At the end of March 2020, Qualia conducted a survey to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the title & escrow industry. The results indicated that businesses were moving toward remote work and rapidly adjusting their timelines toward remote online notarization (RON) adoption.

In an effort to gather longitudinal data and understand shifts in perception, Qualia conducted a second survey in May 2020. The study uncovered three core trends:

  1. Title & escrow businesses are continuing to work-from-home, indicating a potential for greater remote work flexibility well into the future.
  2. Remote online notarization (RON) is growing in adoption and is likely here to stay.
  3. Title & escrow businesses project a positive outlook for the real estate market. 

Remote work flexibility could be a permanent employee benefit for many title & escrow businesses 

Beginning in March 2020, nearly every state issued shelter-in-place or similar orders requiring residents to stay inside their homes. The orders also required all “non essential” businesses to shut down or transition employees to remote operations. This forced businesses in nearly every industry to consider work-from-home options for their employees. 

Many business leaders were skeptical about the productivity of a distributed workforce; however, their employees quickly adapted (thanks to technology enabling remote collaboration). Across industries, leaders are now considering a permanent shift to remote work or partial remote work. According to a study from Global Workplace Analytics, by the end of 2021, an estimated 25-30% of the global workforce will be working from home multiple days a week. 

Qualia’s survey data reveals a similar trend in the title & escrow industry. Among title & escrow professionals surveyed in May 2020, 65% of the respondents are currently working from home in some capacity. This is up from 61% of respondents in March/April 2020. This upward trend, despite state reopenings, indicates a possible permanence in work-from-home options. 

Qualia Survey Data Indicates an Increase in Remote Work Between March and May 2020

Graphic showing results from Qualia's survey about title companies and their remote work operations during COVID-19. The graphic shows a 6.6% increase in respondents saying they are working remotely between survey data collected in April and May.

Although title & escrow work is deemed an “essential business” (which allows title & escrow operations to be maintained in-office), many survey respondents cited safety as a top concern with returning to the office. Survey responses also indicated that most title & escrow agents did not have any issues transitioning to remote operations. These sentiments hint at potential for the industry to see greater employee work-from-home flexibility in the future. 

Remote online notarization (RON) is here to stay

At the start of the pandemic, remote closing options were difficult to execute due to the numerous barriers associated with RON. Some of these roadblocks included: legislation enabling RON had not passed in the majority of states, lenders were hesitant to accept RON due to restrictions from their investors in the secondary mortgage market, and county recording offices were not technologically equipped to accept digital recording documents. 

These barriers quickly dissolved during the first month of the pandemic. Legislators expedited RON legislation; governors enacted temporary orders allowing for RON and remote ink-signed notarizations (RIN) during COVID-19; underwriters adapted their guidelines to enable RON; and government sponsored entities (GSEs) including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac led the way in updating their requirements to allow for RON. 

Qualia’s survey data between March/April 2020 and May 2020 indicates a growth in acceptance and usage of RON among title & escrow companies. Between Match/April and May, RON usage increased from 24% to 33%. 

Qualia Survey Data Indicates an Increase in Remote Online Notarization (RON) Adoption Between March and May 2020

A graph showing results from 2 surveys collected by Qualia. The graph shows that between April and May, usage of remote online notarization (RON) increased by 40%

Despite increased RON usage overall, the percentage of title & escrow businesses indicating no plans to adopt RON solutions also increased from 14% to 23% from March/April to May. This may be due to a few reasons including:

  1. States reopening starting in May which reduced the need for remote notarizations. 
  2. A positive outlook among title & escrow businesses in April for rapid national RON legislation passage which had not come to fruition by May. (The SECURE Notarization Act was introduced in late March and the bill has since not passed.)
  3. Other contactless signing solutions became more accessible in May (thanks to acceptance among Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) such as RIN which enabled title & escrow businesses to offer remote signing options without investing in RON solutions.
  4. Other workarounds were socialized by national organizations such as ALTA including curbside closings and hybrid eClosings which allowed title & escrow agents to reduce physical contact with signers. 

While the number of respondents who are no longer considering RON solutions grew month-over-month, the overall increase in RON adoption is a strong indicator that RON is likely here to stay. RON eClosings require employee training, technology adoption, and coordination with lender and underwriter partners. Businesses that have invested time and money into RON will likely continue to offer the remote closing option to clients well into the future.

 Consumer demand for contactless closings may also persist well into the future. Recent studies from Harvard disease experts indicate that social distancing may continue into 2022. 

Title & escrow businesses project a positive outlook for the real estate market 

Qualia’s most-recent survey data (collected in May 2020) indicates that title & escrow professionals are optimistic about the housing market despite uncertain economic conditions following an economic downturn.

70% of survey respondents in May 2020 anticipated an increase or stable order volume over the next 30 days. Comparatively, in March/April 2020, only 30% of survey respondents indicated that they expected order volume to increase or stay the same in the next 30 days.

Qualia Survey Data Indicates an Increasingly Positive Outlook for the Housing Market

A graph showing results from 2 surveys collected by Qualia. The graph shows that between April and May, title companies developed a more positive outlook for the future of the housing market.

What’s ahead?

Qualia’s survey indicates that the coronavirus has pushed the real estate industry forward dramatically in adopting new technology. With this digital acceleration, the industry can begin to deliver a more streamlined and overall better transaction experience for consumers. 

While the coronavirus has upended many industries, Qualia’s survey reveals that the title industry maintains solid footing and a positive outlook. It’s with this stability and a continued shift toward digital practices that the title industry can help drive economic growth now and into the future. 

To learn more about this survey and its full results, click HERE to download the survey infographic.