When shopping online, make sure the only “steals” you experience are great prices.
Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, shopping online had become the norm for millions of people. From avoiding crowds to being able to access a wider range of products, it’s not difficult to see the benefits or understand its appeal.
But online shopping is not entirely without risks, particularly as it involves entrusting websites and applications with sensitive financial information. Still, there are many ways to protect yourself when shopping online. Implement the following tips to reduce risk and keep your shopping fun and worry-free.
Safe Sites and Due Diligence
One great way to reduce your risk is to restrict your shopping to sites you absolutely know are safe. Bookmark these sites for future use. If you think you may be on an imposter site, verify that the domain is correct, scrutinizing it down to whether any letters have been maliciously replaced with a number. If you do decide to branch out, conduct research into a site’s reputation, and look for keywords that are glaringly negative like “fraud,” “scam, “fake,” etc.
Create Thoughtful Passwords
On any e-commerce site you frequent, use a unique password. A strong password typically includes a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid common personal information like your birthday, your name, or your address. If you struggle with remembering multiple passwords, consider employing a password manager.
It can be tempting to give large, well-known e-commerce sites your complete trust; but don’t let your guard down! Large online stores frequently include third-party sellers who may have less than noble intentions. Before handing over any of your personal or financial information, take a close look at the seller’s reputation, including reading any comments or reviews that are available. It is also always a good idea to review the store’s policies regarding third-party sellers and be wary of any sellers who are new to the site or who are listing their products at an exceptionally low price.
Keep a close watch on both your personal and professional credit cards for any suspicious-looking charges. It’s prudent to also set up alerts for any charges that are out of the ordinary or that do not match your usual spending patterns and habits.
When shopping online for personal items and especially when conducting your business shopping, do not use a debit card. Debit cards take money directly from your bank account, and if you are unlucky enough to become a victim of fraud, you will have a much more difficult time getting it back. If you are hard at work trying to build your independent agency, having a business credit card can also have numerous advantages. It is far easier to keep track of your business expenses with a company card, and many providers will even send you a monthly expense report that you can keep for your files. A business credit card often offers an additional level of protection than a normal consumer card. Some examples of extra protection include travel accident coverage, identity theft coverage and other various misuse policies.
Whether you shop online for personal reasons or business needs, everyone can benefit from being mindful of the potential risks involved when conducting online financial transactions. Scammers are plentiful, and there is no way to guarantee that your purchases will always be secure. But by being aware of the dangers and implementing a few easy security precautions, you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim and continue leveraging the power and convenience of the online marketplace.
In part two of a three-part series, we continue examining common scenarios agents face when closing real estate transactions.
Previously, we introduced the first of a three-part blog series on the issues agents routinely face during the closing process. The initial entry covered a wide range of issues – from summarizing agents’ fiduciary responsibilities to best practices when dealing with spousal transactions. The second part will continue examining common closing scenarios, including issues related to funding, family transactions and dealing with property and homeowner associations.
Escrow and Funding Issues
When funding a transaction, numerous issues need to be addressed. For instance, clients may want to use foreign currency. These are not “good funds,” and agents should not provide a receipt of funds until they have been sent through their escrow bank’s collection process and credited to its account. What if a party wants the agent to wire funds to a foreign bank? An agent should discuss the matter with management, but typically such a transaction is not recommended.
What about domestic transactions? Automatic Clearing House (ACH) is an electronic network for U.S. financial institutions to process common credits and debits. The ACH is not appropriate for escrow transactions as it lacks the necessary safeguards and reporting mechanisms to meet audit guidelines. Instead, all deposited funds must pass through the agent’s hands via check or authorized wire, or they risk potential scrutiny from state regulators.
Once funded, sale proceeds need to be made payable to the seller in the closing documents. Lender instructions typically include a statement indicating that you are closing and that funding has been carried out following agreed-upon terms. Agents run the risk of violating their duties to the lender if they distribute proceeds to anyone aside from the seller. If the seller is an LLC, proceeds should go to the LLC through a bank. And the LLC may need to set up a bank account if one does not already exist. The same goes for an estate.
Finally, agents may need to address splitting commissions. In Texas for instance, if a broker asks to split the commissions between broker and agent, the agent must have a Commission Disbursement Authorization form, and this form must be disclosed on closing statements or the form T-64.
Family transactions have their own unique complexities. One potential problem is a pretended sale of homestead property, usually based on the assertion of an invalid lien. Frequently triggered by foreclosure or bankruptcy, an assertion is often made that the property is owned by a family member who conveyed the property and not the borrower – invalidating the lien.
A family member sale can qualify as a bona fide sale; however, in a state like Texas, if property is claimable as a homestead, it can be rendered void if the conveyor continues to occupy or intends to use the property for homestead purposes. To be insured, the agent must determine that the property is not the homestead of the selling family member. Of course, it is different if it is a cash sale. There is less concern here and underwriting approval is not needed.
Property Owners’ Association (POA) and Homeowners’ Association (HOA)
Lastly, agents must be attentive when dealing with owner associations such as property owners’ associations (POA) and homeowners’ associations (HOA). Property codes require a POA to provide subdivision information. There can be multiple associations for one subdivision, and fees may have to be charged to get information from all of them. It is a best practice to obtain POA or HOA information on all transactions. Association dues are typically subordinate to purchase money and construction liens; and home equity loans (HELs) may also be subordinate to association dues. Agents must verify this by reviewing the Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions (CCRs), and may need to obtain a subordination agreement.
When dealing with select lenders, agents may need to get a 60 or 90 letter from the HOA. In Texas, if the dues are not subordinated, the agent cannot provide all the coverage in the T-17 or T-19 endorsements. Agents should also check for violations, and if they exist, collaborate with underwriting if providing T-19 or T-19.1. If an HOA exists but has not been formed, an affidavit may need to be signed indicating its inactivity.
There are many different types of real estate transactions, and title agents need to be well-versed on how the details of a transaction can ultimately affect the closing process. By having a strong foundational understanding, agents can operate more effectively, upholding their fiduciary duties and safeguard their clients’ interests. In the third and final edition of this blog series, we will cover any remaining closing scenarios that agents will likely face throughout their career, including lender-required conveyances, Texas T-47 affidavits and more.
In the COVID era, the only certainty is that nothing is certain.
Forming and maintaining authentic connections, for instance, has taken on new meaning. As we pass the one-year mark of the pandemic, I want to reflect for a moment on how things have changed and grapple with what staying connected has meant during an unforgettable 12 months.
One of the most vivid ways the pandemic has complicated our connections is through the disruptions it introduced to home life. Schedules had to adapt to accommodate online schooling. More adults also now work at home. Even when these potential distractions are overcome, there is still Zoom to contend with, which presents its own challenges regarding connection and collaboration.
“Zoom fatigue” is a real thing. It is far more difficult to develop an emotional connection with fellow meeting participants through a computer screen. It can be incredibly challenging to simply stay in the moment and not get distracted by what is going on in the virtual environment.
The disconnection of working remotely has even, at times, been a source of stress, which is why it has been important for companies to prioritize self-care and the emotional and mental well-being of their employees. One of the many things that I appreciate about Alliant National is that, from the first day of my employment, I have felt as if they cared about me as a person – not just as a professional.
A silver lining of the pandemic, however, is its universality, which I suppose, in a way, is its own form of connection: a connection built around shared experience. Whether it be the lack of communication or struggling with technical difficulties, we have all been required to adapt to a new way of working. I mean, at this point, who isn’t familiar with the pain of a disruption in video or sound on a communication platform?
The new world created by the pandemic has also had an impact on the nature of connection as it exists in my job. In sales, more than anything else you are selling trust. Pushing a product during a time when many people are under immense strain can feel a little callous. But helping your clients adapt to a virtual world builds trust and helps them protect their business. I have also found that making yourself available outside of traditional working hours and through a wider array of communication platforms (such as social media) can be enormously beneficial for these relationships. In the COVID era, we need to be collaborating and not merely pitching our clients.
COVID has had other positive impacts on connection, particularly when it comes to technology and family life. Older generations have been pushed to embrace technological solutions to stay in contact with their personal and professional networks. Our family interactions have become less scheduled, with real, genuine moments of spontaneity now being possible with children and spouses. I feel that this dynamic with our loved ones has become somewhat of a rarity. For all the destruction the virus has caused, reconnecting with friends and family in a deeper and more protracted way has been a true blessing of the past year.
Nearly everyone had to get creative to connect with clients, extended families and to fill time. Many turned to home renovation and improvements. DIY is at an all-time high, and people want to change their interior space to make it more conducive to family rooms that really function for families. They have added home offices or updated kitchens that are really being cooked in now.
Personal hobbies have skyrocket. Cooking classes, exercise forums, online knitting groups, even virtual interior design classes have sprung up to take the place of in-person site visits. The innovation of the pandemic is truly inspiring. While we still crave the personal interaction of experiences, the option of a virtual experience opens up opportunities for all of life’s challenges outside of a pandemic.
Flash forward to today, and we are now potentially at a turning point in the story of the virus. I am looking forward to a return to the office, as I feel it is healthy and necessary to communicate in a live environment as opposed to solely a virtual one. Spending this year largely separate from my colleagues has confirmed what I already suspected: as a salesperson, I need the type of face-to-face interactions that a computer simply cannot replicate.
Still, it is important to recognize that some things have probably changed for good. Full-blown office environments are likely going to be a thing of the past. Companies have invested heavily in equipping their employees with solutions to facilitate remote work. They have also realized that their work-forces are capable of being productive while off site. Whatever the future holds, there is no doubt that the coronavirus has taught us many lessons about the nature of connection – both personal and professional, good and bad. We should carry these lessons with us long after the pandemic ends.
Alliant National Title Insurance Company’s Agent Quality Management System Passes Service Organization Control Exam.
Longmont, Colo. – (March 23, 2021) – Alliant National Title Insurance Company, a unique title insurance underwriter that partners with independent agents to improve their competitive position in the marketplace, announces the successful completion of the Service Organization Control (SOC) 1 SSAE 18 Type II examination for the seventh consecutive year.
By completing the examination, Alliant National will receive mention in an AICPA-endorsed report, stating that the company has maintained effective controls over its Agent Quality Management System. It also verifies that Alliant National’s processes for approving, monitoring and reviewing its agents, which results in their designation as Authorized Service Providers, include rigorous quality standards.
Additionally, SSAE 18 certified compliant status validates Alliant National’s systems for minimizing customers’ risk of financial loss in connection with real estate closings. As a result, lenders relying upon Alliant National’s oversight of its agents and Authorized Service Provider program receive additional assurance that processes are complete and accurate.
“Alliant National was the first title insurance underwriter in the nation to obtain compliant status and is the only title insurance underwriter to achieve compliant status for seven consecutive years,” said David Sinclair, President and CEO of Alliant National. “This certification provides further independent assurance of our agent oversight systems to lenders. Providing lenders with unequivocal evidence of the quality of our agents through an independently audited system is a top priority of Alliant National.”
A-Lign Certified Public Accountants of Tampa, Fla., performed the engagement and certification. The unqualified satisfactory report, with no exceptions, was issued January 11, 2021, and the audit scope covered the full year 2020.
Alliant National distinguishes itself from competitors by combining strong underwriting capability with independent agents’ in-depth knowledge of local markets. The result is a nationwide network with deep roots in local communities, and a wealth of expertise that is flexible, nuanced, and continuously growing.
Visit alliantnational.com for additional information.
Capital City Public Relations
ABOUT ALLIANT NATIONAL TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY
The Independent Underwriter for The Independent AgentSM – Alliant National believes in empowering people to thrive.
The company protects the dreams of property owners with secure title insurance and partners with 500+ trusted independent title agents as a licensed underwriter in 27 states and the District of Columbia
Develop more valuable connections to your prospects with a well-written and optimized newsletter.
Are you looking to ramp up the marketing of your small agency? If so, consider making an email newsletter part of your toolkit. It may be tempting, especially these days, to think that email is no longer effective. Guess again. According to recent data, email marketing has an average ROI of $42 for every dollar spent. 80 percent of professionals say email is an effective tool for customer acquisition and retention.[i] Get started with your newsletter marketing and start building sustainable demand by implementing the following best practices.
Subject Lines are Key
It is hard to overstate the importance of your email’s subject line, as prospects need to open your email before they can read it. The subject line is essentially your best opportunity to sell the reader on your email’s contents, so you need to make it count. Some main points to remember are to keep your subject lines short, convey the email’s main point or thesis, and avoid using characters like excessive exclamation points, which increase the possibility of your email getting stuck in a spam filter.
Emphasize Your Value Proposition
With any marketing strategy, it’s critical to make it primarily about the customer, not your business. The same idea holds true for your newsletter content. People will open and read your newsletter only if they understand there is something in it for them. Think about how you can deliver content that is exclusive, educational and actionable. For instance, your agency could put together a helpful video explaining how consumers can help keep their escrow funds safe from scammers and include it in your newsletter. You could even solicit participation from your audience, asking them to submit their own topics to be covered in a future newsletter.
Optimize for Readability
Having strong content is only one-half of the equation; you also need to ensure that your newsletter is laid out in an aesthetically pleasing way. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Use strong, active verbs. Whatever you do, do not neglect including images. Nothing will turn readers off quicker than encountering walls of text within the body of an email. Many email marketing platforms now include free graphics that you can easily insert into your newsletter, and several sites offer stock photography either for free or at a relatively low cost.
Stick to a Schedule
Amidst all the other responsibilities that come with running an agency, making sure that your newsletter goes out at roughly the same time can seem challenging. Yet it is important to prioritize consistency if you are going to maximize your readership. Sending your newsletter at the same time will make it feel more professional, and it will also help you stick out in your recipients’ crowded inboxes.
Toward More Meaningful Customer Relationships
The marketing landscape is growing ever more complicated, with marketers having access to a variety of different channels and technology. But sometimes tried-and-true methods remain the way to go. Despite being decades old, email is still a viable marketing method that belongs in your arsenal. And when executed correctly, an email newsletter can help you build more meaningful and valuable customer relationships.
[i]10 Email Marketing Statistics You Need to Know (Updated 2021) (constantcontact.com)