Much like other consumer-minded industries, title & escrow businesses are advancing conversations around the “digital experience” to consider more nuanced perspectives around what consumers want. 

In other words, where once the question was whether fully-digital experiences were the best route forward, now, title & escrow businesses recognize the value of hybrid digital and in-person experiences to deliver best-in-class service. 

These nuanced perspectives are supported by recent surveys that show consumer’s digital preferences aren’t so black-and-white. A recent report by Solidifi US Inc., found 81 percent of consumers prefer to close on their home in-person; however, the survey also found that 70 percent of consumers would like a more digital process at the closing table. 

Homebuyer expectations are evolving

The shift toward digital is primarily a result of changing demographics. In the years to come, millennials will  become the largest cohort of buyers in U.S. history. According to Senior Economist at realtor.com, millennials will make up 50% of the market for loan originations in 2020. As a result, service providers at every stage of the real estate transaction are focused on delivering experiences that meet the digital demands of millennials. 

For title & escrow businesses, the opportunity to deliver a digital experience is finally in close view with remote online notarization and other eClosing legislation passing in several states. The momentum toward eClosings—spurred by these legislative advancements— cannot be understated. According to a recent ALTA survey, 80% of title companies report that they are interested in conducting eClosings or have already conducted some form of online closing. 

Before diving head-first into eClosings however, it’s important for title & escrow businesses to understand the full homebuyer journey before closing—from home search to loan origination. Title & escrow businesses can look to the consumer experience at home search and loan origination to better predict the right combination of digital tools and personal touch home buyers expect throughout the real estate transaction. 

The home search experience 

According to the National Association of Realtors, more homebuyers than ever are beginning their home search online. A 2019 NAR report on digital home buying trends found that the growth in online home searches is expected to continue. 

Indeed, online tools have advanced the home search process, enabling prospective home buyers to find information on the estimated value of their home, the safety of the surrounding neighborhood, and other details and directly compare homes through filtered criteria sets online. Most of this initial research is completed before a homebuyer even speaks with a real estate agent. 

Ben Rubenstein, founder and CEO of Opcity at realtor.com (and Future of Real Estate Summit speaker) believes the real estate agent’s role will continue to evolve as technology replaces many of the traditional roles of the real estate agent. In a recent interview with Qualia, Rubenstein said “As realtor.com and others make search and discovery an easy, self-service experience and tech-enabled lockbox technology and self-driving cars allow for touring a home to become a self-serve experience as well, top agents will have more time to complete more transactions and their time will be focused on negotiating and closing.”  

As the home search process evolves to a self-serve, digital experience, real estate agents are rethinking how they interact with and serve their clients to provide more expertise during the complicated parts of the transaction such as negotiating and closing.  

The mortgage origination experience 

Much like the home search process, the mortgage origination process is evolving toward a more digital, self-serve experience, requiring lenders to rethink their service value from a homebuyer’s perspective.

Mortgage lenders have been slow to digital adoption due to compliance challenges; however, lenders are now aggressively working toward more automation in the face of new competition. Companies such as Quicken Loans and others are moving mortgage applications online; however, consumers still expect human interaction and support during the mortgage process. 

In fact, a PWC report found that consumers wish to mix-and-match their digital and person-to-person interactions during the mortgage process. “As borrowers have gotten more comfortable with digital tools, their expectations and ways of interacting with them have become more complex,” the report stated. “Historically, we’ve talked about digital as an alternative to personal interactions, but digital needs to supplement, complement, replace, and coexist with traditional channels.” 

Other surveys and studies indicate that consumers’ digital preferences also vary depending on the homebuyer’s stage within the mortgage process. A recent survey from Velocify by Ellie Mae demonstrates that over 33% of borrowers prefer self-service websites during the mortgage research stage. Then, as the application moves forward, borrowers expect prompt responsiveness and personal interaction from a loan officer.

Do consumers want fully-digital closings?

In many ways, eClosings mirror digital improvements in home search and loan origination. Consumers want technology to help streamline a complicated process, yet they also desire the expertise of professionals to guide them.  

As the Solidifi survey referenced earlier in this article indicates, homebuyers don’t view the digital experience as a black and white. Consumers today expect a multi-channel experience that integrates both online and offline tools at different points during the closing process. 

Title & escrow businesses must work with their lender and real estate agent partners to find the right combination of digital and in-person interactions to deliver a seamless consumer experience. To adapt to the evolving digital demands of consumers, businesses must lay a solid digital foundation that allows for streamlined communication between partner systems and a cohesive consumer experience.