The Ohio Association of Independent Title Agents held its Fourth Annual Convention on Monday... it was truly excellent. Not just excellent for an organization only four years old, but excellent by any standard. Most incredible, was that they had a U.S. Senator speak... and take questions. More important than anything he said, was what he heard.
I'm not going to give you a blow by blow because, well, you should have been there. But I will hit a few highlights for you. But first, you might be amazed that a relatively new organization could have pulled off such a great event - don't be fooled. The OAITA is really out there representing independent agents. They have participated in regulatory change, they have lobbied the General Assembly for much needed statutory changes, they have filed amicus briefs in federal court cases, and they have even filed lawsuits to protect their members' interests. When you do that much for your members, you are going to get noticed... and they have gotten noticed.
It was reported that they have over 100 members. That is pretty impressive for a new association in a shrinking industry - particularly when they are focused on the hardest hit segment, the independent agents. Clearly, though, there is still room for growth and I have no doubt they will continue to grow.
If you aren't aware, the rapid rise of the OAITA spawned interest in a national organization, the National Association of Independent Land Title Agents (NAILTA). The national association was represented by their President, Charles W. Proctor, III, and their Vice President, Anthony L. Affatati, Sr. Both of those gentlemen have a passion for independent title agents. It was encouraging to witness their enthusiasm for both what the OAITA is doing and the prospects for the national organization. And, they have been just as active as the OAITA!
The obvious highlight of the conference was the keynote speaker, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. He briefly spoke about the changes in Washington, but the really important thing, as I mentioned, was that he allotted most of his time to taking questions and comments from those in attendance. How often do independent title agents get the opportunity to really speak to a U.S. Senator? Not only did he take questions... he took notes! He truly seemed interested in the various comments he heard about the dangers of Affiliated Business Arrangements. If he wasn't tuned into the issue, he is now. The next time he votes on a title insurance related matter, he'll have a new perspective. Now that is incredible. Kudos to the OAITA for landing him for the event.
A couple of other highlights included Stephen M. Bucha, III - he is the Chief Magistrate of the Cuyahoga County Foreclosure Department in Cleveland, Ohio. When it comes to foreclosures, he has seen it all... or pretty darn close. There is no doubt that many title issues arise from today's foreclosure problems and it was interesting to hear his perspective - what the courts think of the issues.
Magistrate Bucha also participated in a panel discussion, "Ohio's Foreclosure Epidemic: From all Angles," with Michael E. Kovack, Medina County Auditor, Gerald K. Carlisle, Ohio Title Corp., and Kim Himmle, Netwide Title Agency. The discussion took a few turns and did not focus solely on foreclosures; they also addressed the decline of title standards. In my opinion, nothing threatens the industry, particularly independent agents and abstractors, more than the lousy search standards we have today. This group definitely recognizes the problem and they are dedicated to seeing changes... no matter how much of an uphill battle it may seem.
The point I'm trying to make here, though probably not via the most direct path, is that these are the people and organizations that we need to represent us. I hate to think about where we will be if the industry, and the regulatory environment, continues on the same path we have been on for the past decade. If it can change, these are the organizations that will help us do it.
If you just look at all of the things the OAITA and the NAILTA have done - and they are continuing to do more - you have to take a hard look at yourself and ask, "What am I doing?" This is your industry, too. If you sit back and let the traditional organizations continue to be the main voice in our industry, you will get more of the same. If you haven't realized it yet - that may not be in your best interest.
I don't want to be too hard on the traditional land title associations - they have done many great things for our industry and their members. Unfortunately, lately, they seem to be on a destructive path for the independent title agents and abstractors. While there are still reasons to belong to those organizations; there are even stronger reasons to join and support the OAITA and the NAILTA also. I don't think there are any rules preventing membership in more than one organization.
So, if you asked me, my advice would be to join the OAITA if you are in Ohio. If you are not, join the NAILTA. But that alone is not good enough. We all have friends, colleagues, and business associates who could also benefit greatly from these fine organizations. Why not clue them in as well? As much as I hate to admit it, not everyone in this industry reads my blog (yet). Do them a favor and email them a link to this blog - or send them the links to the OAITA and NAILTA Web sites; encourage them to at least check them out and make up their own minds.
It is hard not to get excited when you are in a room with such passionate people who understand the tough issues we all deal with everyday. They want to make big changes and we can all help by signing up and showing our support!
Next year, when I tell you about their Fifth Annual Convention, take a day off and go! You will see what I mean.
One last thing before I close... for those of you who don't know, Robert B. Holman is the OAITA Founder and Secretary. He also serves as the Secretary for NAILTA. The man really knows and understands the title industry; it is truly impressive. Though I'm sure in his modesty he would tell you that the success of both organizations is a team effort (and it is), he deserves much of the credit. If you haven't met Mr. Holman yet, do yourself a favor and attend a future event - shake his hand and say "thank you." I believe that he will be at the NALTEA conference in Clearwater, Florida (October 21-23). How he finds the time, I'll never know.