Brick City Title, a full-service title insurance agency, is a loyal member of the Ocala, Florida, business community and dedicated to protecting the integrity of its customers’ transactions. This commitment served them well recently when a fraudulent transaction came across the desks of two of the agency’s title professionals. By working together and proactively communicating with other transaction stakeholders, the agency foiled the fraudster and received recognition through Alliant National’s crime watch program, which offers a $1,000 reward to agents who help prevent a fraudulent transaction from closing.
A suspicious package
When the package first arrived from the buyer, Brick City Title’s Gina Preston and Cherie Breitenbecker felt like it was a step in the right direction. For some time, their agency had been attempting to collect a deposit from a cash buyer of a residential property who claimed to be conducting the deal through a trust.
Any positive feelings quickly dissipated, however, once they opened the parcel. While the sales contract for the transaction was included, there was no form of currency. Instead, the buyer had tucked several postal stamps inside the package.
Naturally, receiving such a bizarre item immediately set off alarm bells for Preston and Breitenbecker, especially since Brick City Title had repeatedly clarified to the buyer about which forms of payment the agency could accept. “If we feel or suspect anything unusual, we dig into available resources to resolve any possible fraudulent dealings,” said Preston, reflecting upon the incident. The next step for both professionals was to get on the horn to the buyer’s agent and reiterate which forms of payment were permissible – including a bank wire or a cashier’s check. A three-way call between the agent, Brick City Title and the buyer followed shortly after.
Any title agent who has been in Preston’s and Breitenbecker’s shoes will likely be able to predict what happened next. The buyer was incensed about being called out for the package and that Brick City Title was asking for more information about the trust involved in executing the transaction. After some back and forth, the buyer clammed up and ended the call. Preston, Breitenbecker and Brick City Title then took stock of what happened. A consensus quickly emerged that the whole transaction was highly suspect. The experience of other parties in the transaction further supported this view, with both the agent and seller having their own misgivings about the buyer’s behavior and demeanor.
The final step taken was to send the transaction materials to Alliant National and to subsequently cancel the transaction – much to the relief of all involved. “The seller wasn’t surprised this buyer was fraudulent,” said Preston when discussing the aftermath, “and was glad that we uncovered what we found and cancelled the transaction so that [they] could move on.”
As with any fraudulent transaction, the experience of Brick City Title provides important takeaways. It showcases how agents must not only adhere to their companies’ policies and procedures but also follow their gut instincts. In this case, the buyer’s behavior alone was a clear red flag. “I had a couple of conversations with the buyer and the conversations were not pleasant,” Preston explained. “This person had a very demanding and insulting demeanor which put me on guard.” Brick City Title’s experience also highlights how successful anti-fraud efforts are bigger than the actions of a single party. Instead, having a strong working relationship with every transaction stakeholder is the key to safe and secure transactions.
Through interfacing with its partners in the transaction, Brick City Title gained additional information that backed up their original assessment. The transaction was indeed fraudulent, and the way it was prevented is an essential reminder of how stopping fraud requires all hands on-deck.
Learn more about Alliant National’s crime watch program.
In a varied career split between law enforcement, real estate and title insurance, Tia Hall has been driven by a desire to provide support to her community.
For nearly 25 years, Tia Hall has remained steadfastly committed to her community. From her early career in criminal justice to her current responsibilities at Alliant National, she has long been motivated by helping others. Well-versed in making departments and organizations operate more effectively, Hall’s work at Alliant National is invaluable to its Southeast operations.
Hall’s career path wasn’t a straight line, but rather a winding journey that brought together seemingly disparate fields in a harmonious blend. For well over a decade, Hall served as a criminal justice specialist for Cobb County in Georgia. However, one of Hall’s main responsibilities during these years would prove advantageous to her later career. Hall’s focus in criminal justice often revolved around community outreach and enabling officers to engage more productively with vulnerable populations. “Working within law enforcement is very strenuous work,” Hall said, reflecting on why such work is critical. “You are dealing with a lot of people from different walks of life.”
As fate would have it, Hall would come to interact with a group of people immersed in real estate. “I often interacted with lawyers and others in real estate,” she stated, “especially when I was working on real estate code enforcement.”
While she was forming these connections, Hall was taking other steps that would eventually pave the way toward her joining the title insurance industry. Building from a foundation in criminal justice and psychology, Hall began studying real estate and became a notary public , working as a loan signing and closing agent. Throughout all these professional moves, Hall’s motivation remained the same: “I wanted more community connections.”
In 2022, Hall made the leap into the career she has today, joining the Alliant National team as the Southeast Support Administrator. At Alliant National, Hall works with every department – from HR to continuing education to accounting – to ensure that agents are empowered to execute on behalf of their clients. Calling upon her long history of driving growth, as well as diverse skill sets in administration, resource management, data protection, team building and more, she acts as a one-stop shop for agents and employees throughout the Southeast.
One important aspect of Hall’s day-to-day work is protecting the large quantities of personal information that are part and parcel with the title insurance profession. This is another area where she is well-served by her previous experiences in law enforcement. When working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI), for instance, Hall developed an acute appreciation for data protection. “There is a huge paper trail in this work,” she said, emphasizing that the failure to protect such data could quite literally ruin lives.
Now settled into her new career, Hall had several things to say when asked to sum up her experience, as well as the connection between her current responsibilities and yesterday’s roles. For her, helping the community is at the heart of both professions: “I love people. I love communicating. And I love to be a help for those in need.”
However, it’s in title insurance that Hall has found an ideal platform to pursue this passion, even more so than in law enforcement. “This industry is more close-knit,” she said, before noting how new employees can benefit from leveraging the field’s strong sense of community. When asked about what younger or less experienced workers should know, she remarked, “Employees need a strong foundation, as well as support to not get lost.”
For Hall, that communal support was what helped her as she made her initial foray into the business. It is also what continues to fuel her today as she works to deliver results for Alliant National’s agents. “At Alliant National, it is always easy to reach out if you need something. We’re always there for each other.”
With community-minded employees like Tia Hall amongst its ranks, Alliant National’s agents can rest assured that someone will always be there for them too.
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.”
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.
For every type of insurance that you purchase, there are a variety of different coverages offered. For instance, if you buy homeowner’s insurance you may want to add extra coverage if you have valuable paintings or jewelry that may not be covered by the basic policy amounts.
The same is true for title insurance.
The standard Owner’s Title Insurance Policy affords basic protections against many title defects such as fraud, forgery, or matters in the public record. For example, the policy includes coverage for recorded liens, real property taxes, or legal documents within the transaction that were executed under an invalid or expired power of attorney.
The title agent’s intent is to research thoroughly the ownership rights of the property, as well as any judgments or liens that may exist that could affect your rights to the property. Then the agent clears or cures those issues to ensure that you have free and clear title to the property when you purchase it.
Although your title agent is diligent in searching out the facts about your property that are in the public record, not everything about your property is “of record.” Therefore, a standard title policy includes exceptions to coverage for certain matters that may be undiscoverable.
An Enhanced Owner’s Policy adds 22 new covered risks that are excepted in the standard policy. The enhanced policy is typically available to purchasers of an owner-occupied one-to-four family residence wherein each insured is a “Natural Person.” The term “Natural Person” is defined under the conditions of the title policy. With the enhanced policy, the policy insures against certain future activities and matters that would not be discoverable by the title agent’s search of the land records.
Coverage under an enhanced policy continues to be subject to the title policy’s conditions, exclusions and exceptions unless it is stated differently in the covered risk itself.
Let’s take a look at the additional coverage offered with an Enhanced Owner’s Policy.
One of the most important benefits of an Enhanced Owner’s Policy is inflation coverage. The amount of insurance automatically increases by 10% of the policy amount each year for the first five years, up to 150% of the amount insured for your home. This occurs, without payment of any additional premium, to cover increases in the value of the insured property.
Building Permit Violation
When you purchase a home, you may not be aware that the former owner failed to obtain a legal permit from the proper government office to put in a swimming pool, add a wing to the house or construct an additional dwelling unit (ADU).
An enhanced policy protects you if you are forced to remove or remedy your existing home, or any part of it (other than boundary walls or fences) because any portion was built by a previous owner without obtaining a building permit. This coverage is subject to a deductible amount and a maximum dollar limit of liability, as shown in Schedule A of the title policy.
Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions
Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) list the rights and obligations of a homeowners’ association (HOA). This could include your maintenance obligations, property-use restrictions, assessments and insurance obligations, among others.
Without your knowledge, these CC&Rs may have been violated prior to your ownership, resulting in a financial obligation to the HOA or loss of title. An enhanced policy covers you if you are forced to correct or remedy the existing violation or if the title is lost or taken because of any covenant, condition or restriction, which occurred before you acquired your title, even if the covenant, condition or restriction is excepted in the policy.
If any structures on your new property are encroaching onto your neighbor’s property, for instance if the garage is built partially on the neighboring property, the enhanced policy provides coverage in the event you are forced to remove those structures due to the encroachment. If the encroaching structures are boundary walls or fences, this coverage is subject to a deductible amount and a maximum dollar limit of liability, as shown in Schedule A of the policy.
In addition, the policy provides coverage in the event your neighbor builds any structures, after the policy date, that encroaches onto your land (other than boundary walls and fences).
An enhanced policy insures you have actual pedestrian and vehicular access to your property.
Map and Address Inconsistencies
If a map is attached to your policy, the enhanced policy provides coverage if the map does not show the correct location of the land, according to the public records.
Sometimes a taxing authority may assess supplemental real estate taxes not previously assessed against the land but covering a period prior to your purchase. This could be due to new construction or a change of ownership that occurred before the policy date. An enhanced policy would cover this liability as well.
If a previous owner added structures to the property that violate zoning laws, an enhanced policy provides coverage to you if you are forced to remove or remedy your existing structures, or any part of them, due to those violations. If you are required to remedy existing structures, the amount of insurance is subject to a deductible amount and maximum dollar limit of liability, as shown in Schedule A of the title policy.
In addition, you are insured if it is determined your property cannot be used as a single-family residence because it violates existing zoning laws or zoning regulations.
Property ownership is often more complicated than we know, especially if you are purchasing property in an unusual situation, where property has been recently subdivided or where there has been recent construction. If you have any questions or concerns, it may be advisable to enlist the help of a real estate attorney to review all aspects of your purchase. We also invite you to contact a local title insurance agent to learn how the Enhanced Owner’s Title Policy can provide you additional protection for your homeownership rights.