CASE STUDY: TitleVest Creates Niches With Technology How Founder and CEO Bill Baron differentiated his company by developing technology tools to streamline the most laborious aspects of the title and closing processes.
Technology can play an integral role in streamlining the operations of both a title agency and its clients. Over the past eight years, TitleVest Agency, Inc., a Manhattan-based provider of title insurance and related real estate services, stands out as a prime example of a company that both recognizes the power of technology and has successfully integrated technology to grow its business.
Today, TitleVest’s title insurance operations is a well-oiled machine and its thousands of real estate clients enjoy secure online access to numerous proprietary, web-based tools that help streamline their operations.
Here is how TitleVest went about achieving these goals:
TitleVest’s client base consists primarily of real estate attorneys and mortgage lenders in New York, New Jersey and Florida.
When Bill Baron, TitleVest’s founder and president, opened TitleVest’s doors in 2000, he looked for ways to differentiate his business from the countless other title insurance providers. As a former practicing real estate attorney, Baron was keenly aware of the many laborious and time-intensive tasks required in real estate transactions. Since the various off-the-shelf title insurance software programs did not adequately address these inefficiencies, and in any case would not be a point of market differentiation, Baron set out on a mission to develop proprietary tools to eliminate archaic methods for his target client-base, as well as TitleVest’s own internal operations.
"Closing a real estate transaction is historically inefficient and paper intensive," said Baron. "In developing web-based tools to streamline the process, we saw an opportunity to increase efficiency and to provide one-of-a-kind added value to our clients."
In order to develop effective technology, TitleVest’s team of title professionals and IT developers assessed the workflow within TitleVest and devised a strategic plan for streamlining their processes. For the attorneys and other real estate professionals, they examined all of the components in the closing process and determined how they could automate some of these processes to increase efficiency.
Develop proprietary technologies that allow real estate professionals secure online access to tools that enable them to place and track the status of their orders, schedule closings, calculate closing costs, access their policies, track the reporting of real estate and facilitate the creation of all required real estate documents.
How They Did It
TitleVest invested millions of dollars in developing TitleVest.com over the past eight years. In fact, it has invested an average of 50 percent of company profits annually in developing their proprietary technology.
By hiring a team of top IT programmers, the company has been able to tailor the technology to meet its internal needs, and, most importantly, its clients’ needs. In addition to increasing efficiency, TitleVest has been able to nearly eliminate human error.
TitleVest’s Proprietary Technologies Include:
Orders can be placed, tracked and viewed online. All title reports and policies are archived for future access. Users can schedule and confirm closings and select closers through this 24/7 accessible hub. An online closing cost calculator provides an itemized breakdown of the exact closing costs of any type of real estate transaction. Email alerts are also generated confirming the recording of documents.
Coop Lien Searches and Foreclosure Searches: Similar to title insurance, all orders and continuation search requests can be placed, tracked and viewed online.
UCC Filings: UCC forms feature an auto-fill option, allowing users to pull information from related and previously processed documents. UCC forms are submitted for filing with the click of a button and users receive email recording alerts with a link to the recorded image in real time.
ACRIS E-Tax Forms: ACRISasap™ was developed in response to the New York City Department of Finance’s ACRIS web site which, among other things, requires that all New York City and State transfer tax and related forms be created online. ACRISasap™ requires only one form to by completed, unlike the NYC ACRIS web site which requires multiple forms. Once entered into ACRISasap™, the data is automatically transferred to the City's ACRIS web site and all required E-Tax Forms (including Recording Cover Pages on coop transfers) are created and posted on TitleVest.com in about one minute.
TitleVest’s clients have found the company’s ACRIS E-Tax technology far superior to the complex system used by the New York City Department of Finance.
"I was filling in at a condo closing for a vacationing lawyer," said Steven Siegel, Esq. "While at the table, when asked for them, I observed to my horror that the lawyer never prepared ACRIS filing forms. TitleVest saved the day. In just a matter of moments, the filing was done and the forms were faxed to the closing. TitleVest is always there."
TitleVest’s Legal Form Generator™ offers access to the industry’s most widely used legal forms. Powered by Adobe Systems technology, real estate forms are designed to automatically share information and can be accessed 24/7. Forms can be printed, saved or edited at any time from any computer.
Currently in BETA release, TitleVest’s ACRIStracker™ allows for the automated tracking of documents submitted for recording against real property in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Bronx. Users have the option of tracking either specific documents or all documents filed against a particular property.
ACRIStracker™ technology enables attorneys to confirm that the real estate documents for their clients' transactions (i.e. deeds, mortgages, etc.) are properly and timely recorded. Attorneys can also provide their clients with email links to the recorded documents. On coop transactions, attorneys can confirm that the ACRIS E-Tax Forms have been properly and timely filed.
UCCtracker™ was developed in response to reports of document recording fraud on the rise in 2008. A June 20, 2008 New York Times article, "Government Crackdown on Mortgage Fraud," cited 406 indictments since March for charges of mortgage fraud. The Quarterly Fraud Report from the Mortgage Asset Research Institute (MARI) revealed a 42 percent increase in mortgage fraud in Q1 2008 versus the prior year. Information from the FBI, HUD-OIG, FinCEN, MARI, Federal National Mortgage Association, and RealtyTrac Inc. (foreclosure statistics) place New York among the top ten areas for mortgage fraud in the country.
Because UCC financing statements do not require a signature, they are also prime candidates for fraud. To help protect lenders against UCC fraud, TitleVest developed UCCtracker™, which tracks the filing of UCC Financing Statements on the New York City Department of Finance’s ACRIS recording database and alerts its users whenever a subsequent UCC is filed that affects the original, tracked UCC. This timely notification alerts lenders to UCC fraud at the onset, allowing them to respond efficiently and effectively.
"The UCC filing database essentially relies on the honor system," said Baron. "There are no checks and balances to ensure that the party filing the UCCs is authorized to do so. UCCtracker™ offers lenders a powerful tool to mitigate the potentially devastating effects of UCC fraud."
Eye on the Future
For Baron and the team at TitleVest, anticipating client expectations is the mort important part of integrating technology into the title insurance industry and the real estate closing process. For technology to be effective, they contend it must meet an existing need or simplify an existing process. As it has in the past, TitleVest will remain focused on developing technology that streamlines the most laborious aspects of the title and closing processes and provides clients with added value.
TitleVest's clients find the technology tools effective and convenient. According to Peter L. Graubard, Esq. "TitleVest-1031Vest exhibits unparalleled customer service when needed, but because of its unparalleled web site and technology, talking to an individual is rarely necessary. Completing title transactions and 1031 transactions has never been so easy."
Developing technology for the sake of developing technology is not the goal. TitleVest is constantly listening to what its clients have to say and working to identify aspects of the title and closing processes that complicate or delay the processing of transactions. Once it has identified those challenges, it works to identify how the problem can be solved and the process improved. With this information, TitleVest approaches its programmers and begins honing the concept until it becomes a functional piece of technology.
The Big Difference
While TitleVest has worked diligently to automate the key components of the closing process, it has not replaced exceptional customer service with technology.
"We understand the importance of providing all of our clients with the best services possible in the manner the best suits their individual needs," said Baron. "While many of our clients prefer to place their orders online and communicate with us via email, others prefer to fax or call in their orders."
TitleVest's experienced team of real estate professionals includes in-house title experts, attorneys, a CPA and support staff. The synergy of innovative, proprietary technology and superior customer services results in a compelling experience for TitleVest's clients.
With offices in New York, New Jersey and Florida, and as the policy-issuing agent for six of the nation's largest largest underwriters, TitleVest is committed to growing both geographically and technologically.