LAS VEGAS–Stewart Title offices that implemented the company’s SureClose transaction management system as a way to better manage the settlement process have discovered at least one other benefit: They no longer need piles of paper files.

Employees can search documents online, move documents internally and place them online for lenders and consumers to view, said Mark Cira, VP for product development with Stewart Realty Solution, during the Real Estate Settlement Providers Council’s fall seminar last week.

After a decade of flops and technology disasters, transaction management systems today are finally starting to reach a broader segment of the real estate industry–beyond settlement service providers. Real estate agents, brokers, lenders and even multiple listing services are examining the potential gains the technology could bring to their businesses.

First introduced in the late 1990s, transaction management systems are technology platforms that manage every piece of a real estate transaction from listing to closing. Web-based transaction systems enable all parties in a transaction to communicate 24/7 and receive real-time updates and track changes to the transaction. Transaction systems aim to shave time and costs from realty transactions.

Today, MLSs are rapidly adopting transaction management systems, Chip McAvoy, senior technology officer with First American Residential Group, said. He predicts more MLSs will be using transaction management systems on a regional level a year from now.

A common use in transaction management systems has been managing the backend of real estate transactions in title/settlement offices. However, transaction systems also could be used by title and closing officers for customer service functions, and brokerages with in-house mortgage systems could use them to better track the process, McAvoy said.

Transaction management platforms continue to add new bells and whistles, but the main thrust of the technology is how well it integrates with systems that people already use, McAvoy said. Platforms must be designed to work with current systems with the ability to pull information from existing systems rather than require users to retype data at every step.

“Transaction management platforms are evolving primarily through integration,” McAvoy said.

As adoption picks up even more in various segments of the industry, the systems will continue to change.

Cira compared transaction systems with centralized, online paperless filing cabinets. Everyone can access the information at any time. Without it, a paper file is passed around from person to person, and if 10 people need the file, only one person can use it at a given time.

Ideally, transaction management systems can keep everyone informed about the transaction’s status – buyers, sellers, real estate agents, brokers, attorneys, lenders and title/settlement service providers.

With employees no longer needing paper files, those offices then saw their workflow change, Cira said. With everything digital, it became easy to map out and assign the next step needed in each transaction, enabling employees to better stay on task and meet deadlines. Management also can better monitor the process, and because everything is updated automatically in the system, it becomes easier to train new employees and manage turnover.

From there, the Stewart offices’ communications changed. Employees are able to stop inquiries from clients before they begin by automatically sending out updates as things are completed. The system also can offer automatic reminders as deadlines approach. Customers can pull needed information offline themselves instead of having to rely on employees to access it for them.

“It’s transformed the communication process” in the sites that have fully implemented transaction management systems, Cira said.

Cira estimates that calls and other requests for information on a transaction status have dropped by a third to a half in officers that use the transaction management system, though it’s difficult to quantify the exact amount of impact, he said.

In some offices, transaction systems have replaced paper-filing systems, Cira said. Now, all files are fully digitized and archived online, effectively ending paper archives and storage expenses. Customers can access their archived documents either online or on a CD-ROM.

All of these inner-office changes combine to make transaction management systems a primary customer service channel, giving consumers the ability to access documents and details themselves, which is a must-have in today’s society, Cira said.

“Folks have those kinds of expectations now,” he said.

Integrating transaction management systems across different sectors of the real estate industry can be challenging, McAvoy said, though it becomes much easier with companies that have affiliated business arrangements or joint ventures, such as a brokerage with an in-house mortgage or title operation.

“When it’s under one roof and you’ve got a boss saying make it work, it works,” McAvoy said.


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