Alliant National salutes a title industry giant.
Like many industries, title insurance is a diverse field with individuals from all walks of life. However, if there is one experience many title professionals could say they share it is being impacted by Curt Niehoff during their careers. Affable and hardworking, well respected and generous, Curt was a force for good in the title industry for more than 40 years. His passing on May 2nd, 2023, leaves a major hole within the industry and is a significant loss for all who were lucky enough to know him.
“Curt was a gentle giant,” said David D. Lanaux, Owner and President of Title Professionals of Florida and a good friend of Curt’s for over 40 years. “He was big in stature, but he was also big in heart. The title industry has lost a great man.”
Curt Niehoff was born in 1954 in the tiny town of Carlyle, Illinois, located approximately 50 miles outside of St. Louis, Missouri. The only son of Robert Niehoff and Anne Wahl, Curt gained an early appreciation for the world of title insurance through his father, Robert, who was a past Vice President and Western Agency Manager for Chicago National Title Insurance Company. After graduating from Clearwater High School, Curt attended the University of South Florida before pursuing the title insurance business upon completing his studies. This launched a career that would last for over four decades and earn him a sterling reputation amongst his friends, customers and co-workers.
In the 1980s, Curt took his career to the next level when he was hired to help start-up several title insurance companies that were moving their operations to Florida. He made incredible contributions to the overall success of several of these firms, including Fortune 200 companies like TransAmerica Title Insurance Company and TRW Title Insurance Company. As his career progressed, he also served as a state agency representative for Ticor Title Insurance Company, Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company, United General Title Insurance Company, Lawyers Title Insurance Company and Fidelity National Title Insurance Company.
The turn of the century brought Curt to one of the most important personal and professional moments of his life. In 2000, he met Cathy Rairigh, the founder of Island Title Services, Inc. within the Tampa Bay area. The pair fell in love and ran the company together until Curt’s passing. Pairing great customer service with consummate professionalism and authentic care for others, they built a company that won them the respect of many. Outside of work, Curt enjoyed an enviable personal life as well, indulging in his great love of music, cheering on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning, and caring for his dogs: Sailor and Dakota.
At around this time, Curt was also serving as an important advocate for the industry and a staunch antagonist of legislation that adversely impacted the state’s title agents. Curt waged, along with many other title professionals, an important battle against the “Butler Rebate” rule as just one example. Although the effort was in vain, his dedication to the cause was unsurpassed. Stemming from a Florida Supreme Court case from 2000, many believed that the Rebate might threaten insurer solvency. Curt’s efforts, along with many others, to prevent its implementation spoke directly to his passion for the industry and those who work within it.
In 2014, as Florida legislators debated the promulgation rule enacting “data call” requirements for title insurers, Curt once again acted alongside others as a vanguard for the field’s interests. The data call rule requires title agencies to submit records of their business transactions to the Florida Department of State. During that period, Curt drove from Tampa to Tallahassee once every 30 days to attend panel meetings and provide valuable input to protect the title agent from any negative side effects from the legislation. While Curt was not on the panel itself, he was instrumental in lobbying the legislature to protect the industry and those who rely upon it.
In addition to his lobbying work and advocacy for the industry, Curt was a huge believer in nurturing the next generation of title talent. He possessed a preternatural ability to identify promising young prospects and would routinely push for the hiring of young professionals. He always led by example, as well, never requiring anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. He would also frequently go above and beyond for those lucky enough to cross his path. As David Lanaux notes when discussing his own mentorship experiences with Curt:
“I knew nothing about title insurance when I met Curt in 1982,” says Mr. Lanaux. “I met him once, for two hours while visiting a friend in Tampa. He called me when I got back to New Orleans and talked me into moving to Tampa to take a job in the business. I learned everything from Curt that I needed to know to succeed in the industry.”
“Having worked with Island Title Services for many years, everyone at Alliant National had the opportunity to witness first-hand Curt’s generosity, his care for his community and, of course, his raw industry expertise,” said Debra Coffie, SVP and Alliant National Florida Regional Manager. “There is no doubt our field has been left poorer through his passing.”
For anyone who has built and maintained a career across multiple decades, the question of legacy will often loom large. But in Curt Niehoff’s case, there is no question that he not only lived up to the example set by his father, Robert Niehoff, but also added his own special and unique contributions to the field. Curt believed wholeheartedly in the promise of the industry, not to mention the essential role it plays for individuals looking to build lasting financial security in America. For Curt, title insurance was about far more than paper pushing or title searches, it was about helping facilitate the lasting dreams of individuals, families and communities.
“We didn’t just lose another title professional. The industry lost an advocate, a believer and a consummate professional,” said Lanaux, while summing up Curt and his impact. “Curt was loved and respected by many. He will be missed and remembered by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Navigating the complexities of our industry is indeed challenging, and it humbles me when independent agents confide in our team, sharing their concerns and ideas. One recurring issue you’ve brought to light centers around identity verification and the inherent risks involved in this key element of the transaction. I am delighted to announce that Alliant National has collaborated with Finigree, a leader in financial and payment technology solutions, and developed a robust identity verification system – SecureMyTransaction.
SecureMyTransaction is designed to equip you with the information you need about both buyers and sellers to advance your transactions with confidence. The technology applies a multi-factor identity verification process that cross-checks mobile device ownership and location, credit bureau information, bank account validation and ownership, payoff and proceeds verification, knowledge-based authentication, FinCEN and OFAC searches, along with Alliant National Underwriting Alerts.
With verified identity information at your fingertips, you’re empowered to protect against seller impersonation fraud, vacant property fraud, and deed and document forgeries. Scams like these can have profound consequences, including financial loss, reputational harm and regulatory sanctions. SecureMyTransaction is thoughtfully designed to help you mitigate these risks.
This solution – which is initially being offered exclusively to Alliant National agents nationwide – will be unveiled tomorrow at our annual Florida Seminar in Orlando. For those attending, we look forward to presenting this new tool to you and hearing your initial thoughts.
For those who will not be with us in Orlando, I hope you will take the opportunity to learn more about this solution built specifically for independent title professionals like you. You can visit SecureMyTransaction.com for details, or reach out to Alliant National’s Bob Grohol (BGrohol@AlliantNational.com, 440.228.0826) to schedule a demo.
As you familiarize yourself with this new tool, whether at the seminar or from afar, I invite you to share your thoughts and feedback. We have developed this system with you in mind, and your insights are invaluable to us. Please feel free to reach out to me, to Bob, or to any member of your Alliant National team.
As we approach July 4th, we reflect on the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation. At this time of remembrance, our team at Alliant National also honors the remarkable contributions of independent agents like you, whose unwavering commitment to the American Dream empowers countless individuals to pursue homeownership and economic prosperity.
In 1776, as the principles of freedom and self-determination were woven into a new experiment in government, the challenges were as profound as the ideals at stake. From the trials of its infancy, our nation emerged as an economic power, giving rise to the American Dream.
Today, the mortgage and title industries stand as the cornerstone of this dream, and at the heart of every mortgage transaction, independent title agents work tirelessly to ensure the smooth transfer of property. Title insurance – and your integral role in the title transfer process – allows individuals to make informed decisions and gives them the confidence to pursue their dreams. Your expertise and dedication also contribute to the stability and growth of the communities you serve. You create employment and economic opportunities, support local businesses, and foster a sense of trust and security.
Well over two centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our nation continues to face challenges that resonate within our industry. Economic and housing market uncertainty, political polarization, and the potential impact of AI are among the macro forces pressuring title agents, along with industry-specific issues such as the emergence of unregulated title products. At Alliant National, we are honored to partner with you in your noble work and stand as your ally in facing the challenges of the moment.
Your work and dedication inspire us every day, but especially now. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, we honor your commitment to upholding the American Dream and our nation’s ideals. To you, we extend our heartfelt gratitude.
Here’s wishing you and yours a happy 4th of July.
One agency owner underwritten by Alliant National recounts his long, successful career in the title insurance field.
Rob Skidmore knows his way around title insurance. The owner of several agencies underwritten by Alliant National, he and his employees serve aspiring homeowners in Medina and northeastern Ohio and are driven to help home buyers achieve their dreams.
His journey in the title insurance field offers a fascinating portrait of a professional life well lived, as well as how the industry has changed over more than three decades.
Title insurance is a multi-generational endeavor for the Skidmore family. His father started Transfer Title in 1967, with Rob joining the business in 1985. He eventually took over the company with his brother. They gradually expanded the business, forming the joint venture company Transfer Title Connection in 2004 and acquiring Ohio Fidelity in 2018.
There were other factors behind Rob’s initial interest in title insurance, such as his passion for technology and computers.
“When I was in college, I had this class that required a spreadsheet. I created a settlement statement with macros that could compute settlement costs,” said Rob. “After graduation, I used it in business for maybe six or seven years before we updated to a new system.”
His interest in technology trends has continued to benefit Rob and his businesses, prompting him to be an early adopter of new technologies to increase efficiencies, improve customer experiences and grow profits. One such decision involved implementing RamQuest software early on, which made them only the second title company to do so in Ohio at the time.
“I love the technology – the experience of building out our IT department, purchasing our own server and so on,” said Rob. “My interest has pushed me to be an early adopter, which has benefited our employees and customers.”
Another factor that has influenced many of his decisions as a company owner was his background as a business major with a marketing concentration. Rob was immediately attracted to the prospect of overhauling his agencies’ brands.
“I quickly started working on our slogan, which ultimately led to a name change,” said Rob. “We also decided to do a major overhaul of the logo, which involved an internal focus group.”
Over the years, Rob has found his title career to be quite rewarding, especially the way it has benefited his community.
When asked if there is a central passion behind his work, Rob is unequivocal. “Absolutely. Our motto is ‘Insuring Reality, Conveying Dreams.’ People outside the industry don’t get that when you’re issuing title policy, handling escrows and doing closings, it’s a joyous occasion. Take a young couple who has the dream of starting a family. Or consider someone who is looking to downsize. It was their dream, and they are passing it along to the next family. In both cases, it’s an extraordinary thing.”
Another way Rob has been able to better his community is through charitable giving. As a long-time member of the local business networking group, Transfer Title annually sponsors families at Christmas and makes a variety of donations to local charities. In addition, the company is a supporter of the Mary Grace Foundation, sponsoring its 5K run each year and encouraging employees to run or participate. The money raised during the event goes to families impacted by breast cancer.
Transfer Title’s commitment to enriching the heart of the Medina community is perhaps best embodied in its support of Mainstreet Medina. A non-profit organization, Mainstreet Medina supports efforts related to the historic preservation, economic sustainability, and continued evolution of Medina’s Historic District as the community’s vibrant center. Transfer Title not only routinely sponsors Mainstreet Medina’s initiatives and events, but it has conducted title work for real estate revitalization efforts undertaken recently by the Recovery Center of Medina, which included pro bono legal work by Rob.
Rob has impacted Medina not only through his company, but also by serving on various community, business and industry associations. He is an active participant in the Ohio Land Title Association (OLTA) and has previously served as the President of the Medina City School Board, the Medina County Career Center, the Medina County Bar Association and the Salvation Army board.
In addition to witnessing the positive effects his businesses have had on the community, Rob’s long history in the field has given him a front row seat to the evolution of the title industry.
“The title industry has changed a lot, and I have seen different eras come and go,” said Rob. “Recently, it has been a very profitable era, which is positive in many ways. However, there is increasingly a focus on speed, with everything being go, go, go. Less emphasis is being placed on expertise and working diligently through a process. Marketing and newer communication mediums like social media are taking more precedence. Now, both are important. Very important. But expertise and doing good work will always trump everything else.”
As Rob sees it, prioritizing expertise matters, particularly when it is not always clear to the customer how the title insurance process works and why it is a critical component of the closing process.
“Sometimes during closings, questions will come up of how the company got involved. It’s important to properly educate the customers and remind them that we are here to insure their title,” Rob explained. “We act, essentially, as a guarantee on their claim of ownership. With a one-time premium, they are protected for life. As a third party, you need the expertise to work on behalf of the owner, buyer and lender. Simply put, it’s a very important function. We need to follow the directions of all parties, not to mention look at and assess all relevant risks.”
Rob emphasized that to succeed in the field requires building a team with the requisite expertise. But that is not all. Those working in title insurance must also be equipped to contend with the emotional intensity that can be a part of the closing process.
“Without a doubt, attracting and retaining top talent is one of the biggest challenges I face as a business owner, and we’ve been lucky to have some of the best staff in the business,” said Rob. “Employees need to know their field but also deal with the stress of closing on a property.”
Considering the complexity of real estate transactions, title insurance professionals must be comfortable expecting the unexpected.
“Quite often, things happen or there are forces at work beyond anyone’s control,” he said. “Thankfully, advances like ‘clear to close’ have changed the game and streamlined it. Technology helps.”
As with anything, though, technology is not without its downsides, as cyber threats like real estate wire fraud have exploded in recent years. Such developments once again underscore the need for high-quality IT systems and experienced professionals who can safely guide consumers through the process.
“You’re only as good as your weakest technological link in the transaction,” Rob cautions. “Cybercrime is a huge problem in this field. Title agents must communicate effectively with customers about all pertinent risks. We have spent a lot of time and resources implementing preventative measures like encryption. But sometimes, old school methods like snail mail are still the best approach.”
Another piece of the puzzle is finding trustworthy underwriters with whom to build effective and mutually beneficial partnerships. In Rob’s case, one such underwriter is Alliant National.
He is particularly appreciative of Alliant National’s great technological systems. In addition, he noted that the underwriting relationship is often a key factor in determining what properties can ultimately be closed. He explained that not all underwriters are the same in how they approach deals or navigate risks.
“There can often be potential defects in the chain of title,” said Rob. “Some underwriters may not like that. But with Alliant National, I have a lot of confidence in their management, technology and, of course, people in navigating those issues.”
After more than three decades in title insurance, few people are more well-versed in the field or capable of commenting on its evolution than Rob Skidmore. Through building out his businesses, he has achieved a great deal of both personal and professional satisfaction and shared the fruits of his efforts with his surrounding community. He has also continuously prioritized what has always been essential to a good and lasting business: focusing on people, creating relationships and establishing hard-won expertise. These are the principles that animate him. They are also what he seeks to impart to those who may come after him.
“Whenever you’re faced with making a customer happy or doing the right thing, always do the right thing, even if you lose some business because of it,” he said. “Business always comes back in other ways. There is an old saying about how it takes a lifetime to build a reputation but a second to lose it. I couldn’t agree more. In title insurance, you may find yourself faced with such decisions. Always, always, always, do things the right way.”
Over the weekend, cloud-hosting and data security provider Cloudstar fell victim to a sophisticated ransomware attack. Alliant National was not impacted, however the attack has affected many agents across the country.
As a valued partner of Alliant National please know that we will make every effort to assist you and your agency if you have been impacted by this ransomware attack. During this challenging time, we are being as pro-active as possible by contacting customers and offering assistance.
Major title software vendors including Qualia, RamQuest, and SoftPro are offering hosting services to those affected by the Cloudstar attack, and there are other third-party vendors that may be able to help as well.
We have provided Alliant National forms packages to the major escrow software providers so they can be loaded quickly and easily into your environment if needed. The National Operations Center of Alliant National is on standby should you need assistance issuing individual Closing Protection Letters outside of your operating environment. We have our agency teams standing by to help you find a closing solution should you need a closing done to mitigate your reputational risk. In short, if you have a need, please reach out today to your Alliant National contact.
Please know that Alliant National will do anything possible to assist you and your agency if you are affected by this attack.
Additional information about this industry wide outage can be found here.