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TitleVest touts use of iPad for interactive title report solution

When Apple launched the iPad, its newest device, on April 3, Bill Baron, president of New York City-based TitleVest, was one of the first to hold it in his hands.

Baron isn’t a die-hard Apple follower, but rather had developed a new Web-based technology product at TitleVest known as the Interactive Online Report and was interested to see how the solution would work on the iPad.

“This was not something we were rushing to develop as an app to work on the iPad. This is technology that we developed, intending for it to be used on desktop computers or laptops. I was hopeful that the functionality of our reports would work well on the iPad,” Baron said. “I was blown away.”

Development

More than a year ago, TitleVest launched into the development process for a product that would deliver electronic title reports in a format that would have functionality beyond a static PDF, which it had previously provided to its clients.

“Over the course of a year and with a substantial investment and Web developers, we launched a tool that we called the Interactive Online Report that has really great functionality. We’ve started to show it to our clients and our clients have started to use it over the last couple of months,” Baron said.

In July 2009, Robert Buzard was brought on at TitleVest as managing director of business development, joining the company after spending several years as counsel in the commercial real estate division of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP. Though the title report technology was well into development, Buzard was able to contribute insight into how real estate attorneys would likely use the tool and recommend tweaks and modifications.

“Having the background of knowing exactly what it’s like to go through title and what it means on the commercial side when things get really complex and you have so much information, this to me was a great idea that, if done correctly, could be a game changer,” Buzard said.

Development was completed in December 2009, while the iPad was announced by Apple in January.

How it works

Because the Interactive Online Report is Web-based and not an app, it can run on any computer and was in use by TitleVest clients prior to Apple’s release.

TitleVest uploads every piece of information that would appear in a paper title report onto the system. Users can navigate between the certification, legal description, exceptions, exhibits, mortgage schedule, survey readings, tax search, municipal search, last deed and title bill. Within those windows are live links to all the documents used to create the report, from covenants and restrictions to the title policy and post-closing document tracking.

Recalling his days as a junior associate working on title for massive commercial deals, Buzard described the technology as replacing the phone book-sized reports he used to scour. And that technology stands well apart from the iPad, he said.

“If the iPad hadn’t come out, would I think differently about the technology? No. Because on a computer, laptop, wherever, it’s still a great tool on a standalone basis. But the iPad — when I first started looking at it, I thought it was amazing,” Buzard said.

The iPad’s 9.5-inch-by-7.5-inch frame can be held easily in users’ hands, as the touch of a finger allows them to scroll from page to page and launch link after link within TitleVest’s interactive report, while a pinch of two fingers on the touch-screen zooms in to read more closely.

“What makes our Interactive Online Report so compelling on an iPad as compared to a traditional desktop or laptop is that it allows attorneys to use our electronic title reports in a manner that is completely natural to them — by holding the title report in their hands, passed along to a colleague in the same manner as a piece of paper, slipped into a briefcase, etc.,” Baron said. “Title reports, especially on large, commercial transactions, can easily run in excess of 200 pages and include many complex and difficult-to-read documents.”

What it means

In a document-rich industry, the challenge to evolving into a more electronic environment is often the idea that it’s unnatural, Baron said. And it’s an idea the iPad and future tablet devices stand to change.

“It’s natural to hold a piece of paper. You can sit at your desk, but you’re not hunched over and looking at a computer screen with a mouse. You’re looking at a piece of paper. What the iPad allows for is to hold a flat computer tablet,” he said. “You hold this tablet in your hands like you’d be holding a title report.”

The interactive report may not have been created for the iPad, but Baron said he’s found it to be ideally suited for a tablet device, something that he anticipates will be a game changer for the legal industry, especially. And for the real estate industry overall, the technology stands to push adoption of electronic contracts and closing documents.

Buzard said that he expects technology like the iPad to continue to be embraced by the legal industry, particularly as younger, tech-savvy lawyers start becoming partners in real estate law firms.

"As younger attorneys move up the ranks, I think there will be a natural progression within law firms to move away from the days of having to review reams of paper on every deal and, instead, to embrace and utilitze new technologies such as our interactive online report and mobile devices such as the iPad," he said.

TitleVest has begun using the iPad in its sales calls, bringing one along for its clients to use to view the company’s interactive report right alongside a copy of the paper report.

“We’re trying to get in front of as many people as possible and the response has been terrific. Big-firm real estate attorneys predominantly are the ones who are finding this really compelling,” Baron said.

And as PC adaptations come down the pike and tablet technology in general sees a reduction in price, Buzard said he thinks it’s likely that real estate attorneys or others in document-rich professions won’t be the only ones adopting the devices, especially with similar products like Amazon’s wireless reading device Kindle already gaining in popularity among the general population.

“As the cost comes down and these things become more prevalent, I’m sure in a couple of years from now, 50 percent of people will have a device similar to this,” he said.

And that’s just what Baron is hoping for.

“When the iPad was officially launched and we viewed our Interactive Online Report on the iPad for the first time, we knew that we had developed something truly revolutionary. The iPad and the soon-to-be-released myriad of other tablet computers will surely transform how complex documents, such as title reports, are reviewed. Of course an electronic document can only be as compelling as the technology behind it, and that is where our Interactive Online Report platform comes in,” he said.