Cindy Koebele, CEO TitleSmart

Making Everyone Feel Valued is Paramount

Alliant National Agent finds work-arounds amid COVID-19

It feels almost impossible to stay connected right now. Though we’re starting to see stay-at-home orders lift across the country, social distancing protocols remain. As we continue to be separated from each other, title agents are finding innovative ways to make sure their clients and employees are safe and feel valued. Cindy Koebele, owner of Minnesota-based TitleSmart Inc., recently joined us on a webinar about doing just that.

When her home state started to close in response to COVID-19, Cindy’s first focus was to see who could work from home and make sure those team members had the tools to do so. Cindy and company also started scheduling smaller appointments to ensure client safety.

Cindy’s team also faced the same roadblocks everyone has experienced over the past several months – a shortage of everything. The offices needed to be stocked with essentials like disinfectant wipes and masks for staff and clientele, but there was a long period where nothing could be found. Thankfully the team at TitleSmart is just that – a team. A joint effort to equip company offices was quickly underway. Staff members would even text Cindy late at night if they managed to score a hard-to-find item.  

Nearly everything about day-to-day work had to change. The team was issued clipboards so they could hand papers to consumers who sat in their cars for “no contact” signings. Meanwhile, the “little things” Cindy’s team does to help clients feel welcome had to change a great deal. In the past, they’d bake fresh cookies and have an assortment of other goodies for clients taking the next big step in their lives. It was an important way the TitleSmart team connected with customers.

Thankfully, having to change the way you connect doesn’t mean giving it up entirely. Though the homemade touch of fresh baked cookies has to be put on pause, Cindy and team are still making yummy goodie bags for their closers. The focus of ensuring everyone feels welcome is more important than ever, and it’s something everyone at TitleSmart is taking very seriously.

Cindy notes that she refuses to lock her doors. She has no intention of making anyone do something they don’t want to do during these difficult times. Accommodations are being made both for those who want as little human interaction throughout the process as possible, and for those who still want that in-person experience.

The most critical takeaway from the discussion with Cindy is that connection isn’t impossible right now. It simply requires a little bit of innovation. Our situation may be a complicated one, but it’s one that we’re all in together. Making your team feel valued and showing your clients that you’re still willing to go the extra mile no matter what it may look like is the smartest business move that you can make right now. 

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Inventing as We Go: Post-Pandemic Business Operations

With many states choosing to lift their stay-at-home orders, many people are left wondering how to move forward in this new and uncertain landscape. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that there is no real “going back to normal.” A new normal will be achieved, but the idea that things will return to the way they were across the board is wishful thinking.

The notion of forming a new normal can be overwhelming on both a personal and professional level, but it’s something we find ourselves obligated to do in order to keep our businesses moving forward. Adding in the fact that everything feels topsy-turvy at the moment doesn’t help, either.

As an example, March and April were two of the heaviest order months in the history of title insurance. That influx is in direct conflict to the majority of other industries, many of which are struggling to stay afloat until whatever “new normal” can be achieved. Opening large numbers of orders is always exciting, but it’s critical that we realize this isn’t an evergreen influx of business.

It’s also important that we find a way to handle the large volume of orders in a way that keeps customers satisfied. Normally, the industry response to such a deluge of business is to hire more personnel. However, several large companies have, in fact, reduced staffing levels despite record orders and near record revenue. In the current COVID-19 world, it means learning to adapt on a company-wide scale.

As we all adapt, keep in mind that there will be very real pressure to reduce or even eliminate some risk management procedures in an effort to save costs. This is a dangerous time to consider such a reaction for either independent agents or underwriters. Many of the normal processes for risk management are difficult to maintain as a large percentage of employees are now working remotely. However, staff being remote does not remove the fiduciary responsibility we have to safeguard the public trust.

Another area of concern for the future is that governors and elected officials across the country are suspending laws and regulations, which continually move the regulatory goal posts. RON, RIN, Mobile Notary statutes, and recording regulations have all been changed using “executive orders.”

What will happen when creative plaintiffs’ attorneys challenge foreclosures, loan defaults, etc.? Underwriters will be called upon to defend lenders under their loan policies. Are courts and juries more likely to side with borrowers? Will foreclosures spike with dramatically increased unemployment? These added complications make it more important than ever for title agents to remain focused on the details, no matter how small they may seem. Be sure you have an underwriter who will stand behind you as an agent, and who can keep you up-to-date on regulatory issues.

While we will gradually return to whatever is the new normal, bear in mind that the surge in orders is a temporary reaction to low interest rates and the need to access equity that is currently locked into homes. These high numbers now don’t guarantee high numbers in the future. Be mindful of the regulatory adjustments that affect your role in the title and closing process, and adjust to the new work-from-home landscape as best as you can.

We have a lot of tools in our respective tool-belts. We just have to use them wisely and correctly.

During these uncertain times, Alliant National seeks to support our independent agents, helping to chart a path forward for continued business growth. Agents can access a wide range of tools and up-to-date Covid-related information at https://alliantnational.com/coronavirus/.

Feel free to reach out directly to me at randerson@alliantnational.com or 214-293-8067.

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Are you ‘RON Ready?’ Let lenders know

Is your agency set up to close transactions using remote online notarization (RON)? If so, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) is encouraging you to let lenders know by updating your ALTA Registry listing.

“RON is in high demand and lenders are actively looking for title and settlement companies that can close their loans using this technology,” the association said in a recent post. “Being RON Ready could lead to new revenue during these difficult times.”

There is no cost to be included on the ALTA Registry.

Update your listing on the ALTA Registry at: https://www.alta.org/registry/

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Title Agents: Help for Your Real Estate Colleagues

Right now, even the most seasoned experts find themselves unsure when we’ll be able to return to some semblance of normal. To add to that, it’s projected that it could be months or even years before we’re able to return to business as usual across the board. Now that most states have found themselves in over a month of their shelter-in-place orders, real estate experts have started compiling tips to try and help their fellow agents navigate these uncertain times.

A group of marketers came together for Forbes to offer twenty tips on how to seize the day until our day-to-day gets familiar again. Included in the tips are bits of advice like how to avoid being too aggressive while buyers find their footing, and to offer virtual product training to your agents.

Allie Beth Allman, Realtor to former President George W. Bush, spoke about the importance of not panicking and learning to adapt during an uncertain market. Allman also discusses the importance of remaining calm and not acting reactively here.

Meanwhile, New York broker Eric Benaim offers tips on winning business and staying positive while we find ourselves in a downturn. After starting his firm in 2008, Benaim has experience in working through economic anxiety. You can check out Alliant National’s COVID-19 Resource Page for more information on how you can keep your closings safe and your business moving forward during these tumultuous times. We also recently hosted a national webinar with many more tips on how to stay engaged with your Realtor clients.

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Fraud & Forgery Amidst Claims

Be mindful of the potential hazards with an increasingly online-only landscape

As news continues to break, it becomes more and more apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on our industry. While it’s critical that we learn to adapt amidst the crisis, it’s also imperative that we be mindful of the potential hazards that can come with shifting into an increasingly online-only landscape. Here are some of the things to watch out for as we navigate through this difficult time.

Increase in Wire Fraud and Phishing

There is no way to avoid electronic communications throughout this pandemic. Be vigilant against phishing emails, incorrect email addresses, slightly off signature blocks and dated lingo, and emails coming in at odd hours (implying the fraudster may be abroad). Always call a verified telephone number to confirm changes to wire instructions. Click on this link for more information on what to watch out for. 

TIP: Have a plan in place – meet with your IT department, and talk to your insurance agent to see how you can protect yourself against these scams.

Fraud & Forgery

Unfortunately, tumultuous times often only embolden fraudsters further. That’s why it’s important now, more than ever, to treat remote closings with the same care and caution as mail-away closings. Here are some red flags common to fraud and forgery claims: (1) the property is a part of a “flip” transaction; (2) the property is vacant land; (3) the deed to the seller is a recently recorded quit claim deed. Click on this link for more red flags.

Powers of Attorney

Powers of Attorney (POA) are ripe for fraud. Carefully examine the powers that are granted in any POA, and confirm that the POA was given freely and purposefully for the intent for which it will be used. Require a fresh POA if the POA presented is more than six months old. If you have reason to question the capacity of the principal, or have questions about the validity of the POA, contact your local Alliant National underwriter for approval before proceeding.

TIP: If your state allows the use of remote online notarization (RON) technology and the county recorder will accept electronically signed instruments for recording, recommend using RON so the principal can sign the required documents instead of appointing an attorney-in-fact. 

Undue Influence and Duress on the Elderly

With COVID-19 threatening the elderly more than any other demographic, we have a responsibility to ensure we’re mindful of any potential undue influence or duress from unscrupulous heirs or caregivers. If the person holding title is elderly or is sick, be sure to dig in further before agreeing to conduct the closing. 

Hard Money Lenders

Hard money lenders aren’t regulated by state or federal law. Generally, hard money lenders do not collect loan applications or otherwise vet their borrowers. This practice creates a higher potential for fraud by third parties posing as legitimate borrowers. If something feels off, it probably is. For more information on what to look for with these transactions, click on this link.

Note: Seller-financed purchased money loans are not considered hard money lenders.

Crime Watch Program We take the safety of our clientele very seriously. Because of that, Alliant National offers a $1000 reward to any agent who helps identify and prevent a forgery or scam. Be sure to contact the hotline to report anything that may feel like fraudulent activity. To submit a claim for a reward, click here:  https://alliantnational.com/title-claims/crime-watch-program/.

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