By Angela Salemme
Mr. Kern presently oversees 21 employees that do all the title examination, searching, and policy creation for Chicago Title, Ticor Title, and Fidelity National Title Brands in Fresno, Madera, Kern, Kings, San Luis Obispo, Tulare, and portions of Santa Barbara County. Throughout his career in this industry, Mr. Kern has been a Title Searcher, Title Officer, and County Manager for title and escrow services and is currently the Vice President and CPF Manager for Fidelity National Title Group. Fidelity National Title Group is one of the nation’s largest title insurance companies and is a subsidiary for Fidelity National Financial which is currently ranked number 366 on Fortune’s list of America’s largest companies. Of the current 21 employees that Mr. Kern oversees, there are Title Officers, Title Examiners, Open Order Unit, Closing Unit, a Production Manager, Title Insurance Underwriters.
Q1: How did you get started in this field? What year did you begin in the Title/Real Estate Industry?
“In 1989, I was hired by a company called Title Court Service to search court records and do recordings at the Hall of Records in Fresno County. Title Court Services is a service provider for all of the title companies in the area. After about a year, I got to know all of these people at the different title companies in the area because I was doing work for them. At one point, one of the guys from Commonwealth Title, now a defunct company, called me and asked me if I would be interested in coming over to work for him. He hired me away from Title Court Service as a title searcher. That’s how I got my ‘foot in the door’ in this industry.”
Q2: What was your educational background?
“I have a 2 year degree from San Jose City College. One of the things you’ll find in the title and escrow industry is that not many people have a background of higher, formal education. That is because in California higher education is not required. In other parts of the country, you have to be certified by the state to be an Escrow Officer or Title Officer. In California, the position is not regulated; however, the industry is regulated. It is one of those industries that people get into unknowingly. One of the standard phrases that you’ll hear people say is that ‘nobody ever grows up with the plans to work at a title company.’ This is an industry that people fall into through associations of people that they know or from being in jobs that are related to the industry.”
Q3: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Title Officer and also being in your position? Least?
“I’ll start with the Title Officer. The main job of a Title Officer is to support the Escrow Department and work out title issues. A new term used these days is that Title Officer’s do ‘curative work.’ For example, when a title report is generated and either escrow or the customer (Real Estate Agent, Lender, Property Owner/Buyer) finds issues/problems on that title report, things that do not make sense, or things they are questioning the questions will go back to the Title Officer. ‘Can you figure out why your report looks like this?’ Why is this on your report?’ At that point, it becomes a curative measure to try and cure the problem on the title. I think from a Title Officer’s perspective, that is probably the most rewarding part of the job because you are looked to fix things. So, when you fix them, there is a certain amount of personal gratification that you get because you often get all these ‘thank you’s’…‘you saved the day’…’you saved the closing.’
From a Title Officer’s perspective, the least rewarding part of the position is being pushed to the limit on what you can cram into one day. It can be stressful. For example, people will call you and request something from you immediately, and sometimes those people don’t realize that you may have four other Escrow Officer’s demanding a quick turnaround time on a request as well. It is no different from what Escrow Officer’s go through as well, in terms of stress of multiple requests from multiple customers at one time. What I always tell the Title Officer is that the Escrow Officer is getting the request from their customer and it’s not coming from Escrow because they wish it upon you, it’s because they are getting the request from the Realtor or Loan Agent.
In my position, as I’ve been a manager for 10 years now with this company, my personal favorite part of management is bringing people up through the ranks in positions and training/educating people on the processes that we use to do the work. The group that I work with now are all seasoned, many of them were in the business a long time before I was. Those kind of people are harder to train than new people coming into the field. So my personal favorite part of my job is being able to train and take those seasoned individuals, and seeing the results of them being able to learn and figure out new things and systems. It is rewarding to watch them accomplish things that they never thought that they could do. A perfect example of this is one of our Open Order Desk employees had the position of typing Title Policies for her entire career. For 15 years all she did was type Title Policies. She probably thought that that was the only thing she knew how to do, and that was the only thing she would ever do. At one point, I told her that we were going to shut that position down and we are going to have you do open orders. She was scared to death as she had never done anything but type policies before. A year has gone by and she is a great open order desk person. She has learned so much now, like learning how to run all of the Metroscan and Title Point programs to pull property taxes and how to build the title search that goes out. I know that she never in a million years would have thought she would be capable of that position. It was very rewarding to watch her development.
The worst part of the job is pretty standard for a manager and does not really have anything to do with the industry. I really don’t like personal conflict among employees. As a manager, you sometimes have to get into the middle of those personal conflicts. For example, if two people sit in close proximity to each other one person may chew on ice too loud or listen to music too loud. I don’t like to have to deal with those issues, but it comes with the job. The other thing that is difficult about being a manager is that our industry is cyclical in nature and in times that we are not busy, corporate demands that we restructure our staffing accordingly. I have had to lay off numerous individuals. Since about 2006, I’ve had to lay off about 25-30 people and that is very difficult.”
Q4: What guidelines and requirements do you have in your position as a manager of a title processing facility?
“Our company dictates a productivity standard which is pretty simple. They require a minimum of 150 units of work per person per month. How we get the units of work is through how many openings and closings we process per employees and working days in the month. If your number is above 150, you are maintaining the proper productions levels. The company expects that you get within the proper productions levels by about the 3rd month if you fall below for a few months. The only way to do that is to reduce your staff or get more orders.”
Q5: What kind of an individual (skills/personality) is best suited for the position of a Title Officer?
“That’s a good question and I’m glad you asked it because there are three real sections in working for a Title Company, all of which require different skills and personality traits. You can be in Escrow, Sales, or Title. The personality that is going to excel as a Title Officer is going to be one that is happy working at a desk, not outdoors like sales. This is a very studious type of job where you are doing lots of research. Back in the old days it used to be researching in old books and lot books, and now everything is on the computer, but we are still researching whether it be online or in the different applications that we use. You have to be comfortable with doing that 8 hours a day: sitting at a desk, researching titles. In addition, you are not doing a lot of communication with people, so this type of job is not suited for a lot of gregarious, outgoing personalities that generally end up in sales positions. I think that escrow is the blend of those two types of personalities. A Title Officer should be content to be indoors, at a desk, problem solving and researching. Being detail oriented is a key factor of the Title Examination position because you really have to pay key attention to detail when you are writing a title report.”
Q6: What kind of educational preparation must one acquire to enter into this field? Recommended classes/experiences?
“I would recommend a basic real estate class. What I have learned is that people that have come up through the business, like I have, and they only know title or they only know escrow, it is not beneficial to the company or the employee. A basic real estate class would expand their knowledge and understanding. For instance, the employees at the open order desk have just taken over the “Customer Service” responsibilities [assisting the public in pulling property owner information, etc.]. It has been an eye-opening experience for them, even though they have been running title reports for years, when they get a question from a Real Estate Agent like ‘what did the house down the street sell for?’, they don’t necessarily understand why an agent would need to know that. Learning other aspects of the business would be my recommendation for any person looking to enter title or escrow.”
Q7: What have you found to be a major weakness of new hires in this field?
“A weakness that I have experienced with new hires, and it doesn’t matter what position it is for, is lack of responsibility. As explained earlier, our company has tight production requirements and runs pretty lean, so it is imperative that employees are here five days a week. There can’t be a lot of ‘I can’t make it in today’ from employees. We can only function at 100% when everybody is here. I’ve had new hires that just are not cut out for it.”
Q8: What are some common entry level positions? How does one move from position to position in other areas of this organization? Do you tend to hire for promotional positions within?
“We tend to hire from within. Generally, going from one position to another is based on knowledge level. For instance, I mentioned the Open Order Desk position that was filled by a person who typed Title Policies. I felt that she had a good enough base of knowledge that she would be able to learn the additional abilities that you need at the Open Order Desk. Someone that has worked at the open order desk for a while learns enough to be able to move to a Residential Title Examiner position. Most management positions that I have seen with the company are positions that are not filled from outside of the industry, but from within the company. I think the reason for this is because this industry is based so much on on-the-job acquired knowledge. As we talked about earlier, this industry doesn’t really require formal education. I think that you could bring in someone with a Masters Degree in Marketing or Business and they may struggle learning a title company because so much of what we do is based on what we know about this business. Most management is brought up through Sales, Escrow or Title. In this company, for positions higher than mine, for instance Regional Managers, I tend to see that most of them were at one point County Managers.”
Q9: What is your opinion on the future outlook of the “Title Officer” position?
“I believe that the Title Officer position is going to be one of those positions that remains intact on shore. What I mean by that is, here in America, because a lot of search and examination functions are now done off shore, in India. All of the title companies have huge production facilities in India, our company being one of them. They are in the process right now of fine tuning them, because right now they don’t produce a report well enough to allow it to go straight out to the customer. We still have to review it here locally to make sure that it’s correct. Over the course of the next 3-5 years, I believe that off-shore process will be fine tuned to where reports won’t need to be looked at here. So at that point, most of the title examination jobs are going to be eliminated. But, the Title Officer position is going to remain here to do ‘curative’ work. I don’t think that they will ever be able to train people in India to do the curative work.”
Q10: How has the title industry changed in the last 5 years?
“I have seen it change immensely, and in two different ways. One has been what we’ve seen with the economy. Many experts never saw it coming [the Financial Crisis of 2007]. I would have never imagined in a million years going from such a large company as we were at that time to as small as a company as we are now. The other one is in our industry, and I’m sure in other industries, the technology is getting greater and greater. Ten years ago it was never on any body’s mind that our reports could be done in India. We all had fully functioning staffs in all of our offices supporting all of the work, and now in my office 50% of the orders are done off-shore. In the Stockton office, because they do more residential and we do more agriculture, 80% of their orders are done off-shore. Technology has made this possible and been a source of huge change.”
Q11: How has technology changed the industry in recent years?
Q12: What areas of the industry do you foresee growth?
“There are always different forecasts out and you can believe who you what to believe, but here we are in 2011 and a lot of people thought that the whole economy was going to turn around in 2010. Of course that did not happen. I personally believe the forecasts that say it’s on a slower path of growth through 2011, 2012, and 2013. When I was the County Manager at the Merced Title and Escrow Operations, there were 32 employees. That office now has 11 employees. I think it will take until 2013 for the office to get back to 32 employees.
Q13: When our industry begins to pick up again, what will your strategy be for hiring new employees? Entry level positions or more experienced people who have not been working due to staffing reductions?
“When things pick up, we always try to hire from the experienced pool of individuals who were let go because it’s the fair thing to do. I know that you know from working with these Escrow Officer’s that when they go on vacation or get super busy, they want help, but they want it to be someone that knows what they are doing. You can’t always just pick those people out of the blue sky. The people that we have let go are not always available and they may have moved on to new jobs and don’t want to come back. I envision that there will be a group of new people coming in, not only for that reason, but as the older generation retires; we are going to want to bring in new batch of people that are younger to start out in an entry level position and pay. We will be able to train and groom them up the way we want to. Now, from the title perspective, I really see that there is going to be a lot of positions available and growth for people who have gotten in and learned the title searching part of the industry for the curative work because, as I mentioned, as more and more of the examination work goes offshore and reports are written offshore, we are going to need knowledgeable people onshore to explain and correct the title reports. In addition, one thing that our industry has not done well either is to train young people in these curative jobs , and that is because we are operating on with such small staffs. I think there will be a great need for those people in 5-10 years as the current group of Title Officers will retire.”
Q14: May I have your permission to use your name and publish your responses on our class web blog?
I would like to thank Mr. Kern for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with me and share his thoughts and experiences on the Title Insurance section of the Real Estate Industry. As I have worked under the same corporate umbrella as Mr. Kern in the local Escrow Department for over six years, I have seen firsthand how our industry has changed due to the economy, and how we have significantly reduced staff over the last 3 to 4 years. Like my County Manager, I have seen Mr. Kern motivate his staff to power through these tough times while everybody feels the constraints of industry. His staff exhibits great team work and a multitude of knowledge and experience. I would encourage my peers to contemplate pursuing a career working for a title insurance company if you are a hard working, responsible individual that loves learning and growing. This industry is constantly changing. There is always something to learn and things to do to make the days go by very fast. It is a very rewarding field to establish a career in. If this informational interview has intrigued you, please come see me, and I will answer any questions you may have about working in escrow or title.