New business models are continuously cropping up in the real estate sector, and several are fundamentally transforming how people buy and sell homes. Orchard is one example of a PropTech company that’s modernizing the home purchase experience from search to close. To achieve an end-to-end home purchase experience, Orchard focused significant investment and attention on the closing experience—the final puzzle piece of a fully-digital home purchase experience.
At the Future of Real Estate Summit, Qualia’s Director of High Growth Accounts, Jamie Kump, sat down with Court Cunningham, CEO of Orchard, and Stephanie Brower, Head of Closing Operations at Orchard. The trio discussed why Orchard opted to attach title and how the business overcame the core challenges of launching a wholly-owned title operation by leveraging Qualia’s flexible technology infrastructure.
The modern home closing is the equivalent to the e-commerce checkout experience
Orchard is putting the entire home purchase experience, from a consumer perspective, onto one seamless interface for a streamlined and more transparent process. “Orchard is fundamentally transforming how people buy and sell homes. It’s akin to what Amazon did for retail and Uber for transportation,” Cunningham said. “Closing is critical to that vision. If you take an e-commerce analogy, Qualia is the equivalent to our shopping cart.
Because the closing experience is paramount to Orchard’s end-to-end homebuying experience, the company opted to attach title services to its offerings. Cunningham outlined three benefits of attaching title:
- Providing a “magical” customer experience where everything is seamless and digital
- Capturing margins from title business
- Creating greater efficiency during the closing process
Cunningham noted that many companies are now recognizing the margin opportunity with title. “That’s an inward focus,” he said. Instead, Cunningham believes businesses should think beyond margins. “If you staple on a title offering without thinking about service delivery and how you’re going to modernize the experience, it’s not a formula for success.”
Orchard’s strategy to attach title
As we’ve outlined in past posts, there are multiple strategies for attaching title. Orchard’s initial strategy was to work with a joint venture (JV) partner. “Our JV partner was fantastic. We chose them because we knew nothing about title and we could get up to speed quickly with them,” Cunningham said. Ultimately, the partnership didn’t work out because the JV partner was limited with its software. “Their [software] was older and harder to work with,” Cunningham said. Orchard couldn’t achieve its vision for real estate closings with these fundamental software limitations.
Orchard decided to create its own title businesses (Orchard Title and Orchard Title of Texas) from the ground up and used Qualia’s software as its technology infrastructure. “It was not a hard decision to pick something that’s modern and easy to use and easy to integrate with from a technology perspective,” Cunningham said of Qualia.
How Orchard leveraged Qualia to overcome the challenges of building title operations
Brower outlined several challenges Orchard faced when it set out to build a wholly-owned title entity.
1) Addressing cultural challenges inherent in a transition
“Any time you change part of how a company runs, that has an impact on employees,” Brower said of Orchard’s transition from a JV to a wholly-owned title entity. At the same time that Orchard was transitioning to an owned title entity, it was also migrating to Qualia. “I fundamentally believe that this was a decision that was right from a technology perspective and it also helped us with the cultural transition to parse out who was going to be a successful long-term member of the team and who was committed to the modernization of the workflow.”
Beyond the transition period, Orchard is also dedicated to growing and nurturing talent in the title & escrow business who are relentlessly customer-focused. “We’ve been able to use Qualia to break the business down in a way that we can educate our team incredibly and cross-functionally,” she said. Orchard was able to transition someone in funding into a tile examiner role and someone from closing operations into a funding role by using Qualia’s bite-sized, incremental training program.
2) Unifying Orchard’s three unique businesses
Orchard needed to unify 3 businesses with Qualia: 1) Orchard Title of Texas 2) Orchard National Title, and 3) on the closing operations side, affiliated businesses but separate entities. “We needed to ensure we were tied together through our new systems and that Qualia was talking to our other internal systems.”
Qualia’s cloud-based platform enabled the interoperability Orchard needed to integrate its various systems so they could effectively “talk” to each other.
3) Accounting for local differences across Orchard’s national market
Every real estate market across the United States is unique. Local regulations and customs make the closing process different in every state. For businesses like Orchard that are focused on scaling quickly, expanding to new markets can be a challenge.
“One way we’ve been able to successfully use Qualia to make our process scalable is to modularize the core processing of the title entity. That’s order open, file processing, and post-closing,” Brower said. “We’re able to use Qualia tasking to make that super elegant, and we can do that centrally irrespective of the market we’re in.”
Brower added that local expertise and talent are still paramount to the success of scaling operations to new regions; however, “we’re able to support them by having a team that’s streamlined and integrated… that’s the Qualia baseline,” she said. “We’ve added a solid 10 markets since I joined, which is breakneck speed… I’m not having to invent the wheel fully each time we expand,” she said.
Cunningham added that the “table-stakes” things that come from starting operations in a new market such as loading forms, managing processes with underwriters, and other baseline tasks come “out of the box” with Qualia. “This allowed us to focus on customer service rather than the mundane back-end items that Qualia automates for us,” he said.
4) Creating a consistent consumer experience at closing
Brower noted that Orchard is in the “early innings” of leveraging Qualia’s Partner API to create a white-labeled closing experience for customers. Soon, Orchard will use Qualia’s Partner API to pull information into its customer-facing dashboard. Orchard’s dashboard is the central point of focus for the customer experience and enables customers to receive real-time updates throughout a transaction.
“This will free up our escrow team to deliver above-and-beyond communications,” Brower said. For example, a customer could view closing tasks in their dashboard and receive more engaging communications from an escrow officer such as education on tax proration.
Orchard’s advice for PropTech companies looking to launch title operations
“Having been on all sides of the [real estate] business, I can say title is the most complex,” Brower said. “It’s incredibly wide and incredibly deep.” She encouraged businesses to think critically about what it takes to start a title business.
Cunningham and Brower also urged PropTech businesses to think about how to drive forward modernizing the product and service delivery rather than sticking to the way things have always been done. “One way we can all support each other across title & escrow is embracing flexibility in service of the customer,” Brower said. “There are so many of us who are really excited about being part of the future wave. It’s an exciting frontier.”
To watch a recording of Cunningham, Brower, and Kump’s conversation from the Future of Real Estate Summit, click below.