Sunday, January 27, 2008

blogging and anger

My entree into the blogosphere was absolutely seated in anger.

In the late summer of 2006, my product and livelihood - title insurance - was under attack. Major media outlets smelled a rat and reports of multi-million dollar fines and penalties and class action law suits fanned the flames of what might have been the beginning of the end for title insurance as a product.

Our trade association, ALTA, and our state chapter, PLTA, seemed incapable of launching any kind of an effective defense and so I poked my toe into the Internet and started reading and commenting and decided almost immediately that a blog would be the most effective tool for communication.

What was my message? What did I need to say?

I needed to explain title insurance in a way that consumers and the industry would understand. I needed to defend title insurance as a critical component in a real property transaction.

I started with Title Insurance Talk as a consumer facing discussion, then launched Radical Title Talk to scream at industry insiders who were killing us with corruption.

You see, it wasn’t the product - title insurance - that was the problem, it was the delivery system. The business of selling title insurance to the consumer - even if only a loan policy - has become so corrupted that the product itself is beginning to lose its identity and resembles an icon whose link is lost.

Layer upon layer of money and revenue sharing is squeezed into the title insurance transaction and the consumer is virtually forced to contribute to a payola system of referrals without much chance of opting out or encountering free competition that would provide them with a valid choice that in the end would improve quality or price.

All the focus on money has pushed search standards and expertise out the door. The product being purchased in most transactions now is but a shadow of what was before.

We read on ALTA and title insurance sites about the work done to clear title, but does anybody really understand how rarely these services are performed now?

There are so few qualified abstractors and so few experienced examiners and so few shops that write title insurance with the expected services behind the policy that, well, I just don’t know what to say.

Sometime after starting both blogs, two new products came to market, TitleSmart and Next Ace. TitleSmart is a fully automated product. Next Ace is very close to fully automated. Distressed by the potential damage to public records, I launched a third blog, Coalition Petition.

Blogging in anger for long periods is not healthy nor enjoyable. I believe it has been necessary. Ed Rybczynski captured the need well in his Title-opoly post, Radical Title Talk: The Voice of A Repressed Industry.

I have tried to walk away from Radical Title Talk twice - once last May and most recently last week.

Why can’t I step away? I can’t because Radical is a place where plates spin in a way they don’t spin elsewhere and for some reason in subtle ways, the spins make a difference.

With each blog, like you, I have an idea who is reading. When the secondary market started to collapse, I felt I needed to reach out to some of the readership and get their attention. You might think that’s egotistical but how do I know who understands the mortgage market and who does not these days. I always believe I should do my part and so I did so at first through Coalition Petition with this post, followed by this post which I simultaneously put up on Coalition Petition and Radical.

The mortgage crisis brought me back into Radical and I promised myself that I would leave it when things settled down once again.

Recently I have taken some comfort in the likely intervention by HUD and state regulators in the area of title insurance and thought I might just lay down arms and allow less vitriolic discussions to move the cause forward.

Well, the earth shook beneath that comfort on Friday and Radical awoke once again. I couldn’t decide whether to vomit or cry. I did neither.

I’m going to await the news of this next week to see whether or not duty calls. You see we each must ask ourselves when faced with certain circumstances…

if not you, who? if not now, when?

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