The Escrow Industry of California (EIC) hosted a 3 day conference in Lake Arrowhead this past weekend. The event is put on annually and is a gathering of escrow industry professionals throughout CA. However, over the weekend I came to realize the independent escrow industry is primarily a Southern CA business. With over 600 independent escrow companied licensed in CA, only 12 are located in Northern CA.
It was a full weekend of speakers and presenters. The crowd at the Lake Arrowhead resort consisted of approximately 300 attendees. There were sponsors and service providers; however the majority of us were escrow professionals. There was a wide range of industry topics covered. I also enjoyed beginning each day with the Pledge of Allegiance. It brought me back several years and mentally got me ready to learn.
Saturday The Escrow Institute of CA 2013 Annual Conference got underway with some very real concerns regarding “cyber-crime.” The industry is being targeted by both foreign and domestic thieves that have several different schemes to steal money. This threat to our industry is very real. Technology is constantly changing and the thieves can often times outsmart the historic safeguards implemented by escrow holders. I found it interesting that several companies were going away from online banking. Because of this threat, several companies decided to do all banking business “old school” with only communication done by fax and phone. Luckily, my banker was at the conference and I took the opportunity to review our current set up and safeguards. Although nothing is fool proof, New Venture Escrow is set up correctly. I will be adding some additional insurance as a precaution.
We had a working lunch Saturday that proved to be most interesting. The lead attorney for The Department of Corporations spoke about a number of recent issues. His name is John Hanna, and for an attorney, he was quite the public speaker. He acknowledged the DOC will soon be joining forces with another government agency to avoid duplication of work thus reducing the capital and taxes required to adequately fund the department. I will be interested to see if how this affects turn times and communication. Mr. Hanna also made it clear that the department is committed to helping the good companies, and finding and removing the bad. He mentioned this theme several times. He asked that our industry continue to help the department’s efforts by self policing. I agree, and think it is extremely important that we eliminate the companies that are not following the guidelines set out by our governing agency. We must eliminate those to maintain the trust of the public and our customers.
Another interesting topic covered Saturday was the extremely entertaining presentation from by Steven Thomas. Mr. Thomas was the most electric speaker of the day as he covered the CA Housing Market update. You can find his work at www.reportsonhousing.com. He summarized the Southern CA housing market as improving. He predicts that the next 12 months will be filled with unrealistic sellers that will be asking too much for their homes. He predicts sellers will be reading marketing garbage that is put out in mainstream media that sets unrealistic expectations for these sellers. He acknowledged that there is a major shortage in inventory. This is mainly due to sellers holding out for that perfect time to sell. Another interesting point brought up was the average time a listing is on the market in Southern CA is currently 1.4 months. In San Diego, we are currently at 1.2 months. This accounted for the entire market including both high end and short sales. He did end with a very positive message in that the escrow and Real Estate community will be very busy over the next several years as we are at the beginning of a robust market.
The issue of settlement agent “vetting” came up several times throughout the conference. This is a relatively new (within the last year) concept where new companies are sprouting up that claim to be “vetting” agencies that prequalify settlement agents to do business. The crowd in Lake Arrowhead was extremely passionate about this subject. These rouge companies charge us $299 to “vet” us and verify our legitimacy. I guess these companies DO NOT understand the strict and robust licensing laws and regulations we abide by. As it stands today the “vetting” companies have not gotten off the ground and have little to no traction with the major banks. However, the threat is real in the sense that they are supposedly well funded and continuing their pursuit of monies within our industry.
Lastly, the President and Secretary of the National Association of Independent Land Title Agents (NAILTA) presented as an advocacy group for our independent industry. The plight was to continue to join forces with independents (from both title and escrow) throughout the nation so that the voice of our industry will be heard on Capital Hill. Frankly we need representation and recognition from a political stand point so our industry is protected. The message was received well and I overheard several companies discussing different ways to participate.
I have no idea how sitting in a chair all day could be so tiring. The event was a great way to not only learn from industry experts, but it also served as a fantastic means to network and meet like minded individuals that are experiencing the industry in a similar way. The event was well put on and I look forward to the EIC events in the future.
Casey LeBlanc, President of New Venture Escrow. Visit us at www.newventureescrow.com.