As lenders struggle to encourage consumer adoption of Internet mortgages, two recently launched efforts may go a long way toward achieving this goal.
The National Association of Realtors and WebSuite, a Seattle real estate technology company, have teamed up to create E-PRO, an online certification course for the association's members.
Meanwhile, two major title insurance companies, First American Corp. of Santa Ana, Calif., and LandAmerica Financial Group of Richmond, Va., have formed a joint venture to create Data Trace, a searchable title database that collects, indexes, and creates digital images of previously hard-to-obtain public records kept by counties.
Several lenders and industry observers have pointed to counties and members of the Realtors group as Old Economy obstacles to adoption of online mortgages.
Real estate agents, who refer homebuyers to lenders and thus have a powerful influence over the process, have been slow to embrace the Internet. Counties are the custodians of deeds, liens, assessments, and other property information crucial to getting title insurance, which is needed to close a mortgage. But retrieving these data has historically meant a trip to the county courthouse.
"These counties are literally in the dark ages, so you've had to pay these abstract companies to send people to the town halls to gather data," said Doug W. Naidus, chief executive of MortgageIT.com. "It's archaic, time-consuming, and costly. If they can clear that away, it's going to be very helpful for everybody."
Dennis Gilmore, president of First American Database Information and Services, a subsidiary of First American Corp., said that each county is at a different level of automation, which complicates the historically labor-intensive data gathering.
"The title industry can now begin to centralize its production, which will allow the whole industry to get the efficiencies it needs," he said. "Title insurance is a piece of the mortgage process, but we will accelerate that process, causing a ripple effect" in the industry.
Mary Stark-Hood, vice president of member benefits and strategic alliances at the Realtors association, said her group initiated the E-PRO training program because of members' need of and desire for technical education. The program will be updated every year so members can maintain and improve their skills, and it will have an across-the-board impact on the homebuying industries, she said.
"Technology gives us the ability to more easily track the whole transaction process, from the sales contract to the orders for title insurance to the mortgage commitments," Ms. Stark-Hood said. "And the ability to integrate the offerings will be very helpful in creating efficiencies in that transaction."
Kirk Klinkhammer, executive vice president and co-founder of WebSuite, said he has signed up 6,000 real estate agents for the course so far and expects enrollment to swell to 25,000 by yearend.
E-PRO certification will encourage Realtors to create their own Web sites and establish stronger links with lenders, he said.