Consumer demands are ever-evolving, driven in large part over the last few decades by the convenience and customer-centric approach that the Airbnbs, Ubers and Zappos of the world have introduced into the collective consumer consciousness. This resetting and rising of consumer expectations is not limited solely to online experiences but now extends to all forms of commerce. Today’s consumers expect the “Amazon Experience” online, offline and everywhere in between – including in the often maligned real estate and home-buying process.
Buying or selling a home, or trying to coordinate both simultaneously, is an incredibly complex process for even the most seasoned of consumers, let alone the inexperienced majority for whom a home purchase is not only unfamiliar territory, but also likely the largest investment they will ever make. The stakes are high, and the emotional investment is deep. It’s one thing to experience the frustration of a guaranteed two-day delivery timeline slipping, but the fallout from a mistake in the real estate transaction can be devastating and irreparable.
Historically, consumers hoping to transact in the residential real estate space have been forced to embark on a confusing odyssey, navigating an industry full of disparate and disconnected product and service providers. On this antiquated customer journey, the burden of assembling a cohort of siloed entities who will need to march in synchronization toward the closing is daunting (e.g. mortgage lender, real estate agent, title agent, HOI, home inspector, etc.). Much can be said and has been said about the value an experienced real estate agent adds, as well as the relief that technology and digitization will bring to bear on these obstacles. However, one approach to modernizing the customer journey that has been building momentum and is deserving of more attention in the broader residential real estate space is the affiliated ecosystem model.
Rather than viewing the customer experience as a series of standalone, product-specific, mini customer journeys that are inelegantly slammed together, purveyors of the affiliated ecosystem model view the customer’s experience holistically as one journey with integrated and embedded products and services strategically delivered by in-house affiliated entities at just the right time. The tighter and more effortless coordination across all stakeholders in the affiliated ecosystem model enables strategy, service and pricing efficiencies that are very powerful and very difficult to replicate.
For those existing industry participants and new entrants who are adherents to the affiliated ecosystem model, the pertinent questions are (1) which adjacent verticals should be prioritized, and (2) how to stand up these adjacent verticals in a responsible, yet scalable way, without distracting from core product growth; or put another way – build, buy or partner?
Why prioritize the title and closing vertical?
While there are many worthy adjacent business contenders vying for priority, the most underappreciated option, which also happens to be the unsung hero of customer experience, is most certainly title and escrow. Owning an affiliate title agency empowers existing industry participants to own the apex of the homebuying experience – the closing ceremony. For those serious about providing their customers with a custom-curated and consistent experience from end to end, the title and escrow vertical deserves much consideration.
While the title industry has remained somewhat opaque, if not altogether unknown to consumers, most real estate and mortgage professionals would agree that title agents are the grease that keeps the machine running smoothly.
Quietly and behind the scenes, title professionals work furiously to quarterback, coordinate and execute, until their process culminates with the issuance of a tremendously important insurance product and the performance of a potentially very impactful closing ceremony. Seldom do title agents receive the accolades they deserve from the homebuyers and sellers themselves when everything goes to plan.
But by that same token, consumers rarely assign to title agents the blame for any transactional friction (even if title is at fault). When there are undesirable outcomes, consumers typically hold their loan officer/lender or real estate agent/brokerage accountable. When keeping in mind the shift in customer acquisition from literal word of mouth to a more online and review metric-driven reality (i.e. NPS), it becomes even more important for existing industry participants to own as much of their customer’s experience as possible to mitigate the risk of negative customer feedback and reviews. Many are opting to control their own destiny rather than outsourcing important consumer touchpoints to third parties.
Build, Buy or Partner? There’s An Exciting New Option
So why don’t more existing industry participants own an affiliate title agency? As it turns out, building a title agency is cumbersome, and operating a title agency is hard. Until very recently, the available entry points were limited to a de novo build, an acquisition, or the joint venture route. The respective pros and cons of each of these three legacy options is another article for another day. However, the broader trend of affiliated ecosystem building has generated new innovation from within the title and escrow community to solve for the downside associated with legacy entry points.
One such solution that only recently came out of stealth mode, is a hybrid SaaS product called eAgency. The eAgency program combines proprietary technology with back office fulfillment services to provide existing industry participants an alternative “partner” model entry point. Its goal is simple: to make starting, owning and operating an affiliate title agency easy, accessible, and simple. eAgency was piloted and successfully tested with several top national mortgage lenders, proptechs, and institutional buyers starting in late 2019. Three years and hundreds of thousands of closings later, eAgency has matured into a viable option for those searching out a joint venture like solution, but desiring to own 100% of their affiliate title entity.
For more information about eAgency, visit www.goeagency.com to learn about the smarter way to own and operate an affiliate title agency.