of 2022 through hard work and smart strategies.

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Justin Nedell Content Marketer

Justin Nedell is a Content Marketer at PropLogix who enjoys writing industry-specific, research-backed content that allows readers to make informed decisions in every stage of the homebuying process. He currently lives in Denver, has traveled to over 30 countries, and enjoys hiking, snowboarding, yoga, learning new languages, and spending time in the outdoors.