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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

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The surge in home sales and low interest rates has created a bull market for L.A. County title companies, which saw the value of refinance and sales mortgages jump 21 percent last year over 1996 levels. Title company officials say the hot market has continued in the first three months of this year, and that they are enjoying even more business now than during the real estate boom of the late 1980s because so many people are taking advantage of low interest rates to refinance their homes. “It’s a title company’s dream,” said Allen Meadows, chief financial officer for Tarzana-based Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. Title companies which insure there are no liens or other encumbrances on a property handled $47.3 billion in refinances and sales mortgages last year, of which nearly $20 billion was in refinances, according to Anaheim-based Experian Information Services, a real estate research firm. The volume of transactions was up 14 percent for 1997, Experian reported. Perhaps the strongest indication of the robust pace of the real estate market is the appreciation in the average value of sales mortgages. The average value of a home-purchase loan rose to $203,117 in 1997 after holding steady around $190,000 the prior three years, according to Experian. Business is up beyond just mortgage and refinancing insurance at title companies. Customer service requests are up 10 percent from last year at Glendale-based Stewart Title Co. Just last month, the firm conducted 5,000 profiles (an assessment of tax records and property information for a specific site) and 800 reports on comparable sales data, known in the industry as farm reports. Stewart Title has so many requests that it often handles only orders from its active clients, said Claudia Queen, senior vice president of the company. In fact, the rising tide of L.A.’s real estate market has bolstered back-office operations across the industry. The bulk of title and escrow companies’ business comes from residential transactions, which account for the majority of real estate deals. Home resales in Los Angeles County climbed 9 percent in February compared with the same period last year. The median sales price of $176,150 last month was up 5.6 percent from February 1997, according to the California Association of Realtors. Tim Finerty, an office manager at Beverly Hills-based Escrow Exchange, said that one of his officers had 31 closings scheduled last month compared to a typical workload of 10 or 15. Mortgage lenders and escrow companies almost feel “bombarded” with business, he said, noting that there’s more work out there than most mortgage lenders and escrow companies can handle. Title and escrow company officials acknowledged that this has led to delays, sparking complaints from some customers. To complicate matters, the industry is swamped with business at a time when the labor pool is dry. Many appraisers, escrow officers and title company agents left the region or the industry altogether during the recession. “It sometimes feels like there’s no one left out there to hire,” Finerty said. “So you have to do your best to maintain a steady, accurate staff.”

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