Posts Tagged ‘texas’

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Your Advantage: Rayni Scott Has A Passion For The Historical And Human Side Of Title Insurance

As a self-described “historical document geek,” Rayni Scott loves examining old papers, leafing through personal journals and poring over household ledgers from time periods long gone. For her, discovering how people lived profoundly different lives from those we do in 2024 is fascinating. Her interest in tackling these historical puzzles also dovetails perfectly with her 20+ year career in title insurance.

As an Underwriting Counsel for the Southwest Region at Alliant National, Scott often spends her time exploring the history of properties the company is considering insuring. These records originally brought her into the field and continue to inspire her to deliver for the company’s independent agents.

To understand how Scott became the legal and title professional she is today, we must begin at the beginning. Following his retirement from the energy industry, Scott’s father became involved in real estate development. At the time, he would often bring his daughter to the county courthouse, where she would help him check ledgers to learn who owned different tracts of land that he and his business partners were interested in developing.

“I think I was the only middle schooler reviewing grantor-grantee indexes or putting together deed chains,” said Scott of those days. These early experiences left a lasting impact. Later in college, Scott’s favorite classes were Constitutional Law and Real Property Law, and she would eventually parlay her interests into a career in title examination and later in underwriting. Today, Scott’s love for historical puzzles continues to animate her work. “One of the most engaging parts of my job is putting together the puzzle,” she said. “The job doesn’t get boring. Every file offers different facts and there is always something new to learn.”

For Scott, a property’s historical details are not just meaningful in the abstract. Instead, just like the historical records she explores in her personal time, a property file can reflect the lived reality of real people. They can also certainly impact those involved in the transaction going forward. “It isn’t just paper shuffling,” she said of the profession. “Underwriters can actually make a difference in people’s lives with our answers.” The historical and the human sides of title examination and underwriting are both present in the various types of property transactions that come across Scott’s desk – including residential, commercial, multi-use and ranch land – although to varying degrees.

Residential sales, for instance, are often steeped in emotion. It is not uncommon, says Scott, for the seller to have “all their belongings in a moving van and need the sale to fund a new home – which are known as back-to-back closings.” On the other side of a residential transaction, you can have someone who is “buying their ‘dream home,’” Scott explains. If that wasn’t enough, these deals may also have problems that are “only discovered at the closing table” and can “really pull on the heartstrings.” 

On the other hand, “commercial and multi-use transactions are ‘easier’ in the sense that attorneys are usually involved,” Scott notes. You can focus more squarely on the transaction’s particulars and “speak the same language when discussing reasons for exception or requirement.” 

Finally, ranch land sales split the difference, which makes them “the toughest yet perhaps the most interesting,” according to Scott. These transactions require deep dives into the property’s history – including chain of title issues, mineral rights and surface estates, and waterway concerns. Yet they also frequently include lots of family members – property heirs who bring personal and emotional stakes to the table.

Given her passion for navigating both the historical and human dimensions of property transactions, it is not surprising that Scott found a professional home at Alliant National. The company is defined by its comprehensive capabilities, meticulous title reviews and responsive underwriting. Although for Scott, Alliant National also views title insurance as being about community in addition to historical and legal analyses.

Scott relates to the company’s community focus on multiple levels. Personally, joining Alliant National was a reunion of sorts: “I’ve worked with many on the Alliant National team before,” she said. But it also has a larger dimension. Recognizing that title insurance can profoundly impact people is one thing, but you also must back up such beliefs with action. Scott notes that this makes Alliant National’s investments in education and industry development so important, as they enable agents to improve service delivery and strengthen the industry overall. “I’m passionate about our webinar series,” she said. “I was also excited to learn my law school alma mater created a Real Property Clinic and that Alliant National is instituting a paid internship program to open avenues for new professionals to join our field.” Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” This principle is self-evident in real estate and title insurance. In these industries, historical records speak volumes about the forces that shaped a property and what meaning the property may have for those who lived there. Additionally, the level of care, consideration and effort put into dealing with those documents can leave a lasting mark on both the buyer and seller. Her love for historical records and acute understanding of that fact have empowered Scott to build an enviable career. They are also qualities that will help her continue to execute on behalf of Alliant National’s agents in the years to come.

Rae Jeanne Steele - Meet Your Advantage Tam member spotlight graphic

Your Advantage: Rae Jeanne Steele Exemplifies Persistence and Service in Title Insurance

Alliant National’s Rae Jeanne Steele discusses the values that have defined her career.

Rae Jeanne Steele is no title industry newbie. Having built a successful career spanning several decades, she has a vivid perspective on how the field has changed over time. Yet Steele’s story also speaks to the age-old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” While technology, processes and workflows have shifted from year-to-year, Steele’s commitment to persistence, relationship-building and service have remained just as relevant as ever. These values are front and center in her work today at Alliant National.

Steele’s first exposure to the industry was in the 1980s when she started helping at her mother’s Texas-based real estate agency. Back then, the industry barely resembled what it is today. As Steele explains, “I can remember when we had an MLS book that was printed once a month. Nothing could be updated digitally the way it is now, and so, by the time you wanted to show a property, it might already be unavailable. Then there was the actual process of getting into a home, where you would have to call individual brokerage offices to schedule a showing and pick up the keys.” Over time, of course, technology started to change the industry. According to Steele, today “AI, mobile apps, smart home technology and digital lock boxes are all being used to streamline operations.”

Even amid such profound technological transformation, Steele’s approach to her work has remained remarkably consistent year-after-year. Many of her professional values originated from the period when she returned to working at her mother’s real estate agency in the mid-1990s, this time as a fully licensed agent. “My mom taught her realtors to have persistence when going after a goal,” said Steele. But that wasn’t all she learned back then. She also saw how much importance her mom placed on relationship building: “Following up. Building relationships. Keeping up with relationships. These are things I learned at a very young age from her.”

Other values that have grounded her over the years include having a spirit of service, and not just in her professional life. A long-time volunteer at her church, Steele and her family have frequently been involved in charity work, including scheduling, coordinating, cooking, and serving meals for hundreds of people as just one example.

Keeping these values close has served Steele well as she progressed in her career and eventually found her way to Alliant National in 2021. Persistence has been key, for instance, in her taking an active, intentional approach to expanding her industry knowledge and dealing with difficult professional moments. Instead of merely hoping to “live and learn,” for instance, she has chosen to rely on “education instead of merely experience to overcome challenges.” Her people skills have also been highly useful, particularly in achieving consensus around challenging topics with diverse parties: “I think one of the most surprising aspects of my job is the amount of time I spend explaining regulatory differences between real estate brokerages and title companies. There is a huge need to bridge that gap.”

As for the spirit of service that has long animated Steele’s life? Well, that is not just a feature of Alliant National but baked into its very foundation. “Alliant National is building a company where every agent can find a home,” she explained. She then noted how this requires serving agents’ needs by focusing on tangible business value. Steele dubs this approach as delivering “serious service based on sells” – that is, service that revolves around helping agencies gain advantage in real dollars and cents.

One way that Alliant National accomplishes this is through delivering topical educational resources through Alliant National Academy. Policy issuing agents of Alliant National have access to a growing catalogue of classes that focus not just on title insurance but also hot topics like leveraging AI for business gain. In addition, there are courses on how agents can nurture relationships with key stakeholders such as Realtors for mutual benefit. For Steele, offering these resources is not merely a competitive differentiator in the marketplace. It aligns perfectly with Alliant National’s overarching mission to empower agents, protect property owners and inspire innovation throughout the industry.

Our industry is always in flux, yet it’s timeless values like persistence and a commitment to service that provide our solid foundation. These are the principles that professionals like Rae Jeanne Steele bring to the forefront, equipping you with the unwavering support necessary to deliver the exceptional service your clients expect.

Crime watch banner above a picture of Texas' Heritage Title and Alliant National's Russell Gonzales.

Heritage Title Company of Austin – Keeping Fraudsters on Their Back Foot

There’s another victory to report as Alliant National partners with independent title agents in the ongoing fight against real estate fraud. Alliant National’s Crime program offers a $1,000 reward to Alliant National agents who help prevent a fraudulent transaction from closing. The program has already recognized the prevention of $2 million in attempted fraud, and recently Heritage Title of Austin was honored for stopping a fraudulent transaction from going forward.

Meet Heritage Title of Austin

Heritage Title of Austin is a leading title agency operating in the Austin metropolitan area. For more than 30 years, they have been a dependable partner for aspiring property owners who are looking to secure their investments. Having long adhered to industry best practices and the highest possible standards, Heritage Title was naturally well-positioned to respond swiftly and efficiently when an instance of attempted fraud came across their collective desks.

Obvious red flags

“The order was placed through our website, which is very rare for our company,” said Dan Elkins, Senior VP, Plant Manager, Heritage Title Company of Austin, discussing how he initially became aware of the suspicious transaction. The transaction carried other red flags as well according to Elkins, who stated, “The contract was not a standard TREC form contract. The wording in the contract was a bit unusual in a couple of places, and there was no representation listed in the contract for either party.”

Digging deeper

Once these red flags came into view, Elkins and the Heritage Title Company team began digging deeper. The contract in question only listed one woman as the seller, but an inspection of the tax rolls revealed that the woman and her husband were the owners of the property, as did the last recorded deed.

Therefore, the next step was to run the husband’s name, which unearthed that his will had been probated and explained why he had not signed the contract. The problem, according to Elkins, was that “the wife’s signature on their purchase money deed of trust also did not match the signature on the contract, which raised even more suspicion.”

Heritage Title then contacted the law firm that handled the husband’s probate to see if they could get contact information for the wife independent from the information listed in the contract. However, they were informed by the law firm that the wife had also passed away a few months earlier. This made it impossible for her signature on the contract to be authentic, as it was dated after the date of her death.

Wrapping things up

As Elkins and Heritage Title were conducting their due diligence and discovering the transaction’s clear fraudulence, Russell Gonzales, Assistant Vice President and SW Region Agency Representative at Alliant National Title Insurance Company, was on-site at Heritage Title. After Heritage Title reported the fraud to Gonzales, the company decided to alert other agencies and advise them to be on the lookout for similar scams. Gonzales then encouraged Heritage Title to apply for Alliant National’s crime watch award for having prevented a fraudulent transaction that could have proven to be costly for all involved.  

Final thoughts from Heritage Title

In reflecting on the experience, Elkins noted that staying ahead of fraudsters requires a long-term outlook, a comprehensive approach and real investment. “We utilize physical access security at all our locations. We have network security installed on our networks that prevents unauthorized devices from connecting. We run very good software on all endpoints and servers to detect and contain any possible threats. We use top-of-the-line firewalls and mail filters,” he said, listing off a few of the security tools deployed by Heritage Title.

Elkins also made sure to emphasize that the human factor is equally important, and that without those two elements working together harmoniously, an agency can suffer negative financial consequences.

“The most important thing we do is train our personnel to always look for the red flags, whether it is in a phishing email or an impersonation attempt,” he said. “They are the last line of defense. You cannot spend too much on your defense and recovery plan because the monetary and reputational costs of taking even one hit can be enormous.”

Learn more, stop fraud and get rewarded

To learn more about how Alliant National incentivizes agents to fight and reduce fraud, visit us at alliantnational.com/title-claims/crime-watch-program/.

People celebrating below the words "record breaking!"

Alliant National Helps Close Record $182 Million Commercial Transaction

The transaction is the largest in Alliant National history and demonstrates the underwriter’s commitment to partnering with its agents in the commercial sector.  

With its growing national presence across 30 states and the District of Columbia, Alliant National is a well-known residential underwriter. However, it is also a force to be reckoned with in the commercial real estate field. It recently insured a $182 million refinance transaction with Chambers County Abstract of Anahuac, Texas. The transaction was a record breaker for both Alliant National and Chambers County Abstract.  

“We were in absolute disbelief,” said Chambers County Abstract examiner Darla Chandler Lastovica, commenting on the size of the transaction. “We didn’t believe it was real until it was all said and done.” Lastovica helped lead the title work on the property.

“Alliant National has insured many commercial properties throughout its history,” said KC West, Senior Vice President and Southwest Regional Manager at Alliant National. “However, we’ve never tackled a property of this size and scope before. While it was a major lift, it was exciting to work on insuring such a large tract of land and to work closely with our partners at Chambers County Abstract.”

The transaction covering the sprawling 550 acre-property in Baytown, Texas, was completed on behalf of Ohio-based JSW Steel. The company is gearing up to renovate its pipe and plate steel mill facility on the site. Chambers County Abstract has a long relationship with JSW Steel, having produced title reports for the company’s law firm since 2014.

This particular transaction dates back to 2019, when JSW Steel opened a $10 million file with Chambers County Abstract. After title was opened, the order sat idle for more than a year until one of JSW’s lawyers informed the office that the transaction had ballooned in size to $182 million.

Aside from its sheer size, the transaction was enormously challenging in other ways. First, it had a complex legal description that included myriad tracts and easements. Second, the description changed over the years, making it a substantial effort to determine what pertained to the property. Despite having completed prior title work, it took considerable effort to review legal descriptions and surveys, verify legal instruments and match these to the various tracts.

Chambers County Abstract, however, is a seasoned player in the commercial real estate market, having worked on many commercial properties, including expansive, multi-tract properties. Having a company well-versed in the process is helpful considering the additional challenges commercial properties can pose over residential. For instance, even single tract commercial transactions can contain more instruments, loans, and longer documents than residential transactions. Multi-tract properties are exponentially more complicated, featuring lengthy legal descriptions, multiple tracts to search and volumes of legal instruments to record.  Organizing all these components is “a work of art in its own right,” Lastovica said.

Integral to the success of any given commercial transaction is the role of the underwriter, which must make the final decisions as to whether the property can be insured. As Chambers County Abstract’s underwriter, Alliant National acts as a financial backstop if a title claim or issue were to arise. The relationship between title underwriter and title agent is crucial. Both parties must effectively work together to prevent financial loss. While important to every transaction, title insurance serves a unique role in a commercial context. There can often be multiple liens against commercial properties, so having proper insurance in place is critical to the lender getting an expected lien priority.

Alliant National’s guiding principal is to partner with agents and never compete. In its work with Chambers County Abstract, one can see the powerful and profitable logic in such an approach – for both residential and commercial properties.

Graphic with Rayni Scott's picture welcoming her as Underwriting Counsel for the Southwest Region and Vice President for Alliant National

Celebrating Rayni Scott

Longmont, Colo. – (April 22, 2021) – Alliant National Title Insurance Company, a unique title insurance underwriter that partners with independent agents to improve their competitive position, announces the hiring of Rayni Scott to the position of Underwriting Counsel for the Southwest Region and Vice President.

Rayni Scott is a highly skilled real estate and title insurance attorney with more than 20 years of experience. She is well-versed in real estate matters, title insurance underwriting and contracts. Rayni is a graduate of University of Mississippi and obtained her J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law.

Rayni’s past experiences will serve her well in her new role with Alliant National, where she will handle underwriting inquiries, draft bulletins, develop educational materials and conduct risk assessments.

“I’m excited to join the Alliant National team, particularly considering its focus on the independent agent!” says Rayni. “I’ve previously worked with many of the Alliant National team members, and I am grateful to be collaborating again with such an outstanding team of title professionals. I look forward to reconnecting with agents I’ve worked with in the past, as well as meeting and forging bonds with new agents.”

“We are so pleased Rayni has joined our team of exceptional underwriters in the Southwest Region,” says Margaret Cook, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer. “She brings a wealth of legal knowledge, industry experience and a spirit of service to the position. Rayni is well-versed in residential, commercial, multi-use and ranch land underwriting. Her depth of knowledge and affable attitude make her a perfect fit for Alliant National.” 

Outside of her work, Rayni enjoys spending time with her two sons, particularly volunteering with 4-H, their local food bank and their church. She also has an acute interest in historical archival document study, historical site visits, archeology, reading and gardening.

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.

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e: cathie@capitalcitypr.com
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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.

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