Stanley Friedlander got into the title insurance business because he likes air conditioning.
After spending summers caddying and doing yard work in the hot Cleveland sun, he heard that high school kids could get jobs at the air conditioned courthouse as indexers, looking up names in record books.
“I got the job and I liked it,” he said. “My friends were coming home from work tired and dirty, and I came home feeling fine.”
Every summer he went back to learn more, moving from indexing to writing takeoffs to learning about mapping. Now president of Continental Title Agency Corp. in Cleveland, Friedlander will cap nearly four decades in the title industry with a term as president of the American Land Title Association®.
“It’s a wonderful way to round out a career,” he said. “It’s truly humbling, and I still can’t believe it’s happening.”
Heading the industry’s national association seems a natural progression for Friedlander, who talks about building the triangle of his life over the years on his business, his family, and his volunteer work. “I feel very strongly that the three should balance,” he said. “I won’t trade one off for the other.”
Building a Business
Friedlander got his first job with a title insurance company in the 1960s to help pay his tuition at Kent State University, but when he received a five cent an hour raise after a year, he decided to quit the job and start his own title business.
He rented a second floor walk up for $50 a month in tiny Ravenna, OH. He bought a used desk, typewriter, and filing cabinets. He got a roll of carpeting and laid it himself. “I was in the title business,” he said. “There was so much I didn’t know; it was scary.”
He became a subagent of Midland Title in Cleveland and began calling on real estate brokers, slowly building business. He graduated from Kent State and attended Akron Law School at night for three years before deciding he hated it too much to finish.
By the 1970s his company had grown to the point where he knew he was in the right business, but not the right town. He sold his company to Midland Title and went to work for the firm in Cleveland.
“After a year I realized I wasn’t cut out to work for someone else,” he said. “That entrepreneurial thing was inside of me.”
He lined up a new job in San Francisco and took six months off to travel around Europe, but rushed back to Cleveland when his father needed emergency brain surgery. While there, he called a former Midland Title colleague, Bob Bernardinelli, who told him he was starting a title company.
“I told him, ‘No, you’re not. WE are starting a title company,’” Friedlander said.
They launched Continental Title in 1974. At first their goal was to become a statewide company with offices in several cities.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t fun,” Friedlander said. “I was making money and doing a lot of business. But I was doing all of these nontitle things—hiring, firing, opening offices, buying furniture.”
When the insurance market turned down in the 1980s, Friedlander and his partner scaled back the business by selling some offices and closing others. Continental Title went from 100 employees throughout the state to 32 employees in two locations.
“ We realized we could not be all things to all people, so we made a conscious decision to become a commercial title agency,” he said. “By choosing not to grow, we have a very relaxed atmosphere in our office. Our focus is to do what we do really well and build tremendous relationships with our customers.”
At the same time Friedlander built his business, he focused on balancing it with the other sides of the triangle. In 1975 he married Cheryl Karner, then a trial lawyer and now a common pleas court judge.
“One of the things I liked about Cheryl was that she had tremendous interest in my business,” he said. “We shared the birth and growth of the company, and to me that was so important.”
Unable to have children, they adopted Jennifer in 1980 and Joey in 1981. Friedlander recalls Jennifer’s adoption as a series of unlikely events that brought them together.
Baby Jennifer was up for adoption at a Memphis, TN, agency but had been passed over after being diagnosed with a small hole in her heart. Meanwhile, a friend at the Jewish Children’s Bureau in Youngstown, OH, mentioned to the Memphis agency director that he knew a Cleveland couple anxious to adopt.
The Friedlanders went to Memphis and adopted Jennifer. Two months later they took her to a doctor to discuss an operation to repair her heart, but when the doctor examined her, he told the surprised parents she was perfectly healthy.
“To me, this was the invisible hand of God, that she was truly meant to be ours,” said Friedlander.
Joey’s adoption a year later was less eventful but still joyous, he said. They brought him home after his birth at a Columbus, OH, hospital.
Jennifer is now studying real estate appraisal, and Joey attends college. “I want them to find their own way and if that leads them into the title business, that’s great. If not, that’s fine too,” Friedlander said.
As the family grew, so did their community involvement. Friedlander flexed his political muscles by becoming a member of the Moreland Hills Community Council, but he decided against running for reelection when his wife had the opportunity to become a judge, a lifelong dream.
“Being a politician means being out at night, going to meetings, and campaigning,” he said. “We couldn’t have two politicians in the family at the same time, so when Cheryl ran for judge, I stayed home with the kids.”
Although retired from politics, Friedlander still serves on the community’s Planning Commission and the Cuyahoga County Bar Association’s Grievance Committee.
He works with Cleveland’s century old Hebrew Free Loan Association, which makes no interest loans for legitimate, needy purposes to people unable to get loans elsewhere. He helped organize a national Hebrew Free Loan Association of groups throughout the country and became its president.
Friedlander also got involved in the Ohio Land Title Association, chairing its Education Committee, serving on the Board of Governors, and eventually becoming president. He represented the state at an ALTA® convention, where he volunteered his services to Charlie Hon, then ALTA®’s president elect, and got himself appointed to ALTA®’s Education Committee.
“Getting involved in ALTA® was a natural segue after my political career, my volunteer work, and my term as Ohio Land Title Association president,” Friedlander said. “My experiences built on each other.”
Friedlander became an ALTA® volunteer because he believes the organization is vital to the industry’s success. “Participation in ALTA® is important for the protection and preservation of our industry,” he said. “We need representation in Washington; we need standard forms; we need education; we need a spokesperson for the industry; and ALTA® does all of these things for us.”
During his year as president, Friedlander plans to focus on three issues: the association’s dues structure, proposed changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, and attempts by nontitle insurance companies such as Radian Guaranty to sell title insurance products.
“These three things are the most important right now, although I don’t know what other bonfires may flare up,” he said. “Recognizing that one year goes by very fast, I’ll do the best I can to see these issues through.”
Industry consolidation over the past few years has eroded ALTA®’s dues base, which Friedlander sees as a serious problem for the association’s future.
One idea under consideration is establishing a fee, or royalty, for using the standard policies and forms ALTA® has developed, now available free. Nearly all title insurance written in the country is based on ALTA® forms, which helps assure that the system of land exchange remains smooth and consistent.
“Charging a royalty would bring in every issuing agent of title insurance in the country, who would then become aware of what ALTA® is and does,” said Friedlander. “It could expand our membership base and involve many more people in the success of our industry.”
ALTA® will continue to address regulatory or legislative reform of RESPA, Friedlander said. The association’s challenge is to make certain the industry’s point of view is considered in the debate and prevent RESPA changes that would limit consumer choice of real estate settlement services and lower the quality of service.
The association has prepared a response to a recent proposal from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to restructure the way settlement services are priced. HUD’s proposed regulations would allow guaranteed packaging or bundling of settlement services. (Visit the ALTA® Web site for the full comments to HUD and other RESPA updates.)
ALTA® maintains that packaging of settlement services can be anti competitive, lowering the quality of service and the number of service providers, while not necessarily decreasing consumer costs. HUD’s proposal also fails to take into account that buyers and sellers have an independent interest in selecting providers of title related and closing services.
“We cannot necessarily control the future of RESPA, but our voice needs to be heard,” Friedlander said. “We have to make sure our regulators know where we’re coming from on this issue.”
On another critical issue, ALTA® has challenged Radian Guaranty’s introduction of a product the mortgage insurer calls “lien protection,” or RLP, on grounds that the company is not licensed to sell title insurance. So far, eight state insurance departments—including three of the country’s four largest—have concluded that Radian’s offering of the product is illegal. And the California Department of Insurance has issued a Cease and Desist Order to Radian, effectively stopping them from offering its product anywhere in the U.S. (ALTA® observed Radian’s appeal on this issue. See page 18 for a summary)
“We will be successful with every regulator in every state. There’s no doubt about that,” Friedlander said. “Once the facts are known, it’s virtually a no brainer for regulators to decide Radian is violating the law and selling title insurance without a license.
“But it’s not just Radian. We’ve had this problem before, and we’ll have challenges from others in the future. We want them to know we are not going to sit back and let them enter our business. It’s not just in our best interest but in the best interest of the consumer as well. We will fight it.”
Members of ALTA® and state title associations will continue to deliver the message to state regulators and legislators that not only is Radian’s product illegal but true title insurance is less expensive or competitive with the lien protection product in most jurisdictions and in most transactions nationwide.
“We have teams of people going out and making presentations everywhere, and I will be going up to the Hill to tell our story,” said Friedlander.
Telling the Industry Story
Another way ALTA® will tell the industry’s story during the coming year is through an industry public awareness campaign. Announced earlier this year, the campaign is being developed to inform homebuyers, regulators, and members of Congress about the value of title insurance.
“We have always been the backroom guys who work behind the scenes,” Friedlander said. “We want to make our targeted audiences aware of what title insurance is and what we’re doing to make it even better. We’ve never really done this as an industry before.”
The campaign will rely in part on a grassroots effort involving title professionals, who, as Friedlander pointed out, are in every county in every state across the country. “We want to have a brochure at every closing explaining the value of the title product. We want to let the consumer know just what they’re getting with this product.”
Membership involvement will be essential to the association’s success on its key issues during the coming year, Friedlander said.
“I’m honored to hold the position of president, but I’ll never lose sight that this is a team effort,” he said. “All I can do is hold the rudder in my hand and move it in the direction where I think it should be going. It will be the ALTA® staff and volunteers who accomplish everything.”
Friedlander may have stumbled into a title insurance career because he wanted to work in the cool of an air conditioned building, but his enthusiasm for the industry four decades later is unmistakable.
“What service does the title industry provide? The American Dream—homeownership. When a real estate transaction is completed, everyone walks away from the table happy. We’re part of the team that makes it all happen, and it’s really a thrill.”
Ellen Schweppe is president of Ellen Schweppe Company, LLC, a public relations firm serving the financial services and other industries. She has two decades of public relations and journalism experience, writing and speaking on a variety of insurance, banking, and other business issues. She can be reached at (703) 435 5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.