The housing market took many unpredictable turns last year. The entirety of what this year will bring is still uncertain; however, businesses can still be prepared through strategies that improve their adaptability and ability to weather change.
We dove into this topic at the Future of Real Estate Summit (FORES21). Charlotte Brown, Director of Product at Qualia, was joined by Angela Lozano, National Operations Manager & General Counsel at Title Forward, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Redfin, and Sarah Blackburn, J.D. Chief Executive Officer at Bspoke Title. They each shared strategies for maintaining business continuity and even growing a business during uncertain times.
Maintaining tight operations during expansion
Last year was a time of tremendous growth for Title Forward. Growth in lessons learned, operating systems, and expansion. It was the year that they transitioned to Qualia while also navigating a global pandemic. According to Lozano, transitioning to a new operating system amid a pandemic was a “good storm” her team weathered together as demand quickly grew.
Title Forward provides services in fourteen states and continues to expand. Lozano and the team took a calculated approach to transition several markets at a time onto the Qualia platform. For newer markets, Title Forward first learned the states and the counties’ ins and outs prior to transitioning.
Similar to Lozano, Blackburn also moved all title operations to Qualia; however, her team had the benefit of transitioning a year and a half before the pandemic. Bspoke has offices in nine different cities throughout Texas, so having a cloud-based infrastructure was paramount for ensuring remote teams could coordinate seamlessly. Today, about 15-17% of Blackburn’s workforce are remote. Pre-pandemic, that number was 2 percent.
Tools and technology title & escrow innovators are using to strengthen their businesses
Like Bspoke, many other title & escrow businesses transitioned a significant portion of their workforce to permanent remote environments. Blackburn said that remote technology and tools are now a necessity for her business. Some of these include:
- Remote deposits
- Online notarization
- Video conferencing tools, and call forwarding apps (e.g. Qualia’s video chat feature)
- Qualia’s dynamic workflows tools which enable her team to streamline and automate operations across offices
- Smart Task Triggers in Qualia that trigger automated actions based on different scenarios
Lozano agreed with Blackburn that remote technology and paperless processes are increasingly becoming table stakes for title & escrow businesses, especially when it comes to meeting new consumer expectations emerging post-pandemic. A secure, web-based platform made the transition easier, and the technology brought the team together. “One silver lining is that [the pandemic] hit the fast-forward button on us transitioning into an electronic world, and brought to light how important it is for people to be able to sign a closing package remotely,” Lozano said. “We should be able to accommodate customers no matter where they are and wherever they want to close.”
Preparedness for constant change
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said: “Change is the only constant in life.” Every time we seem to settle into a new normal, conditions change once again.
One key to staying nimble during change is investing in a company culture that values innovation and problem-solving. Lozano believes that leaders can cultivate this in their businesses by modeling acceptance and forward movement during times of adversity. “There is nothing we can’t accomplish in this industry; we have so much opportunity to grow, provide more efficiencies and use technology to our advantage,” she said.
To stay agile, Lozano also recommended outsourcing tasks. For Title Forward, outsourcing became a need over the past year—it provided backup if a team or geographic area needed extra support during volume fluctuations or if an office was out of commission due to an unforeseen event such as a storm or other natural disaster. It’s proven beneficial for Lozano’s team, especially for back-office work that doesn’t require customer-facing responsibilities.
For Blackburn, adapting to change has meant adjusting her hiring strategy. She now hires with the intent to offer remote flexibility. This strategy has opened up a whole new talent pool for her business. “We are not going to turn someone away who is really good at their job because they are not at the location,” said Blackburn. “We have the technology and set up to make that happen. We’ve hired 55 people since March 2020, and about a third are remote employees.”
Click below to watch a recording of the “Business Resiliency in Uncertain Times” session.