This week’s HW+ member spotlight features Max Simkoff, CEO at Doma. Simkoff founded Doma more than five years ago with a vision to change the future of real estate transactions. Simkoff and his team have recently been honored as a HousingWire 2022 TECH100 Mortgage Winner. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company focuses on “creating an instant and enjoyable home closing experience for buyers and sellers.”
Below, Simkoff answers questions about the housing industry:
HousingWire: To start off, what is your current favorite HW+ article?
Max Simkoff: “The drive to digital in the title industry” by Diane Tomb because it outlines some of the key areas where technology can improve the home closing experience.
HousingWire: What has been your biggest learning opportunity?
Max Simkoff: Keep going. Even when others tell you what you’re doing is impossible.
When I founded Doma in 2016, I was met with so many barriers to even enter the space, let alone innovate. The title insurance business is complex, but leveraging technology to bring the process of closing a mortgage into this century seemed to be an easy decision. Getting there was an uphill battle, though.
For Doma to challenge the status quo of the industry, we needed to keep going. I knew we were heading in the right direction, and that strengthened our resolve to meet any structural barriers to entering the market with determination, ultimately to make the entire closing process easier, faster and more affordable.
HousingWire: When do you feel like a success at your job?
Max Simkoff: Simply put, I feel successful every time Doma delivers meaningful results for a referral partner, channel partner, or customer.
As a founder and CEO, you feel a lot of pressure from a bunch of directions to get it right. Hearing about the value that we’re adding to our customers’ operations and the results we’re producing for them makes me proud of the work that we’re doing at Doma to deliver transformational results to everyone involved in the residential real estate transaction: current and prospective homeowners, mortgage lenders, title agents, and real estate professionals.
I also think the benchmark for success is always evolving – the more we get new customers and the more they grow, the more we must prove because we have to be able to continue to drive that growth and constantly raise the bar for how we deliver for them.
HousingWire: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Max Simkoff: A person I worked with early in my career, Greg Richards – who is now CEO at strategy consulting firm Keystone – helped me learn a lot about instilling responsibility in those who are most capable, regardless of their experience. No truer than when building a company – it can pay major dividends.
Greg’s practice was always to find someone with the most potential to be successful and the most capable of developing solutions and growing from any challenges. This is certainly something that has stuck with me and influenced how we recruit and develop talent as we grow the business at Doma. I can say this as a fact based on first-hand experience – you feel most successful as a leader when your team feels supported and empowered to thrive.
HousingWire: What keeps you up at night and why?
Max Simkoff: This is the same answer as it was in 2016 when I founded Doma and that is how convoluted, inefficient, and frustrating the traditional home closing process is.
I’ve been through the slow and arduous process of buying a home — and then through a subsequent refinance. I remember very distinctly the confusion of how time-consuming and opaque the entire closing experience was. I was also shocked to discover how outdated it was — having to gather loads of financial documents, sign tons of papers in person and wait days without much of a view into how or when closing would happen.
In a world where we pretty much expect every experience to be instant and digital, this one was still painfully slow and laden with paperwork. Doma has spent the last five years building out a proprietary, machine learning driven tech platform that, combined with a team of human experts, is working to change that traditional process and make it friction-free for all parties involved. I’ll be up at night until we’ve done that for every home buyer and seller in the U.S.
HousingWire: What do you think will be the big themes for the housing market in 2022?
Max Simkoff: This is not new, but I think addressing bias in the industry will hit a tipping point in 2022. The housing industry is rife with harmful biases that disadvantage historically underrepresented homeowner/potential homeowner populations. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are realizing now more than ever that they have a powerful role in driving large-scale change in housing fairness outcomes. I think we’re going to see the GSEs focus more heavily on improving equitable housing outcomes for these populations in 2022.
I also think there will be a continued uptick in all-cash offers in 2022. The option to use an iLender that essentially allows the buyer to make an equivalent of an all-cash offer is already making an impact on the housing industry. What was once only an option for high-earning homebuyers, iLenders give a competitive edge to the average consumer in an ongoing, high-demand housing market.
HousingWire: What’s one thing that people aren’t paying attention to that you think they should be paying attention to?
Max Simkoff: Real estate has historically been a slow adopter of technology, the title and escrow space, in particular, is filled with inertia. Industry veterans are happy to maintain the status quo and do things “the way they have always been done.”
Though the larger players have the benefit of being established and well-known in the space – they have missed a massive opportunity to transform one of life’s most important and memorable decisions by maintaining the status quo – following a process established in the 1890s that has barely changed since.
Doma is replacing the conventional closing process with our proprietary, machine-intelligence technology. To this day, if you were to go inside incumbent title companies across the country, you would see that the process of underwriting a title insurance policy takes three to five days of manual research and analysis, and that the end-to-end closing takes a ridiculous 50 days or so.
Doma is overhauling that process. We are breaking the real estate industry out of its rusty 19th century time capsule and pulling it into our technology-first world, where instant and seamless experiences are the expectation, and signing pages and pages of documents are a relic of the past.
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