Automated title search companies are dragging one of the last bastions of time-consuming manual data retrieval – the title search process – into the 21st century.

“If the property falls into the location and timeline covered under this system, we can get that title done within 12 hours, as opposed to what would take three or four days to do manually in many states,” said Monte Jiran, director of operations for Equity Settlement Services, a

Automated title search companies are dragging one of the last bastions of time-consuming manual data retrieval – the title search process – into the 21st century.

“If the property falls into the location and timeline covered under this system, we can get that title done within 12 hours, as opposed to what would take three or four days to do manually in many states,” said Monte Jiran, director of operations for Equity Settlement Services, a client of automated title search services provider Realty Data.

“This is the way things are going. The only question is at what speed,” Jiran said.

“In areas Realty Data doesn’t cover, we have to send an examiner to the county clerk’s office to do research on a property and compile the information. Then we have to re-type it into another report,” said Jiran, describing the traditional process.

“With Realty Data, you touch a few keys, it’s in readable format and we’re much more responsive to our clients. Not to mention, it’s less costly,” the director of operations said.

“Automating of the title search is really catching on. It speeds up the whole closing process and reduces some of the costs,” said Veida Dehmlow, partnership management officer of the Independent Community Bankers of America Mortgage.

“It’s one small part of that big picture of trying to reduce settlement costs. Title is a pretty expensive part of settlement charges,” Dehmlow said. She said the automated service could also be seen as part of the move toward the paperless real estate transaction, though “there’s still a long way to go.”

Companies such as Realty Data and Zenodata Corp., both of which offer automated title search as core products, and companies offering the service along with others, such as Attorneys’ Title Insurance Fund, are proliferating. Their clients are national vendors, large title agents and title insurance companies. Zenodata boasts Home Focus, which is Bank of America’s title business subsidiary, Chesapeake, a subsidiary of Citigroup, GreenLink, Wachovia’s title subsidiary, Title Underwriters and about 50 other clients on its client list.

“We enter the data ourselves. We check the data as we enter it,” said Bob Anastasi, executive vice president of Zenodata. His company is creating its own database.

To create the database, Zenodata produces high-resolution images from the original county documents. A proprietary conversion process then extracts all relevant information, creating a database with more than 75 fields cross-indexed by physical location, names and document references.

Clients can get data by logging onto the Zenodata site with a password and running their own searches. They also can ask the company to do the search for them and send the results in whatever form they choose – as a Word document, in PDF form, in HTML or XML.

Without automated search, a title search for a home purchase could take anywhere fromfour hours to a week, Anastasi estimated. With Zenodata, a title search for a home purchase can take as little as two minutes.

With Zenodata, a title search for an equity loan might cost $30 to $50, and a search for a home loan $120 to $400. Clients can pay per transaction or sign up for a subscription.

Like Zenodata, Realty Data offers fast search results for its customers. However, Realty Data does not create its records.

“We take the county clerk record and automate that into our databases and layer on additional databases on top of that to make it more searchable,” said Bill Welge, president of Realty Data.

“We have an Oracle database where we currently house about 20 terabytes of data,” said Welge. Similarly to Zenodata, Realty Data offers customers access to a password-protected site where they can run their own search or the option to order the data in whatever form they wish.

Possibly the greatest barrier now facing automated title searches is the adoption Catch-22. While customers tout the technology and search functions as “great,” they bemoan the lack of national coverage.

“Where there’s coverage, it’s great,” said Equity Settlement Services’ Jiran of the services provided by Realty Data. “We’ve been trying to work with Realty Data to expand their coverage. For clients who are using it in areas with good coverage, such as certain boroughs in New York, and in Florida, Ohio and Colorado, those states are great. Where you have a mix of clients doing business across the country, it’s a little more difficult.”

Realty Data currently has 70 full service counties with many more in the quality control stages to be added shortly, according to Welge. Zenodata has four counties rolled out now, with two more imminent in Florida and more to come. Scaling is ramping up quickly, a spokeswoman said.

Proponents are confident that it’s just a matter of time.

“Things are really falling into place for automated title search,” said ICBA Mortgage’s Dehmlow. “In fact, our company is putting together a settlement services platform for our member banks and that type of automated title search will be available to them. It’s really catching on.”

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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