As title insurance volume shrinks, workers take on more tasks

PropLogix’s releases its fifth annual State of the Title Industry report

As the mortgage rate environment became increasingly volatile in August and early September, one in three title insurers reported order volume that was below or far below average.

That’s according to PropLogix’s fifth annual “State of the Title Industry” report.

With homebuyer demand having cooled considerably since the survey was distributed in August, PropLogix believes that this trend has only worsened.

On the other end of the spectrum, 41% of respondents said their order volume was “average,” while 20% said their volume was “above average,” and 3% noted that their volume was “far above average.” In addition, 22% of respondents’ transaction volume were refinances.

“The last two years was like drinking from a fire hose and we’re back to more like 2019 levels right now,” David Townsend, the president and CEO of Agent’s National Title, told attendees listening to PropLogix’s State of the Title Industry report webinar Thursday afternoon. “I think it’s been more cyclical and we are going to have that spring and summer rush.”

Of the 421 respondents, 44% closed transactions in the South, 20% in the Midwest, 19% in the West, 15% in the Northeast and 1% in the U.S. Territories.

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The vast majority of respondents (82%) work at independent title companies or law firms and 67% have 25 or few employees at their organization.

While the title industry is commonly believed to be male dominated and to skew older, only one of those beliefs is accurate. According to the report, 76% of respondents are female, while only 21% are male. However, 67% of respondents are over the age of 45, with the largest age brackets being 45-54 and 55-64 at 28% each. The second largest age bracket was 35-44 at 19%.

“Every year since I have been in this role and even before that, attracting and retaining talent has been one of our top strategic priorities,” Diane Tomb, the president of the American Land Title Association, said. “We do have an aging work force and it is something that we think about a lot. One of the things that we are currently working on is a new consumer facing website that is focused solely on bringing talent into the title insurance field.”

In addition to improving consumer outreach, Townsend is working at the college level to recruit younger people into the industry and has written courses for the University of Missouri law school.

“What we are seeing now with a lot of title agents, it is not the traditional search and exam that it used to be where you would go over to a dusty title plant and get in the card file,” Townsend said. “Now we are a data industry and a lot of what we do, the search, exam and commitments are provided by the underwriter or a third party. So, you are having to make sure that you understand where the data is coming from and more and more. I think you are going to see the jobs in our industry be data driven and technology driven and I think that is critical for us and that will skew younger to a certain degree.”

Perhaps because of the small labor pool, 46% of respondents said their largest struggle was “juggling too many different responsibilities,” while 28% of respondents said “not enough time” was their greatest challenge. A year ago, the top challenge among respondents was “unexpected delays,” which moved down to the second place slot this year with 44% of respondents citing it as their largest challenge. Other top challenges included “educating real estate agents and consumers” (26%) and “generating new business” (24%).

However, as the market has slowed, PropLogix believe the percentage of title agents feeling that generating new business is their greatest challenge has increased.

As title firms work to find new ways to bring in business and build relationships with agents and lenders in a more digitally driven environment, 49% of respondents said that their firm had someone in a role dedicated to sales and marketing, while 51% said those duties were split up among employees whose primary role involved another part of the title and closing process.

“All those small businesses, they are doing a little bit of everything,” Tomb said.

Townsend added: “All those people who said they don’t have someone dedicated to marketing, that is the top of that chart that is juggling too many roles. They are selling, closing, searching, doing exams, and they are feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.”

In an attempt to control their workload, many title firms are outsourcing. According to PropLogix, the most common tasks outsourced are municipal lean searches, title searches, tax reports, judgement searches, UCC searches and HOA research. Compared to 2020, there was a 68% increase in the number of title professionals reporting that they outsource HOA research (47% in 2022 compared to 27% in 2020). Despite this and other increases in outsourcing for things like title searches and judgement searches, respondents were still far more likely to do title curative in house.

Looking ahead, industry experts said they feel the topics that will dominate the industry in 2023, include the regulatory environment surrounding title, including discussions over attorney opinion letters (AOLs) and navigating the “volatile” housing market environment.

“Attracting talent and retaining them is obviously something that is going to continue and then the education piece of it and training folks to be prepared for this challenging environment,” Tomb said.

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