Title Companies Can Drive Business Development Efforts by Providing Valuable Property Information
Title Agents often think of property research as a time-consuming process involving multiple sources of information. Even more challenging is determining accurate valuations in a time of rampant foreclosures, defaults and short sales.
Yet as more counties embrace digital recording and new research tools hit the market, it is becoming easier to leverage automation and efficiently conduct property research. Once title agents understand how to counter some common misperceptions about property research, they can leverage best practices in quickly—and cost-effectively—identifying critical data for customers’ property research needs. Additionally, a strong understanding of the trends in property research enables title agents to provide value-added services that can be a differentiator in the market. Property research can become a driver in business development efforts, and therefore impact the bottom line.
Myth #1: Property research is always time consuming and requires multiple searches.
One of the most significant challenges involved in determining a clean title is tracing all of the property data across multiple sources.
Real estate data has been compiled for more than 30 years from public records. The real estate data compiled today is at the property and transaction or “loan level.” This means specifics about loan and sales transactions (loan amount, sales date, price, lender name, loan type, etc.) are being keyed or collected from documents as they are recorded or as owners buy and/or finance property. This data is further matched with property-level county tax assessor records and then enriched, cleansed and standardized. Various layers of logic are applied to ensure consistency and high quality.
Until recently, gathering information meant physically walking to the various offices and poring through records printed on paper or stored on microfiche (a full title search). In the past decades, more counties and states have moved to a digital archiving system, enabling title agents to sort and comb quickly through thousands of records using a computer. But the challenge still remained that the data was held by many different entities.
Today, the process is much simpler. As more data is available in a digital—and often online—format, title agents can now take advantage of programs that offer one-stop access to comprehensive property data at an affordable cost.
Myth #2: It isn’t clear from public records when a property has moved into some form of “distress.”
In today’s market, the most significant factor affecting most housing markets is the default crisis and the glut of distressed properties. For title agents, knowing the current status of a property is critical to ensuring a clear line of ownership.
Making the job a little easier is that bank notices of default and trustee sale notices are now recorded by county offices. This information, like all other property data, is digitally archived, making it easier to track the status of homes that have gone through the foreclosure process.
Tracking short sales is more difficult, though. County recorder data does not indicate specifically when a sale is shorted. However, the data is available for title agents who use property analysis tools to cross-reference sales data with housing price indices (HPI) to determine whether a transaction was a short sale.
Best Practices for Property Search
The most effective approach to property research for your customer service team or individual title agents is to leverage a comprehensive web-based tool that contains all relevant property information in one location. This increases response time and customer satisfaction.
In addition to centralizing the search for property data, other best practices can be utilized to improve
each customer service representatives’ (CSR) capability to find property and ownership information and speed up research. These tools are so effective that many title agencies find a significant reduction in the time spent per request, ultimately reducing their overall spend. Prior to the advent of comprehensive solutions, property and ownership searches could take up to 50 minutes. With a comprehensive solution, search times drop to less than 10 minutes.
Best Practice: Sophisticated Search
Search tools are also more sophisticated—and easier to use— than ever before. Unlike the past approaches, which often required restricted search terms within a confusing phrasing format, searching for property data is now as easy as using Google.
The best property tools incorporate “find as you type” functionality, which provides all the available iterations of owner name or property address as the CSR enters the information. The increasing availability of high-quality web-based mapping tools, which are now often incorporated into comprehensive property research tools, also means that agents can
locate properties by using an aerial map. Searches are no longer restricted to full address. Instead, a search can utilize partial information, such as a nearby intersection or subdivision name.
Map-based searching also increases accuracy, since agents can visualize the property to ensure it is the correct selection. Map search also helps CSRs evaluate the property by viewing the terrain, spotting vacant land or confirming property characteristics—such as commercial versus residential uses.
Best Practice: Concurrent Searches
A cutting-edge best practice is found in tools that provide concurrent access to your customer
database and property research tools. Such features enable CSRs to search for property information while simultaneously identifying and working with customer and prospective customer information (either from customer relationship management or real estate association databases).
The advantages of using a concurrent approach are simple. When CSRs don’t have to switch tools, questions can be answered faster. The CSR also has instant knowledge of customer status, enabling a tailored response and better service.
Concurrent access helps CSRs manage their workload more effectively, whether the requestor is on the phone or has emailed in a request. Best-practice tools offer an ability to put requests “on hold” when volume ticks upward, or even pass orders between CSRs, giving the customer service manager a means to reduce call and wait times.
A concurrent approach also improves accuracy. Since customers are typically looking for immediate answers on their property or a
property they are considering purchasing, concurrent searching makes it possible to tie all of the search results from each customer together in the database.
This also improves turnaround time and response, increasing customer satisfaction. Using map-based searches, the CSR can visually tie the property to the customer making the request. The best tools even enable the ability to update customer information from within the property research tool without having to make the change in your CRM.
Best Practice: Comprehensive Customer Management
The best tools also help manage customer relationships with a suite of management and reporting tools. These tools enable title companies to optimize business development by gaining more insight into customer requests, tying these research requests to title insurance policies initiated.
Using today’s top systems, customer service managers can better control customer relationships. As customer requests for property research increase, title companies often offer access to
“serve yourself” tools, which takes the burden off the call center and provides a level of premium service for good customers. Customer service managers can quickly grant rights to self-service tools in real-time.
Another key to managing customer relationships is reporting. The top systems provide flexible reporting capabilities to track performance at all levels of the company, including tying customer calls for property research to title policy orders. Call centers can better manage the level of service provided to customers, varying service levels accordingly. One California-based title company, for example, “off-shores” requests from non- or infrequent customers, returning requested information in two days time. Customers who are frequent users and regularly order title policies move to the head of the line and are provided information in real time.
Property research no longer has to be the excruciating, time-consuming headache it once was. By leveraging tools that optimize response time and increase accuracy while reducing the time spent searching, title companies can expand the services they offer to customers.
Property research requests can even become a path toward new business development. Clearer reporting and stronger customer management tools improve the customer experience, keeping existing customers happy and increasing the ability to bring more business to your table. n