Six-foot High Stack Of Paper

February 15, 2002

Micro General Buys SmartClose, Aims To Cut Paper From Real Estate Transaction

By Bridget McCrea
Inman News Features

When Expeditrix Corp. filed for bankruptcy and shut its doors in November, Micro General Corp. already had its eye on Expeditrix?s SmartClose technology.

So when the bankruptcy court put Expeditrix?s assets up for sale, Micro General, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based provider of production and workflow software systems for the title and real estate industries, was eager to make a purchase.

The deal was a real "steal," in the words of Micro General CEO John Snedegar. For $250,000--barely enough to pay the salaries of the computer programmers who designed its programs--Micro General walked away with Expeditrix?s technology assets and its SmartClose real estate closing service.

SmartClose is a Web-based application that links participants in a real estate transaction, provides a central workspace to gather and manage documents and monitor progress of the transaction, and issues alerts when new information has been received.

Snedegar said the SmartClose product is "market ready" and will be integrated with SoftPro, a closing and title automation product Micro General acquired when it bought SoftPro Corp. in August.

"(SmartClose) looks pretty good right now," said Snedegar, but he added that changes might be made to the product in the future if necessary.

Micro General is moving the SmartClose hardware and software to Micro General?s Chicago data center, where it will become part of SoftPro. Snedegar said 30,000 small to mid-sized escrow companies already use SoftPro.

Real estate agents who work with SoftPro-equipped escrow companies will be the first to see the "new" SmartClose in action.

"It will be up to those escrow companies to manage that process with the Realtors," said Snedegar.

But, for now, Micro General isn?t targeting individual real estate agents as users of SoftPro or SmartClose.

"We?re really not as focused on individual Realtors because consumer acceptance of digital signatures on ?certs? is a long way off," said Snedegar. "That?s not really our marketplace."

Snedegar said the company wants to eliminate the "six foot-high stack of paper" generated during each real estate closing.

"Real estate is still a paper-rich environment," he said. "Our target is the $20 billion that the National Association of Realtors (estimates is) spent annually on couriers, faxes, telephone calls and everything else that can be streamlined into a digital document."

Web-enabled management software could streamline that paper- and time-intensive process to take just two hours, according to Snedegar, who said handheld computers, cellular telephones and e-mail can be used to complete transactions online.

Snedegar said most "interface parties"?people currently using online transaction management systems for the closing process?are settlement service providers, such as title and escrow companies.

Micro General also aims to create back-end efficiencies integrated with lenders? document management systems.

The company recently moved into the loan origination side of the marketplace in an effort to create an end-to-end online process.

The company also recently announced plans to integrate Reston, Va.-based iLumin Corp.?s secure document, digital signature and vaulting functionality into Micro General?s own software products. The new functionality is expected to contribute to Micro General?s future technology products.

Expeditrix was launched in July 1999 with angel financing and received $7 million in venture capitalist funds in October 2000. The company introduced SmartClose earlier that year. Customers included Texas-based Stewart Title of San Antonio, The Hays County Abstract Co. of San Marcos, San Marcos Title, Austin Title, Commonwealth Title, Crossroads Abstract and Title of Victoria, the Austin Board of Realtors and the San Antonio Board of Realtors.

Expeditrix laid off all its employees in August and reportedly was in dire straits in October prior to the bankruptcy filing.

Copyright: Inman News Service

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