Washington Land

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Title Companies Caught in Illegal Actions

Zachary Smith, broker of DouglasFir.net
The State of Washington Office of Insurance Commissioner has released a report 3 days ago reporting that title companies routinely engage in illegal incentives to steer business their way. Looks like the Pierce county branches are the worst offenders. You can read the whole report here.

Photo by Tore UrnesOne of the worst offenses is paying for advertising for real estate agents, which is a common unethical practice among agents. I am glad they are finally cracking down on this. One of the most ironic offenses was paying for the Realtor® association’s lunches (what ever happened to their staunch ethics code?).

The insurance commissioner thinks that these thousands, tens of thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in incentives really belongs to the consumer. I disagree, they are charging what the market will bear—this money actually belongs to the stockholders. If I was a stockholder I would be pretty upset over these companies actions.

Well, what companies broke the law; let’s take a look shall we? If you want to see them all, read the report. I am just mentioning the publicly traded ones as I think the stockholders need to know.

Chicago Title Insurance Company had multiple violations and the commissioner ranked them “somewhere in the middle of the pack when its violation record is compared to other companies.” I believe that Chicago is a subsidary of Fidelity.

LandAmerica (NYSE: LFG) group of companies has some minor violations for overspending on wining and dining, and in one instance chartered a boat for $25,000 to entertain people who steered business their way. A $25,000 yacht cruise, that's pretty expensive, did it have cocaine and hookers on board? I'm sure they had champagne, at least. The insurance commissioner said “the violations and their frequency were not as extensive as some of the worst offenders.”

Fidelity Title (NYSE: FNT) has some pretty major violations; I think the insurance commissioner sums it up well, “While the company’s King and Snohomish operations tended to operate closer to the intent of the law, albeit still in violation, the Pierce County offenses were similar in breadth and scope to those of the worst offenders identified during the investigation.”

First American
(NYSE: FAF) was “the worst offender in the investigation” (insurance commissioner’s words not mine), and “a prime example of how illegal inducements can help a company attain superior market share.” They spent $120,000 per month on these illegal activities!

Old Republic Title, Ltd. (ORI) had some minor wining and dining violations.

Ticor Title was “one of the major offenders” as well, wining and dining, ski trips, golf tournaments and cigars (hopefully not Cubans!). I think Ticor is a subsidary of another title company but I am not 100% sure so I will not name names.

Stewart Title, Pacific Northwest Title, Rainier Title
were minor offenders and as far as I am aware are private corporations so I will not go into detail.

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