The Transformation of the Real Estate Industry in the Digital Age

When was the last time you picked up an encyclopedia, clipped coupons in a newspaper, mailed a letter or, for that matter, did your Christmas shopping in person or even went into the local branch office of the bank? For most, these activities are either a thing of the past or things they only hear about from us old-timers. Now you get your information online, you communicate online, you shop online, you bank online, and you even order groceries online. Information is always at our fingertips, literally, in the form of a phone or tablet. We are in the digital age, and the way we behave has evolved. Convenience is key in our fast-paced society.

According to the National Association of REALTORS® Research Group 2018 report, “Real Estate in a Digital Age,” 93% of buyers used a website to find properties online, and 73% used a mobile device to search. Of the 73% who searched on a mobile device, 76% found their home via this method. Just like the rest of the processes in their life, home buyers and sellers want the convenience of conducting their home buying or selling process online – and, on much of it, they are able to do just that. Searching properties, finding an agent, viewing virtual tours and communicating with agents via text and email, along with going through the mortgage application and approval process, are all possible online. However, this digital evolution has, until recently, been kept at a distance from the title and escrow process. Playing catch-up is imperative if title companies are to keep up with the demands of today’s consumer.

In order to meet the expectations of consumers, as well as those of our partners in real estate who are also striving to satisfy customers, we’ve had to take a close look at our business processes and change them to align with the behavior of our customers. This means not only offering more convenient solutions for the home buyer and seller to make the transaction process smooth, but also offering efficiency and speed for our lender customers, helping to reduce loan cycle time, and driving down production costs.

While the title industry hasn’t evolved much in the past century, it’s more important than ever to meet the customer where they are – to align with their expectations and provide the excellent experience and service that we strive for on every transaction. But how do we accomplish this? There are a number of technologies Stewart has embraced to create efficiency and convenience for our customers.

For starters, we want to set the tone from the beginning of the transaction by enabling digital signatures on the initial package. Utilizing an eSignature platform, such as DocuSign®, we are able to set the expectation with customers that their transaction will offer convenience by allowing them to conduct business when and where it works for them, by reducing errors and potential missed signatures, and, ultimately, by saving a significant amount of time for all parties involved. Additionally, when it’s time to deposit earnest money, we offer remote deposits. No more driving across town to drop off an earnest money check. Consumers can deposit money into a bank via a mobile app, so why not be able to do the same with your earnest money? Now, in certain Stewart Title offices, you can – and we are committed to growing that number rapidly.

For those who prefer text messaging to communicating over the phone, we offer direct texting to our escrow staff, making it incredibly convenient for real estate agents and consumers alike to communicate in the way that works best for them.

Perhaps the biggest game-changer and one in which Stewart has truly led the way in our industry is remote online notarization (otherwise known as RON). Through RON, sellers can execute notarized closing documents online via a webcam, engaging in a virtual session with a notary. When a seller is traveling, deployed overseas or simply can’t make it into an office due to inclement weather or any other reason, we now have the capability to offer this next level of convenience. Gone is the need to get in the car and drive to the closing. It can all be done online.

For those customers who still like in-person interaction (and believe it or not, these customers most definitely still exist), we offer in-office eClosings, where the customer can view and sign documents electronically and forgo “wet signing” a stack of papers, while still offering the personal touch of a face-to-face transaction.

Today, with the digital disruption of our industry, it’s more important than ever to meet the customer where they are and to offer them the choice of how to conduct their transaction on what quite possibly will be the largest purchase of their life. That means increasing communication, offering processes and solutions that enable convenience and ultimately mimic the way people behave today, and providing a noteworthy experience that home buyers and sellers will remember positively for years to come.

*Not all digital solutions are offered in all markets. Visit stewart.com to locate an office near you.

 

By: Wyomia Clifton, Senior Division President

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