North American Title to Merge with Silicon Valley Disruptor, States Title

I have been hearing all week long that something was afoot at North American Title Company, that a big announcement was coming Friday, and that there has been a lot of personnel movement as of late.

Well, comes word that North American is merging some of its operations with a Silicon Valley-based start-up that was created to disrupt and streamline the $15 billion title insurance industry with technology. It’s called fintech: computer programs and other technology supporting or enabling banking and financial services, and it’s one of the fastest-growing investment areas for venture capitalists.

The company is States Title, and the CEO is Max Simkoff. The two-year-old company’s motto:  “We believe real estate should be simpler, safer, and cheaper to buy, to sell, and to own.”

As we know, buyers use title insurance when buying and financing the purchase of a home. I have often wondered exactly what Title companies do, hence our own Lydia Blair has been educating us the last few months. (And then there are isolated, rare Title Company nightmares.) Basically, title agents scour public records to ensure that buyers (and lenders) avoid liens and ownership disputes on properties, and guarantee full ownership of a property.

But by using technology to scour public records, tech title companies could charge buyers less, which could also eliminate the use of title agents: industry experts say that could result in a 25 percent savings for consumers on title premiums.

Title companies are also highly regulated. So it was a pretty big deal when States Title, a California-based start-up, was approved by regulators this August. States was the first tech-focused title company to be approved in the Golden State. California’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, believes “new technology and more competition would help lower costs for consumers”.

“Title-insurance transactions are often labor intensive and suffer from delays,” Jones said in a statement. “States Title uses a digital platform which is data-driven and automates the process.”

(Speaking of disruption, just wait ’til blockchain hits the title biz.)

According to The Real Deal, the title industry has historically been dominated by four companies: Fidelity National, First American, Old Republic, and Stewart Information Services Corporation. Fidelity bought Stewart for $1.2 billion in early 2018. But Disruptors are creeping in:

But tech has started to play a larger role in the industry. The startup company Spruce recently raised $15.6 million, and Daniel Price’s OneTitle launched in 2014. OneTitle focuses on issuing policies, while Spruce focuses on acting as title agents. Price previously told TRD that he thinks title insurance “is at a major inflection point. This is an industry that has seen perilously little innovation for more than a century.”

North American, which was founded in Dallas, was acquired by national homebuilder Lennar Corporation last year and is a wholly-owned subsidiary.

Jump for the official release:

MIAMI – December 6, 2018 – North American Title Group (NATG), a wholly-owned subsidiary of homebuilder Lennar (NYSE: LEN and LEN.B), today announced that it plans to combine its underwriter and the majority of its retail title businesses with States Title, Inc.

States Title is a Silicon Valley-based “insurtech” startup that uses predictive analytics to underwrite the title on a property nearly instantaneously, helping customers close real estate transactions safely, quickly, and inexpensively.
The deal, which is expected to close in January 2019 if pending regulatory approval in California and Arizona is obtained by year end, calls for States Title to acquire NATG’s underwriter, North American Title Insurance Company (NATIC), and the majority of the retail business of NATG’s national title agency, North American Title Company (NATC). The new company will continue to operate under the North American Title brand, and Lennar will assume a substantial minority equity ownership stake.

“By partnering with North American Title, we accelerate our shared vision to build the title company of the future,” said Max Simkoff, States Title’s founder and CEO. “Buying a home, and refinancing that home, are among the most important financial decisions in a person’s life. We believe that the experience of doing so should be fast, simple, safe and affordable. Title and settlement are critical to every real estate transaction. Modern technology and powerful analytics will supplement and enhance our associates’ ability to deliver outstanding service to every single one of our customers.”

“This transaction builds on our strategy of aligning with technology innovators to streamline and enhance the overall customer experience,” said Eric Feder, Senior Lennar Executive, who will join States Title’s board of directors. “Partnering with States Title keeps us at the forefront of innovation while maintaining the integrity of the title insurance that people have trusted us with for decades.”

Max Simkoff will remain the CEO of the combined company, and the newly-formed management team will include current leadership from both States Title and North American Title, as well as new hires with relevant expertise. Title industry veteran Judd Hoffman, formerly President of the Direct Division at First American Title, has joined the new company as Chief Transformation Officer and Noaman Ahmad will join as Chief Financial Officer. Matt Zames, President of Cerberus Capital Management and former JP Morgan Chief Operating Officer, has joined the board of directors. Fifth Wall, a real estate technology-focused fund, introduced States Title and Lennar (a Fifth Wall Strategic Limited Partner) after initially co-leading States Title’s Series A financing round in 2016.

NATC’s builder business, which delivers settlement services to Lennar’s homebuyers, and a portion of its retail business, will remain with Lennar and operate as CalAtlantic Title. Approximately two-thirds of NATG’s current associates will transition to the new company, while the balance will remain with CalAtlantic Title.

About States Title
Founded by Max Simkoff and backed by leading venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, States Title uses predictive analytics and cutting-edge technology to deliver a modern title and escrow platform. As part of the digital transformation occurring in the mortgage industry, States Title believes that all underwriting, settlement and closing will be quickly and efficiently administered using technology that is built with the lender, agent and customer’s experience in mind. States Title is headquartered in San Francisco, California. To learn more, visit www.statestitle.com.

About North American Title
With well over 1,300 associates and a network of branches from coast to coast, North American Title Group, LLC (NATG) is among the largest real estate settlement service providers in the United States. Consisting of both agent and underwriter operations, NATG reported annual net revenues in fiscal 2017 of $272.7 million. North American Title’s agency network operates nationally under the name North American Title Company and similar names (NATC) in 19 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia, in addition to the District of Columbia. Through its relationship with its expanding affiliate network, NATC provides real estate settlement services in all 50 states. NATIC, its underwriter subsidiary is licensed in 40 jurisdictions and issued 315,000 policies in fiscal year 2017. NATG is headquartered in Miami, Florida. To learn more, visit http://www.nat.com.

About Lennar Corporation
Lennar Corporation, founded in 1954, is one of the nation’s leading builders of quality homes for all generations. Lennar builds affordable, move-up and active adult homes primarily under the Lennar brand name. Lennar’s Financial Services segment provides mortgage financing, title insurance and closing services for both buyers of Lennar’s homes and others. Lennar’s Multifamily segment is a nationwide developer of high-quality multifamily rental properties. For further information about Lennar, please visit www.lennar.com.