Title insurance premiums surging during COVID-19

The title insurance industry saw a surge in premium volume in the second quarter of 2020, according to the American Land Title Association’s latest Market Share Analysis.

It’s no secret that lending volume is up in 2020. In fact, the latest Fannie Mae forecast says mortgage lending will hit an all-time high of $3.9 trillion this year, largely due to record volumes of refinancings.

“We continue to believe that a low-rate environment will support refinance demand over the forecast horizon,” Fannie Mae said in the forecast. “At the current interest rate of 2.86%, we estimate that nearly 69% of outstanding first-lien loan balances have at least a half-percentage point incentive to refinance.”

But title insurance premiums are also surging as a result. The title insurance industry generated $4.18 billion in title insurance premiums during the second quarter of 2020, ALTA’s report showed. This is up 8% from the same period last year.

“Despite the pandemic, low interest rates in the second quarter of 2020 has been positive and productive for the land title insurance industry,” ALTA CEO Diane Tomb said. “Title insurance premium volume is dependent on mortgage origination volume, and 45 states showed that second-quarter premiums written increased 8% compared with the second quarter of 2019.”

“Although we are not experiencing the near-historic origination volume we saw in the first quarter, the majority of the country is still trending upward,” Tomb said.

Overall, total operating income for the industry was up 8.2% and operating expenses were up 8.4%, but loss and loss adjustment expenses were down 27%, the ALTA report shows.

“We expect residential housing market and refinances—buoyed by low mortgage rates—to remain strong throughout the year,” Tomb said. “The question left outstanding is how the commercial market will rebound. Depending on how the commercial market performs during the rest of the year, 2020 could prove to be one of the strongest years on record.”

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DataTrace launches market insight platform for title companies

DataTrace Information Services announced on Thursday its launch of MarketView – a platform that will provide title companies with accurate market insights including existing market share.

Title companies will have the ability to search market data nationwide by state, county, city and ZIP code as well as timeframe and transaction type, the release said. The platform includes automated report generation via email and allows users to instantly share those metrics with their organization.

According to the release, MarketView’s conception was a result of “increasing market fluctuations creating challenges for title companies that rely on property sale and mortgage origination reports” and to better “identify metrics that drive their business development.”

The platform will allow users to measure the performance of each branch against other branches and competitors as well as monitor new competitors in the market.

Other reports offered include trend, loan officer, and title/lender intersection reports that DataTrace said can be used to identify and compare relationships between title companies and lenders. The MarketView Loan Officer Share Report reviews the volume of loans processed by loan officers and mortgage brokers, as well as the transaction type and loan amount.

Market reporting can then be verified through the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System consumer access website that is available in reports.

As of right now, DataTrace Information Systems distributes title history information property tax assessment and payment data, document images and property profiles in 47 states and said its MarketView data covers 85% of the U.S.

“MarketView equips our clients with critical market intelligence necessary to drive strategic business decisions, adapt to changing conditions and ultimately grow their business,” said Robert Karraa, president of DataTrace.

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People movers: LBA Ware, Guaranteed Rate Affinity, Transnation Title Agency, Interfirst Mortgage and Total Expert

LBA Ware has named Brian Jordan as its director of product management.

Jordan has 13 years of experience in global data aggregation and analytics firms, serving the banking and financial services sectors. Prior to LBA Ware, Jordan was a lead product manager at LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

Jim Anderson has been named as the senior vice president of strategic growth at Guaranteed Rate Affinity.

Anderson has over 30 years of experience in the mortgage industry, specializing in business development, strategic sales and risk management.

Prior to Guaranteed Rate Affinity, Anderson served in executive-level business development and sales director roles for multiple large players within the industry.

Transnation Title Agency has brought on Lavinia Biasell, its first chief legal officer. Biasell joins with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

Biasell previously worked for Fidelity National Financial as an underwriter for all of Fidelity’s Michigan title agents, as well as Maddin, Hauser, Roth & Heller, P.C., where she served as a partner at the firm representing clients in a variety of title legal matters.

Mike Tague has returned to Interfirst Mortgage Company as vice president, Western Division Production for the wholesale channel. Tague first joined Interfirst in 2011.

With 30 years of experience in the mortgage industry, Tague spent 25 years building sales teams, expanding branch operations and growing existing markets in the wholesale channel.

Tague has held the position of vice president of wholesale at numerous lenders including The Money Source, Peoples Home Equity, Ethos Lending and Finance of America Mortgage.

Total Expert has brought on Kevin Dotzenrod as vice president of Engineering and Laura Theodore as vice president of Customer Success.

Dotzenrod has over 20 years of software development, technical architecture, and engineering expertise, leading engineering and technology teams at some of the most recognized companies in finance and retail, including Target, Amazon and Dow Jones.

Most recently, Dotzenrod served as director of engineering at Target.

Theodore has over 14 years of experience leading profitable customer success and support teams for high-growth software companies internationally.

Theodore currently serves as a strategic advisor to several software companies, having most recently served as general manager at StreetSmart and as senior director of Global Support Services at ClickSoftware.

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From Curb Service To Porch Signings, Title Companies Get Creative With Social Distancing Options For Closings

As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to turn the real estate market on its head, curbside and remote mortgage closings have become a logical extension of signing loan documents and distributing money at the office of a title company or escrow office.

Title companies are adjusting to new protocols to ensure safe closings, according to Diane Tomb, CEO of American Land Title Association

“During this health pandemic and social distancing, we’re seeing title companies across the country get creative to offer safe and secure closings for their customers,” she said. “In addition to drive-through closings and implementing safe closing protocols, companies are closing transactions through remote online notarization, which uses audio/visual technology to complete a notarial act when the customer is not in the same physical location as the notary public.”

Notaries and signers are justifiably concerned about being exposed to someone possibly infected with COVID-19 when meeting face to face during loan signings and notarizations, according to Notary Bulletin, noting: “In response, some closing companies have recommended a process called window-separated signing or porch signing, in which loan signings are conducted through a window or doorway at a safe physical distance.”

National Notary Association has published guidelines for performing window-separated signings. For example, a notary must follow all federal, state and local guidelines for social distancing, health protection and sanitization when meeting with signers and handling documents, IDs or other materials. When items are passed between the signer and notary, one person should place the item in a neutral area and then step back and provide safe distance to allow the other person to pick it up.

Notarize, a platform for digital notarizations, saw real estate volume increase by 400% in March and has $23 billion in real estate transactions ordered for April. To support the surge in demand, Notarize is hiring 1,000 notaries in Texas, Florida, Nevada and Virginia to join its team in a role that allows notaries to work remotely, safely in their homes. 

Knight Barry Title Group in Milwaukee is offering remote closing solutions whenever possible for the safety and convenience of its customers.

In a Facebook video, chief operating officer Craig Haskins explained that Knight Barry has implemented a work-from-home plan for employees who are able to handle their jobs remotely. “But mission-critical jobs like our closing department and our closers, they’re here, and they are closing your transactions right now in our closing rooms,” he said. “With some of our employees allowed working remotely, it’s allowed us to create a safer social-distancing environment. It allows us to keep clean, stay organized and be prepared for the next set of closings that come through our doors.”

Haskins said the company has put into effect safe plans for its office to make sure it is sanitized. The guidance is published on Knight Barry’s website. For example, the company has bought hundreds of pens so that after the signing, the signers can take their pens with them or dispose of them on the way out. After the closing, the staff wipes down all touched hard surfaces. 

Knight Barry also can handle document signing online and give customers their proceeds in a way they prefer.

 “The remote online notarization allows us to keep our offices free of unneeded visitors,” explained Haskins. “While we love to have you in the closing rooms, at this point in time, we’d like to limit the number of people coming into the room and limit those closings just to the people who need to sign the documents when possible. We’ve also had many requests for in-home closings. While it seems like a great idea, those are becoming harder and harder for us to plan around and organize.”

Rocket Mortgage states on in its website that it is taking “extraordinary measures” to complete customers’ real estate transaction in a safe and secure manner, including: 

  • Actively engaging with appraisers and signing agents to ensure that no one is conducting inspections or closings who shouldn’t be – based on their recent travel, interactions, showing signs of symptoms, etc.
  • Working to ensure that our team members and partners understand and follow all CDC guidelines and best practices.
  • Encouraging appraisers and signing agents to take proper sanitary measures the entire time they are at your home.

“Even though shelter-in-place orders are in effect in many areas of the country, the mortgage process can still continue,” Rocket Mortgage states. “Appraisers, closing agents and other people who need to enter your home can still do so under the shelter-in-place order. In some cases, we even have alternative ways to complete these parts of the process that don’t require entering the home.

“To make these precautionary measures as effective as possible, we need your support. When the appraiser or signing agent arrives, they are going to ask to maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet, and they will not shake your hand. This isn’t because they’re unfriendly, it is because they’re following CDC guidelines to maintain proper safety. They may even arrive wearing rubber gloves or a face mask as an added precaution. We respect their choice to do so, and ask that you respect it as well.”

Kathy Kwak, vice president of title and escrow operations and counsel for Proper Title in Chicago, told Chicago Agent magazine that in order to ensure the safety of her staff, the second-largest title agency in Illinois is encouraging buyers and sellers to provide a power of attorney to their lawyers so that they don’t need to attend the closing at all. 

In a typical curbside transaction, the magazine reports that buyers and their agents show up in separate cars and are met outside by a title company closer, who will collect the buyer’s driver’s license, signature and cashier’s or certified check. Before the closing, the buyer’s attorney must review the loan and closing documents. 

Kwak pointed out that although the overall process is much safer, the excitement of closing on a home is somewhat diminished. “This is a big moment for many buyers,” she said, noting that the pandemic has “taken away that whole ceremony. … All of that now has been removed. It’s so robotic and routine now.”

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