This week, Qualia sponsored an ALTA webinar titled “Increase Your Advocacy IQ.” The webinar focused on the value of industry advocacy efforts with local legislators.

Elizabeth Wysong Berg, Northeast Regional Underwriting Counsel for Agents National Title Insurance Company and Bob Treuber, Executive Director of the New York State Land Title Association joined Elizabeth Blosser, Senior Director of Government Affairs at ALTA to discuss local advocacy. 

The value of advocacy in the title industry

During the pandemic, legislation passed at lightning speed to enable industries to operate in the midst of social distancing. Real estate was no exception. During COVID-19, the title industry has been instrumental in pushing forward state-level legislation for remote online notarization (RON). Industry advocates have even pushed forward national bills such as the SECURE Notarization Act. 

The impact of industry advocacy is far-reaching and goes well-beyond RON. This week, ALTA President Diane Tomb wrote in an ALTA Advocacy Update email that ALTA pushed federal agencies (including the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) to focus on real estate wire fraud in upcoming spending bills.

The role of title industry advocates cannot be understated when it comes to creating meaningful legislative changes that impact homebuyers. Legislators rely heavily on title & escrow experts to help inform their decisions. “It’s absolutely impossible for legislators to be subject matter experts on every topic, and yet they are dealing with every topic,” Blosser said. “They need go-to experts. That’s why it’s good to keep telling your story and to let them know who you are in the title industry.” 

Getting started with advocacy: remove the fear

The title industry is full of passionate professionals; however, many are deterred from advocating for fear of the intimidating legislative processes. Berg and Treuber agreed that getting started with advocacy is all about diving in. Most advocates start without knowing the ins-and-outs of the legislative process. 

The goal of advocacy is to connect with legislators so they view you as a go-to resource for title-related topics. Those who are interested in advocacy (passionate industry professionals) already have the tools they need to be thought experts. “[Legislators] want to hear our stories and they want to know how they can help,” Berg said.

For more formal advocacy scenarios such as a lobby day (when advocates show up at the lobby floor to discuss issues), Treuber noted that he prepares new members with talking points, handouts, and floor maps of legislative offices. “We do a lot of briefing beforehand and make sure we never put a rookie in the deep end by themselves,” he said. 

Advocacy doesn’t have to be a formal process either. Berg noted that she encourages members to take their legislator out to coffee. Treuber agreed that some of his members prefer to meet with a local legislator in a more relaxed atmosphere to develop a personal relationship with them. “It’s a much less intimidating environment,” he said. 

How state associations can approach advocacy

Local LTAs play an important role in moving bills forward that positively impact consumers and the industry at-large. Treuber said that building an advocacy group within an association requires consensus and a consciousness of the entire membership. From there, he recommended that associations “look at [an association] who is doing it right and scale it to what you’re capable of doing.” 

Treuber and Berg also recommended a few other frameworks and approaches for organizing locally.

Consider hiring a lobbyist

Lobbyists are the conduit between bill writers and the industries the bills impact. “Our lobbyists know the rules backwards and forwards and how the legislature actually works,” Berg noted. “For us, that [knowledge] is invaluable because we don’t know the special rules and how the legislature works on a day-to-day basis.” 

A lobbyist is not free, but their services are invaluable. Berg noted that “having someone help you navigate the [legislative] process is priceless.” If budget is an issue, Treuber recommended hiring a lobbyist part time; however, he also noted that it’s important that the lobbyist invests enough time into understanding the industry. 

To find a lobbyist, Berg, Blosser, and Treuber recommended gathering the following during the interview process:

  1. Who else does the lobbyist represent? How might these overlap with your interests? 
  2. Is the lobbyist able to be bi-partisan? 
  3. Do they have relationships with the right leaders?
  4. Are they willing to listen and learn about your business and industry to be a true advocate?

Nurture every relationship 

Berg and Treuber recommended that LTAs cast a wide net when it comes to developing relationships. Any and all community relationships may help move conversations forward and can be leveraged for different purposes. 

Below are a few ways Berg and Treuber think holistically about relationship-building: 

  1. Build relationships beyond just the legislators. Know their staff and their assistants so you can more easily schedule visits to meet with them.  
  2. Consider partnerships you’ve developed through community involvement. Nonprofit organizations and volunteer groups can help establish your credibility in the community. 
  3. Develop rapport with freshman house members. They may not have much pull today; however, they may have a larger say in a few years. 
  4. Engage with local media. “It’s powerful [for legislators] to see our name in their community newspaper or mentioned on their local cable channel,” Treuber said. 

The continued importance of advocacy

The world after coronavirus will most certainly look different than it does today and every industry will be impacted. The title industry can form a united front to push an agenda forward that makes property ownership as transparent, streamlined, and accessible as possible. 

To watch the webinar, click below to register to access the free recording.

Watch the Webinar