Prospective homebuyers face an obstacle course of challenges – from financing to logistics – once they make the decision to purchase a home. This process can be even more difficult to navigate for those with limited financial resources, first-time homebuyers, and minority borrowers, especially in today’s competitive real estate environment in which prices are high, homes sell fast, and supply is at an all-time low.
That is why it is critical that the title insurance industry — alongside our industry partners — has made it a priority to help more Americans benefit from homeownership by making the process more affordable and accessible.
Fees add up in transaction
While the cost of title insurance is less than .5% of all loan charges, the industry understands that fees can add up in a real estate purchase. Title companies are committed to doing their part in promoting affordable and sustainable housing initiatives and finding ways to address cost. ALTA member company CATIC, for example, adopted a program that offers a 10% discount on title insurance premiums for first-time homebuyers in Massachusetts. This initiative aligns with MassHousing’s new loan product, Workforce Advantage 2.0, which seeks to overcome the racial disparity in homeownership in Massachusetts.
Although there are many programs available to help first-time homeowners, keeping these programs well-funded can pose a challenge. Another ALTA member, Pioneer Title provides information to its customers about the Northern Arizona Housing Fund, which awards $25,000 grants for specific housing-related opportunities. Pioneer allows donations to be made to the fund at the close of all transactions and matches all donations.
Partnerships make a difference
Partnerships between the industry and housing nonprofits are also making a real difference to individuals seeking affordable housing. ALTA established the ALTA Good Deeds Foundation in 2020 to help title professionals best support and give back to their local communities. In three years, ALTA has allocated more than $712,000 in grants to 121 community nonprofits in 38 states, as well as Washington, D.C. A significant number of grant recipients are affordable housing organizations that support low- and moderate-income households.
Making sure the potential homebuyer is educated is an important part of increasing homeownership opportunities, especially to first-time homebuyers. ALTA has a website dedicated to informing consumers about the closing process and the benefits of title insurance. We’re also in the process of translating content into many different languages to better serve all potential homebuyers.
While affordability remains the biggest hurdle to homeownership, operational barriers have also made it cumbersome to complete a real estate transaction. During the pandemic, the title industry advocated for the expansion of access to digital closings through remote online notarization (RON). Through RON, homebuyers with disabilities, those serving overseas, and those living in underserved, underbanked communities can finalize their real estate transactions fully remotely.
Currently, 44 states have enacted laws allowing access to RON. At the federal level, Congress is considering the SECURE Notarization Act, a bipartisan federal bill to approve the use of RON nationwide with strong consumer protections, which ALTA continues to support.
As an industry, we believe homeownership should not just be a privilege for a select few. We are committed to making homeownership both more affordable and accessible for everyone. Alongside our industry partners, we will never stop identifying new ways to make the dream of homeownership a reality for more Americans.
Diane Tomb is CEO of the American Land Title Association, the national trade association representing the land title insurance and settlement services industry, which employs more than 120,000 people working in every county in the United States.