Scott Kriss of Kriss Law/Atlantic Servicing & Escrow on Why Lenders Should Pay More Attention to the Title Business
Scott Kriss grew up in New England as the son of two small business owners. When he founded his law firm, Kriss Law, in suburban Boston in 2004, he didn’t immediately foresee that it would grow to become a national title and closing services provider with the aid of its sister business, Atlantic Closing & Escrow. Today, Kriss Law/Atlantic Closing & Escrow has become one of the highest-volume title insurance and closing providers in the nation. With ventures, partnerships and business transactions ranging from residential to commercial across the country, he has business with local expertise at a national level.
MBA NEWSLINK: When do you believe the mortgage market will stabilize?
SCOTT KRISS: I wish I had a crystal ball for that one. To be honest, I’d be wary of anyone who claims to have a solid answer for that. However, I fall into the category of optimism there. From my perspective at the title and closing level, there’s no doubt the residential sector, with the exception of some markets that never seem to truly cool off, has taken its hits over the past four to six months. But I do believe the worst is behind us.
Labor indicators are starting to weaken, which I think leads to the stabilization of the interest rate. I also believe there’s some level of demand (inventory notwithstanding) that’s been on the sideline out of hesitation due to market volatility. I think we’ll see some sort of stabilization as soon as late summer or early fall, although, by no means am I suggesting we’ll be experiencing a boom of any sort. But things will improve, and I believe relatively soon.
NEWSLINK: We’re seeing more increased adoption of digital closings. Are you experiencing this, and do you believe digital closings in some form will become the preferred method of closing soon?
KRISS: It does seem like we’ve been talking about eClosing and remote online notarization forever. Strangely enough, the adoption rate has ticked up since the lockdowns of the pandemic, but we’re still not there yet.
That said, digital closings are not unicorns. Title agents love them. Lenders are starting to love them. And the barriers at the legislative and secondary market level are finally coming down. We’re seeing a significant increase in requests for some sort of digital closing in multiple markets, and, like other savvy title firms, we’ve moved quickly to build out our capabilities and expertise there. I wouldn’t be surprised if more closings are done digitally than traditionally within the next three to five years, in fact. Digital or eClosings really take the form of hybrid closings for the near term, while full RON is more widely adopted. We believe that the future truly lies in creating as much awareness and convenience as possible for the consumer.
NEWSLINK: Title insurance and closings are governed heavily at the state level, but have varying restrictions at a national, county and even municipal level. Is it really possible to be a “national” service provider when seemingly every geographic market has its own customs and rules?
KRISS: That’s absolutely correct. We love to talk about the “national market,” which is really more of a blend or average of statistics from a mélange of really unique local markets. That said, a lender of any volume or size has to see things from both a national level as well as being current on what’s happening and what’s required from city to city, state to state.
For closing providers, especially, it’s a challenge to claim expertise in every different market unless they have experience, resources and people in those places. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a title agency can’t be national without a brick-and-mortar operation in every state. That model only leads to increased cost—and additional delay—to their lender clients.
Increasingly, title firms are using local expertise or regional resources to maintain that necessary familiarity with local markets. But they’re centralizing or scaling processes or resources that aren’t necessarily state or market specific. There’s no reason any number of back office or data entry functions need to be duplicated from state to state to state. Between the gradual shift of business model and the emergence of new technologies every day like AI or Robotic Process Automation (RPA…or bots), the savviest title firms are proving they can deliver local or regional expertise, but at the price and efficiency of a centralized, national service provider.
NEWSLINK: Mortgage lenders usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about title insurance or closings—unless they go wrong. What is one thing you wish lenders knew about title businesses that could benefit both parties?
KRISS: One of the most unfortunate perceptions about the title industry is that our job is to basically seal the deal or memorialize the sales contract with a closing. The “fun” part is finding the right home, lender and rate, then coming to agreement. From that perspective, we’re the bad guys because we delay the handing over of the keys. However, for just the reasons you mention—a patchwork of laws, rules, regulations and even client or market requirements—not just anybody can close a real estate transaction.
Keep in mind, if my business doesn’t do its job properly, my lender may face a buyback demand down the road. The borrower could face a lawsuit and even lose their home. That said, we recognize that there are still ways to do things better. What you don’t hear about is how far the title and closing industry has come in the past five years automating its workflows. That’s starting to bear fruit.
Finally, I wish more lenders realized that their vendors on the closing and title end can be of greater benefit than producing a policy and carrying out a successful close, although those are incredibly important. Those agents who are attorneys, for example, can be fantastic assets when it comes to local or regional compliance, in terms of counsel, training or simply getting the job done with minimal risk. We regularly offer extensive training to our lender and even realtor clients at no cost to help them stay on the right side of compliance requirements in varying markets and regions.
Speed is always of the essence in terms of getting a borrower locked into a rate, then into a new home. But there are many ways lenders and title agents can “bake in” additional benefits to the process and see additional value or cost savings. To be fair, many agents don’t always do a great job promoting their value either.
(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policies of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at email@example.com.)