Share Your #GoodDeeds

GooddeedsCommunity is not based on our ability to physically see and touch each other, but rather the connection and care we show for each other—especially in times of need. ALTA would like to hear how you are continuing to serve your customers and communities during this uncertain and unprecedented time. We know how involved you are in your local market even when there’s not a pandemic, so we know you are actively involved in helping those that might need it most. We would like to highlight all the great volunteerism that is happening across our industry and the creative ways you’ve modified processes to get deals closed. 

Here are three ways you can share your story with us:

  1. Email your story at communications@alta.org.
  2. Post your story in the comments section on our blog.
  3. Share your story on Facebook or Instagram, use #GoodDeeds and tag ALTA.

09/17/2020

Insuring Native American Land Webinar Series

ALTA and its Native American Lands Committee is producing a four-part webinar series titled "Insuring Native American Land: Special Issues and Consideration." Below are the recordings from parts one and two of the series.

Part I

This presentation discusses special issues and considerations when searching and insuring property involving Native American land. This presentation focuses on vesting and ownership of land, the Indian Non-Intercourse Act and Section 17 Corporations.

Experts participating in this webinar include:

  • Cindy Guanell ITP, NTP | Regional Underwriting Director/Pacific Northwest Region | First American Title Insurance Co. 
  • Sean Holland | Vice President & Underwriting Counsel | Fidelity National Title Group
  • Paul Cozzi | Senior Underwriting Counsel | Fidelity National Title Group
  • Branden Allen | Underwriting Counsel | Old Republic National Title Insurance Co.

Moderating the discussion is Cindy Guanell of First American Title Insurance Co. 

Download Presentation

Part II

This part of the series explores the statutory and regulatory authority and processes for leasing restricted Native American lands, including 25 U.S.C. § 415, 29 CFR Part 169, and the HEARTH Act, which created a voluntary, alternative land leasing process available to tribes who enact leasing regulations, that permits tribal leasing without having to obtain further approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. You will learn key items to consider when handling transactions involving leases on Native American land.

Experts participating in this webinar include:

  • Orlando Lucero | Vice President/New Mexico State Underwriting Counsel | FNF Family of Companies
  • Sam Shiel | Vice President/National Underwriting Counsel| Old Republic National Title Insurance Co.
  • Cindy Guanell ITP, NTP | Regional Underwriting Director/Pacific Northwest Region | First American Title Insurance Co. 
  • Rolf Lindberg | Senior Underwriting Counsel | Stewart Title Guaranty Co.

Download Presentation Download Materials

Upcoming

  • Part Three: Authority, Recording and Access (Q2 2021)
  • Part Four: Case Study--Applying What We’ve Learned (Q3 2021)

08/20/2020

Strategies for Title and Settlement Companies to Keep Staff and Customers Safe

 


As states continue to enter different phases of reopening, employers are confronted with a lack of uniformity and inconsistent guidance. The landscape can be confusing enough for an employer with a single location, but for those operating across multiple states, or even across county lines, monitoring what is required will be quite the endeavor. Business owners and managers must consider an assortment of employment issues affecting health and operations policies as employees transition back to the office. Liability is a major concern, beginning with what to do if an employee or customer gets sick and how to screen people entering the office.

While many businesses across the United States have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the title and settlement industry remained resilient. An ALTA survey found that 98 percent of respondents reported their offices remain open during the crisis. Additionally, only six percent of those surveyed said they’ve temporarily ceased operations at any of their business locations. Title and settlement companied are deemed “essential businesses” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and allowed to remain open. Because of this, the issue is more about ensuring the proper policies and procedures are in place to keep everyone safe and healthy.

To develop a plan of action, Elliot Griffin, an associate with the law firm Ballard Spahr, encourages business leaders to establish a team or task force to oversee planning, execution and monitoring. This group will need to conduct a COVID-19 risk/hazard assessment and develop a reopening plan, establishing monitoring and update protocols and documenting the process.

“The task force should look at things from an employee’s perspective from start to finish,” Griffin said. “Things to consider include whether you have a lot of employees taking public transportation, if you’re a tenant in a commercial office, how are employees getting in and out of the building, how will they get to bathrooms, while mitigating any exposure to COVID-19.”

While companies don’t want to think about it, Griffin said the reality is that a company may have an employee test positive for COVID-19. A business will want procedures in place to limit the possibility of infection and to notify employees and customers if an exposure occurs.

OHO Top 10 TipsPreventive Policies and Protocols

  • Social distancing: Griffin said employers should revisit their employee handbook and develop social distancing protocols for the workplace. Social distancing protocols can address a broad range of issues. For example, employers should consider engineering controls and administrative practices to provide at least six feet of space among workers, whether in motion or stationary in their work areas. This may include reconfiguration of workspaces, erection of barriers such as Plexiglas shields, marking floors for directional movement and spacing, and limiting the numbers of individuals who can congregate in common areas. It also may include new schedules and staggered shifts, different and staggered breaks and meal periods, and greater use of virtual meetings.
  • Hand washing: Employers should make sure that employees returning to the office have access to facilities to allow for regular hand washing, according to Griffin. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol content) is acceptable as a substitute.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting: Employers should establish updated and enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols, particularly for high-use and high-touch areas. Griffin said this may be done through the employer’s regular workforce and/or through outside vendors. It may be necessary to hire additional staff or to expand cleaning contracts. Some public health orders mandate consideration of janitorial staffing.
  • Workspace and movement (entry, exit, elevators, common space): For employers in leased space and/or in buildings with shared common space, such as elevators, halls, lobbies, etc., the employer should consult with the landlord or building management about how cleaning and disinfection will be handled.
  • PPE (face coverings, gloves): Companies will need to think through whether face coverings will be mandatory, Griffin said. Face coverings or shields, respirators, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) may be mandated, depending on the state and industry. For example, some states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have adopted public orders mandating face coverings, both for employees and for customers. Others have issued guidance on what are appropriate face coverings and how to make them. Usually, the employer is responsible for providing PPE. Some workers may have health or religious objections to the use of PPE, giving rise to the need to consider accommodations under the ADA or Title VII.
  • Scheduling, breaks, shifts, interaction: Griffin suggested modifying the work schedule to ensure only a portion of staff is in the office each day.

“Companies that have offices across the country may want to have a workplace coordinator on site,” Griffin recommended. “That person should have an open-door policy for employees to bring concerns.”

A businesses’ COVID team will need to regularly review public orders and guidance from CDC and OSHA. Additionally, there are media and public relations concerns. A company’s reopen plan and how it plans to bring employees back to the office may be considered newsworthy by local media.

“You’ll want to think about how you’ll respond to media inquiries,” Griffin said. “Internal PR strategy is equally important in how you are communicating with employees. You need to be transparent in all the steps you are taking to prioritize their health and safety.”

Liability Mitigation

  • Third-party agreements: Title and settlement companies may use staffing agencies. Griffin said employers will want to work with these agencies to assess what their requirements will be.
  • Lease agreements: In addition, if an office is in a building with a lot of common space, “you’ll want to look at those agreements and determine what your landlord is responsible for and what measures they are instituting,” Griffin said.
  • Insurance: Companies may get workers’ compensation claims from employees saying they contracted COVID in the workplace. In some states, employee infections may be covered. Griffin said companies will also want to review coverage under their general liability policy and assess what’s covered if any customers, vendors or third parties who enter your office claim to have contracted COVID there.

Shannon Farmer, a partner with Ballard Spahr, said one of the main questions the law firm receives is about liability if an employee contracts COVID in the office. She said several wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed against employers by estates of employees, claiming negligence and accusing employers of allowing employees to work without adequate safety measures.

“Whether those cases go anywhere or are barred by worker’s compensation statutes, there are other areas of liability,” Farmer said.

These relate to the general OSHA Standard of Care, which says employers have a general duty to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” OSHA has not yet adopted mandatory COVID-19 standards.

Protective Personal Equipment

For the title and settlement industry this mainly involves masks and gloves. Whether a company must require employees to wear masks will be determined by local and state guidance, according to Farmer. The CDC only recommends face coverings. If a company requires masks, this becomes a respiratory program under OSHA and must adhere to its rules.

Considerations include:

  • Whether employers should (or must) provide?
  • What kinds of PPE (gloves, shields, face coverings) will be mandated?
  • How PPE will be procured
  • How much PPE is enough?
  • Will PPE be required for just employees, or for vendors, clients and customers too?
  • What if limited quantities are available?

“You need to be realistic in thinking about what you’re going to require,” Farmer advised.

CDC COVID Fact SheetScreening and Testing Programs

Employers may consider implementing temperature screenings, health questionnaires and/or infection or antibody testing for COVID-19 (if available). Screening, if done, generally should consider all persons entering the workplace, including employees, contractors, vendors and visitors.

Some states, under public health orders, require screenings, especially after a positive COVID-19 incident in the workplace. Any screening and testing measures or health assessment policies should be implemented thoughtfully, with consideration of issues.

related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including confidentiality of medical information, as well as other privacy concerns. Farmer said employers must have separate files and limit access to those on a need-to-know basis. There also may be an OSHA requirement to retain records for up to five years.

Any testing or screening measures should be applied to all employees consistently, to prevent any inference of discrimination. If an employee is singled
out for testing or questioning about symptoms, the employer must have a “reasonable belief based on objective evidence” that the employee may have the disease. Employers should also be mindful of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, which may apply. Also, some state agencies, including Pennsylvania, have advised employers that its state anti-discrimination statute may be interpreted more broadly than its federal counterpart.

Farmer said Ballard Spahr has a client developing a platform where employees can login, record their temperature and answer a couple of questions.

“I would say a lot of employers outside of large companies that have medical facilities onsite are going to have people do self-screening,” Farmer said.

Companies will need to determine what they expect employees to report. In addition, Farmer said employers will need to assess whether time spent undergoing screenings (or waiting in line for screening) will be considered compensable time under wage and hour laws.

“Generally, under federal law, the answer is probably going to turn out to be no,” Farmer said. “This is due to the way federal law looks at what’s called activities as opposed to things that are integral to the work. However, state laws are different. Some states have ruled going through security checks can be applied to hours worked.”

Employers also should establish clear guidelines for when employees will be sent home based on screening and when they can return to work. The CDC has issued guidance on these issues.

Finally, Farmer said there should be consideration given to who will conduct screenings. This may be done by staff or an outside vendor or a combination of the two. Also, the configuration of the screening location(s) must be thoughtfully planned, particularly in light of social distancing protocols. High-traffic screening locations also merit special cleaning and disinfection procedures.

Sick Employees

Employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) should immediately be separated from others and sent home, according to the CDC. Sick employees should not be permitted to return to work until they have met the CDC’s latest criteria to discontinue home isolation. Employees should stay at home at least 10 days after symptoms first appeared and three days since recovery.

“The CDC also advises that employers do not need a doctor’s note or COVID test for employers to return to work,” Griffin said.

Signs/Postings

Businesses are encouraged to post reminders about the new policies in the workplace, such as reminders to wash hands and social distance, one-direction hallways, and breakroom/lunchroom etiquette.

OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made available a wide variety of signs that can be posted in the workplace to remind employees about health and safety protocols. Either of these or workplace-specific versions should be printed and displayed prominently throughout the workplace. The Department of Labor also requires a poster advising employees of their rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

What Are Title Companies Doing?

Craig Haskins, chief operating officer of Knight Barry Title Group, said his company is taking a phased approach to returning employees to the office.

“Basically, we are not changing,” Haskins said. “We have offered employees the option to work from home. That’s been the number one question on our calls as states reopen.”

Haskins said about half of Knight Barry’s 400 employees has worked exclusively from home, while the other half has worked hybrid hours.

“It’s worked, so we are not rushing to bring everyone back,” he added. “We’ve decided if an employee is effective working from home, then we will continue to let them until we go into another phase. We’ve eliminated non-essential meetings and minimized in-person sales calls. Our sales team has done a great job getting creative to continue engaging customers.”

Mary O’Donnell, chief executive officer of Westcor Land Title Insurance Co., says her company has taken the same tactic. The national underwriter has coined it the “Office Optional Approach.” O’Donnell said the company has held virtual town halls to discuss “reoccupying” the office.

“Communication has been the ultimate key,” she said. “We wanted to be sure that employees knew that if one of their managers elected to come back to the office, they shouldn’t feel peer pressure that they need to return as well. On the flip side, if an employee comes back, we don’t want the manager to feel obliged to come back. We’ve worked hard on being totally open about expectations.”

To ensure proper social distancing, Westcor has removed chairs from conference rooms and elected to not reopen break rooms during the first phase of reopening.

“This is not a one-size fits fall approach,” O’Donnell said. “Even within counties, the approach is different.”

Because of regional differences, Westcor gives local managers freedom to determine how they want to reoccupy their offices through understanding what’s happening in their areas and listening to staff.

Haskins added that Knight Barry, which operates in several states, said it’s important to be flexible with staff working on the office.

“Staff is our number one asset,” Haskins said. “If they aren’t comfortable coming to work, then we don’t have a business.”

Jeremy Yohe is ALTA’s vice president of communications. He can be reached at jyohe@alta.org.

08/18/2020

GAO Says FinCEN Should Enhance Procedures for Implementing and Evaluating GTOs

GAO_GTO_study-2The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended in a 41-page report that FinCEN develop additional guidelines to help with oversight, outreach and evaluation when issuing real estate geographic targeting orders (GTO).

The main purpose of the study was to look at the cost burden of the GTO and examine potential loopholes in the GTOs. In 2019, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Van Hollen requested the GAO study the issue of whether vulnerabilities in anti-money laundering laws applicable to the real estate sector present increased risk of criminal activity.

ALTA provided background information to GAO investigators to help with the study. ALTA also a call with GAO staff and 20 of ALTAs, including agents and underwriters. Additionally, ALTA connected the GAO with individual agents to learn about the GTO compliance process.

FinCEN issued its first GTO addressing money laundering in the real estate industry in 2016. The GTOS have been renewed and expanded over the past four years. The current GTO is effective through Nov. 5, 2020.

The GAO concluded that FinCEN lacked detailed documented procedures to direct how it would implement and evaluate the GTO. As an example, the GAO in its report said FinCEN did not begin examining its first title insurer for compliance until more than three years after issuing the GTO and did not assess whether insurers were filing all required reports.

Also, one of the GTO’s objectives was to provide information to assist law enforcement investigations. However, the GAO found that the delay in implementing a more systematic approach to outreach resulted in delayed awareness and use of GTO data by some law enforcement agencies. FinCEN did not begin to contact law enforcement systematically until more than two years after issuing the GTOs, according to the report.

Findings from the GAO report:

  • FBI officials said that their searches found that nearly 7 percent of the GTO reports identified individuals or entities connected to FBI’s ongoing cases since the issuance of GTO in 2016.
  • FinCEN found that nearly 38 percent of the real estate GTO reports filed from March 2016 through June 2019 did not identify a beneficial owner in the proper data field. FinCEN officials attributed the errors primarily to the use of a form not designed specifically for the GTO.
  • FinCEN calculated that 599 real properties with a total value of more than $147 million were subject to forfeiture in 2012–2015.
  • Federal law enforcement officials told the GAO that data from GTO reports can provide useful data points—or pieces of the puzzle—for an investigation. The officials added that law enforcement can use GTOs to start an investigation, but that GTOs more often serve as a secondary source of information to assist ongoing investigations.
    • FBI officials said that their agency used GTO data to conduct geospatial and temporal analyses to track real estate purchase trends in areas covered by the GTO
    • Through its analysis of GTO and other data, ICE-HIS officials told us FinCEN helped to identify new subjects for an ICE-HSI case, uncovered individuals of potential interest for a USAO investigation, and provided referrals to other law enforcement agencies.
  • Some officials from two federal task forces and a USAO official said that they generally support making the real estate GTO requirements permanent because the real estate GTO can generate useful investigative information and serve other purposes, including acting as a strong deterrent.
    • Officials from one of the task forces told the GAO that GTO reports are a useful investigative tool but that the GTO should be used to target specific areas and not be expanded to cover the entire United States.
    • Officials from another task force told the GAO that assessing the effectiveness of GTO reports in the short term is difficult because investigations and prosecutions take a long time. They said making the real estate GTO requirements permanent would provide them with the time needed to assess the GTO.
  • Federal law enforcement officials and AML experts the GAO interviewed provided several reasons why data collected through the real estate GTO still could be useful even if a beneficial ownership registry were created.
    • Without the GTO, law enforcement agencies would have to rely on multiple sources to connect beneficial owners to real estate purchases, which could be more costly and time consuming
  • FinCEN officials said that the agency has been continuing to assess more permanent solutions regarding BSA/AML requirements for persons involved in real estate closings and settlements.
  • For example, ALTA staff told the GAO that FinCEN should impose AML obligations on the real estate industry, including real estate agents and attorneys, because agents and attorneys interact more closely with buyers and are more involved in the transactions than title insurers.

07/23/2020

ALTA Promotes Industry in USA Today America Responds Special Edition

ALTA_USA TODAY AdIn the midst of all the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 health crisis, one thing is certain. The land title insurance industry has truly stepped up.

To promote the industry during this trying time, ALTA was included in the USA Today America Responds special edition that recognizes businesses and industries that have remained resilient during this pandemic to deliver for its customers and keep the nation moving forward. It’s the publication’s salute to those Americans making a real difference--whether they're essentials, creating safer ways to work and shop, opening their hearts and wallets or just offering moral support.

ALTA's ad can be found on page 85. 

In addition to the countless ways in which ALTA members are donating and volunteering to efforts in their communities, they also have developed innovative and safe ways to continue to make the American Dream come true. From drive-thru to digital closings, the industry’s dedication is allowing families to close on new homes or take advantage of low interest rates by refinancing their mortgages.

“There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the meaning of what we have come to know as ‘home,’” said Diane Tomb, ALTA’s chief executive officer. “In the wake of the pandemic, ‘home’ has now become an office, a school to our children and the heartbeat of a family’s sense of security. We are proud of our members for how they responded during this challenging time.”

The ad highlights the different roles ALTA members take when advocating for a homebuyer or seller. But one title encapsulates their true role: protection. Land title insurance professionals are responsible for protecting homebuyers, sellers, and business owners from risks that could impact the purchase of a new property, including wire transfer fraud, hidden liens and other critical threats.

“ALTA members, as title professionals, are the guardians of the American Dream,” Tomb said. “We want everyone to know about the people who are dedicated to making sure that families can still open the door to their dream of owning a home.”

ALTA and its more than 6,400 member companies—which operate in every county of the United States—strive to keep everyone healthy and safe every single day with dedication and purpose.

The USA Today America Responds special edition will be available side-by-side the daily USA TODAY throughout the country where newspapers are sold. Some of the major brands participating include Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Walmart, Kroger, Lowe’s and Verizon. More than 10 million readers will receive a link via email providing a complete shareable digital copy of the publication. Feeding America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Direct Relief, Americares, Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, and United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will include a digital copy of the publication directly into the news feed of their social media channels.

 

 

07/22/2020

Infographics: A Look at Two Digital Closing Scenarios

Remote online notarization (RON) uses two-way audiovisual technology to complete a notorial act when the signer is not in the same physical location as the notary. To date, 27 states have passed RON legislation, while another 20 states and Washington, D.C., have passed issued executive orders allowing for the remote notarization of documents.

Here's a look at two digital closing scenarios using RON. The graphis are provided by Fannie Mae.

Fannie RON Hybrid

Fannie RON Full

07/21/2020

ALTA Registry Connects Lenders With RON-capable Closing Companies

ALTA Icon
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of mortgages are being closed online in order to comply with federal and state social distancing guidelines.

To help meet this need, ALTA recently updated the ALTA Title & Settlement Agent Registry (ALTA Registry). The Registry now identifies title and settlement companies that can perform RON closings. This will help mortgage companies identify closing companies that offer this increasingly in-demand service, which allows homeowners to review, sign and notarize documents online to complete mortgage transactions.

“More and more mortgage closings are being conducted online, and remote notaries are playing a key role in the process,” said Dianne Tomb, ALTA’s chief executive officer. “Companies that can offer RON services have become even more valuable in light of the need for social distancing created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The ALTA Registry gives mortgage lenders an extra layer of confirmation that they’re working with the correct title agent, settlement company or real estate attorney. Every title agent office location is identified by a unique ALTA ID, allowing quick verification. Each entry is confirmed by title insurance underwriters.

Jack Rattikin, co-chair of ALTA’s Registry Committee and president of Fort Worth, Texas-based Rattikin Title Co., encourages title and settlement agents to update their listing in the ALTA Registry so they can get a special icon in their company record and let lenders know they are RON ready.

“Using the ALTA Registry, mortgage lenders can increase accuracy, reduce production expenses, combat fraud and improve compliance,” said Rattikin, who also serves on ALTA’s Board of Governors and chairs the Abstracters and Title Insurance Agents Executive Section.

Eddie Oddo, co-chair of the ALTA Registry and vice president of Corporate Business Solutions for First American Title Insurance Company said the Registry Committee agreed that a RON capability icon would be self-confirmed by the record owner.

“The RON Icon would denote that a closing company had the ability to perform RON closings, was engaged with one or more GSE-approved vendors for use in performing RON closings and complied with underwriter guidelines and applicable laws and regulations,” Oddo said. “The introduction of the RON Icon helps the industry adjust to new closing methods that are becoming available and aiding in business continuity.”

Registration in the ALTA Registry is free and membership in ALTA isn’t required. Currently, more than 8,000 title agents, settlement companies and real estate attorneys appear in the database. Closing companies that offer RON will be designated with a small icon, making them easy to identify in the ALTA Registry, which is also fully searchable. Title and settlement companies can apply for or update a listing at alta.org/registry.

Refinancing orders have skyrocketed as individuals search for lower monthly mortgage payments. There are 44.7 million homeowners with equity available to tap via cash-out refinancing. An average of $138,000 is available in useable equity. Loans offer immediate financial relief to families and ultimately benefit the economy. A recent report highlighted that Americans can save up to $277 per month when they refinance. Providing RON can help consumers close these transactions safely and securely.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way many companies conduct business in a time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders,” said Greg Kosin, president of Greater Illinois Title Company Group of Companies. “The GIT Group of Companies has been a leader in providing safe and secure options to move away from in-person requirements traditionally part of the real estate closing process. The ALTA Registry is a great utility to help connect lenders with title companies that offer this service.”

07/16/2020

Fannie Mae Updates Refi Volume Forecast as Housing Demonstrates Resilience

Housing_Forecast_071420In its latest forecast, Fannie Mae reported that housing continues to show remarkable strength and upwardly revised its home sales, home price growth and purchase mortgage origination forecasts. Residential fixed investment is now expected to grow significantly in the third quarter before pulling back in the latter part of 2020.

The continued decline in mortgage rates has resulted in Fannie Mae raising its refinance origination volume for 2020 by $100 billion.

Fannie now expects refinance volume to total $1.88 trillion in 2020 and account for 60 percent of all origination volume. At the beginning of the year, Fannie forecast only $690 billion in refinance originations, which would have comprised a third of all originations.

Overall, Fannie expects total originations for 2020 to come in around $3.13 trillion. This compares to $2.31 trillion in 2019.

Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, estimated that at the current mortgage rate nearly 60 percent of all outstanding loan balances have at least a half-percentage point incentive to refinance.

“On the housing front, we marked up existing home sales by about 200,000 for all of 2020, which contributed to an upward revision of expected purchase mortgage origination volumes of around $40 billion this year. We think existing home sales' strength will largely be dictated by inventory constraints and will depend in large part on current owners re-gaining the confidence to list their homes.”

He added that a faster-than-expected pace of recovery in the second quarter contributed to an improvement in expectations for full-year 2020 economic growth.

"Our base scenario for the economy improved but did not shift dramatically from last month,” Duncan said. “We now expect full-year 2020 GDP to decline 4.2 percent before growing in 2021 by 4.0 percent. Incoming data have improved, but coronavirus infections have spiked as well. Restaurant reservations may have flattened due to virus transmission concerns, but gasoline purchases have risen as many Americans are opting to drive—rather than fly—to their summer vacation destinations, illustrating in part the recovery’s unevenness to date.”

#GoodDeeds: ALTA Members Continue to Support Customers, Communities

Curbside Courtesy Closings

Tammy Lincoln, a client relationship manager for Fidelity Title Agency of Alaska, recently shared an experience helping with two closings for Mat-Su Title Agency in Wasilla, Alaska.

After delivering two checks curbside to a couple in their car, Lincoln decided to take a moment and visit with the husband and wife. The woman had been battling lung cancer for the past five years, while the man was a Vietnam War veteran. The woman wanted to be out in a garden, but it had become too hard for her to get up and down. After a short conversation, a decision was made that the husband would get his wife a hydroponics garden. He smiled and I bet you they will buy one with the money they just received that MST had pouched to our office for their convenience.  It was heartwarming to just take a few extra minutes with people that really could use it.

After the next closing, Lincoln once again decided to spend some extra woman after signing her documents. The customer expressed how blessed she was to have purchased a lakeside property. Lincoln said the woman was almost in tears with joy and love for her family thinking about the special time they could all spend together.

“I know it’s been a very hectic few months during this COVID-19 pandemic, but we all need to know that we are here helping people make their dreams come to life,” Lincoln said. “Both of these ladies were so happy and thankful for everyone’s assistance. Having that few extra minutes to visit was nice for both of them.”

Title HoustonAbove and Beyond

Title Houston had set a goal to donate 50 decorated and packed lunch bags to Kids’ Meals Inc. Thanks to the effort of staff, their family members and underwriter donations, the company significantly exceeded its original target. In all, Title Houston decorated, stuffed and donated 500 bags. “We are so thankful to have the opportunity to help and support local groups such as this,” said Anna Russell, Title Houston’s marketing administrator.

07/14/2020

U.S. Secret Service Creates Cyber Fraud Task Force

Secret serviceIn recognition of the growing convergence of cyber and traditional financial crimes, the U.S. Secret Service has merged two electronic and financial crimes unites into a single unified network.

The newly formed Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF) will focus on will focus on investigating cyber-enabled financial crimes, such as business email compromise schemes and ransomware attacks. The mission of the CFTF is to prevent, detect, and mitigate complex cyber-enabled financial crimes, with the goal of arresting and convicting the most harmful perpetrators.

“The creation of the new Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF), will offer a specialized cadre of agents and analysts, trained in the latest analytical techniques and equipped with the most cutting-edge technologies,” said Michael D’Ambrosio, assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service Together with our partners, the CFTFs stand ready to combat the full range of cyber-enabled financial crimes. As the Nation continues to grapple with the wave of cybercrime associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFTFs will lead the effort to hold accountable all those who seek to exploit this perilous moment for their own illicit gain.”

Since March, the Secret Service has focused its investigative efforts on disrupting and deterring criminal activity that could hinder an effective response to the pandemic and to recover stolen funds from Americans. The CFTF model has allowed for better data sharing, institutional alliance, and investigative skill development. Through these efforts, the Secret Service has successfully disrupted hundreds of online COVID-19 related scams, investigated a number of cyber fraud cases, halted the illicit sales of online stolen COVID-19 test kits, prevented tens of millions of dollars in fraud from occurring, and is leading a nation-wide effort to investigate and counter a vast transnational unemployment fraud scheme targeting the U.S. state unemployment programs.

Through the creation of the CFTF, the Secret Service aims to improve the coordination, sharing of expertise and resources, and dissemination of best practices for all its core investigations of financially motivated cybercrime.

07/09/2020

From Caribbean Roots and a Random Convo With Warren Buffet to a Career in the Title Industry

Deb baileyMember Profile: Deborah S. Bailey
Attorney - Managing Member | Bailey Helms Legal LLC

 

How long have you been in the title industry and how did you get started in this profession?

  • I entered the title industry in the fall of 1998 as part of a project to assist the Clerk of Superior Court of Fulton County—the most populous county in Georgia—clear a recording backlog that had grown so large, it was adversely affecting the economy. I had unique skills they needed, and the position was meant to be a temporary career detour, but I became fascinated by the title industry. After the backlog was cleared and I helped with the implementation of a new recording system, I accepted what I thought was another temporary position to learn title examination from some of the best examiners in the business at that time. The leadership team of the firm reassigned me to work on several projects in the firm’s transactional real estate practice and before long the years passed, and I faced the reality that this is my profession and my calling. 

What’s a day on the job like for you? 

  • I usually start when I arrive at the office or on most days before, depending on the needs of my clients.  During the day I am either in closings, drafting documents, reviewing titles and communicating with title underwriters about title to properties in our pipeline or I am performing tasks related to the business side of the practice. I also spend a significant amount of time on the phone or responding to emails or I am assisting answering with questions related to deal structures. 

What excites you about what you do or what is the most challenging aspect of your job? 

  • The most exciting and at the same time most challenging part of my job is the human interaction. It is such a joy to interact with people from every walk of life every day. There is also the reality that things are unpredictable, so no two transactions unfold alike, and it can be challenging to manage the range of emotions associated with the interactions. 

What’s your best industry “war” story?

  • I have volumes of “war” stories, most of which cannot be disclosed for a variety of reasons. One of my best industry stories is a happy one that came out of an encounter I had while shopping in my local community a few years ago. A couple was having a hard time getting their young boy to walk along. The boy refused to move, he refused to let them pick him up and he kept pointing in my direction. I thought he was pointing to someone else but there was no one else there so I became curious and decided to walk toward the family. With each step toward them, the child grew more excited and started jumping for joy, which made me conclude that he knew me. When I reached him, I knelt and told him hello. He could not contain his happiness and giggled loudly as I gave him a hug. His parents were perplexed by his behavior because they didn’t recognize me. After a few minutes, I realized that I was their closing attorney at their closing when they purchased their home. I always take time out for the children who attend my closing. This little boy remembered me even though he hadn’t yet learned to speak. His parents, who speak English as a second language, had a good laugh when they made the connection that I was their closing attorney. We chatted, then said goodbye as their son willingly walked away with them. The encounter reminded me of the significance of the Dr. Maya Angelou’s quote: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” 

Why is the title industry a great career opportunity for those entering the workforce? 

  • You are a part of one of the oldest professions that exists in every community. The various jobs in the title industry may require a unique set of skills, but most of which can be learned or taught on the job. There is room for advancement in the industry with or without a college degree.

What advice do you have for professionals starting their career in the industry? 

  • The same advice I received when I came in the industry. Focus on the human side of the practice and protect the consumer’s interest and you will be rewarded in the end. There is a business side to what we do, but resist the urge to reduce your practice to just running a business because it is a short-sighted path. There are no shortcuts to success in this industry, so stay on the good path and practice transparently because truth always comes out in the end. Whatever you do in darkness will be revealed in the light. I would also add, trust but verify, and above all, question those things you believe to be true because what will hurt you in this profession isn’t what you don’t know but what you know that simply isn’t true. 

How has the industry evolved since you began your career? 

  • The industry is moving away from a paper-based and manual-intensive industry to one that is rapidly embracing new processes, procedures and technology. We are increasingly welcoming the reality that our survival as an industry requires us to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers and clients. 

How has your company had to change in order to remain competitive?

  • We are always improving our listening skills and looking for new ways to adjust based on market trends and feedback we receive from our customers. 

What have you learned about yourself or your company since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

  • We are adaptable and we are willing to break away from the herd and take a different path if we believe that it is in the best interest of the consumer and our firm.  We are also willing to reflect on past experiences and draw from those experiences which helps us manage fear in a time of crisis. 

Why are you a member of ALTA? 

  • It is hard to justify not being part of an organization that has among its active members some of the best minds in the industry. I enjoy growing and learning from others with a lot more experience. By being a member, I can give back to an organization that has given me so many valuable tools to survive and compete in my market. I am also proud to be associated with an organization that is singularly focused on issues related to land conveyancing on a national, state and local level, and truly committed to protecting and defending property rights. 

Which ALTA committees do you participate in? Why do you participate? 

  • Abstractors and Title Insurance Agents Section Executive Committee; Education Committee; Real Property Records Committee; and the State Legislative/Regulatory Action Committee.  I believe in good citizenship and service is my way of giving back to the industry. I also enjoy the relationships that I can build with others in the title industry throughout the country as I participate in these committees. 

Tell us something that others in the industry may not know about you. 

  • When I was in my last year of my undergraduate studies, I was assigned to be the chaperone for a gentleman who was giving a lecture on value investment at the State University of New York at Buffalo for a stock investment group I co-founded. At the end of the evening, the man complemented me on how I treated him and asked if I would sit and talk with him for a few minutes and talk about plans for the future. I told him I wanted to pursue a career on Wall Street. He thought it was a good idea, but encouraged me to learn a lot and not stay too long in that career and take my skills instead to “Main Street” where he believed my career would have a bigger impact on society. I listened to his advice. I left a bright future in banking on Wall Street and went to law school and then went on the path that lead me to the title industry.   

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why? 

  • Warren Buffett. For years, the conversation I had with a kind man I chaperoned one night in Buffalo, N.Y., remained in my mind, but I failed to connect the dots and recognize whom I was speaking with. Turns out it was Warren Buffet. He knew that I had no idea who he was, and that allowed for an honest unfiltered conversation. I would like to have dinner with Warren Buffet to thank him for the advice and share some of my experiences and more importantly to discuss the power of words.    

What’s your favorite book/movie/TV series? Why? 

  • The Bible because every time I read this book, I learn something new that causes my mind to change in a positive way. My favorite movie is The Color Purple because of the complexity of the story telling and the theme of redemption. My favorite TV series is Swamp People. I find the show entertaining and the fundamentals of the alligator hunting business are the same as the title business. 

What’s in your music playlist?

  • A heavy rotation of calypso, the music of my Caribbean roots. My life anthem, Koffe – Toast, it is all about blessings, giving thanks and expressing gratitude. Sir David Rodigan selections of classic and new music reggae and dancehall music to expand my mind. Anything Abba and Queen to remind me of my youth. Chronixx – Here Comes Trouble, Elvis Presley – Suspicious Mind, and King Short Shirt – True Patriot to recalibrate my mind in a season of uprising. Danza Kuduro & Lucenzo – Don Omar, and Elvis Crespo – Suavemente, when I want to dance and remember my last cruise vacation. Finally, La India and Marc Anthony – Vivir Lo Nuestro (Letra), this song is a beautiful expression of love, the universal language.
ALTA Member Profiles

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