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Views from the Riverside

Apr 4, 2017

Rob Ford, Riverside Title

The short story is that we opened our brand new title company in 1,000 feet of rented space on the busiest downtown corner of the sleepiest little town in northern Michigan on April 1, 1992. Interest rates were hovering between 8% and 10%, an entry level owner’s policy could be purchased for $120.00 for up to $10,000.00 of coverage and individual offices were, in fact, allowed to call themselves “title companies” in 1992.

The whole story, which culminated with the completion of the transitional sale of our office last year, is one that I never get tired of telling.

I began my career in the hotel business where I met an old oil and gas landman who owned a local abstract office. After driving all over the State of Michigan for three years, enjoying diners, drive ins and dives from Allegan County to Presque Isle County, I got off the road and began working in the less exciting, but more stable world of Real Estate Land Title.

In the summer of 1991, on my way to work one morning, I began to wonder if a little town could support its own title company. On several fronts, I began the process of finding out.

First of all, I needed to establish a relationship with an underwriter other than the one that my current employer was writing policies for.  Through a friend of a friend, I met a gentleman named Danny Buchman at Stewart Title Guaranty and that worked out well for us, on and off the golf course.  Without Danny’s guidance and experience, this story could very easily be one of failure.

Second, I had to become licensed in the State of Michigan. In 1991, in order to become licensed to sell Title Insurance, a person had to pass a class in “Insurance” and then pass a test in “Insurance”. Both the class and the test had everything to do with Personal Lines and Commercial Insurance and absolutely nothing to do with Title Insurance. In other words, learn everything about Car, Home and Commercial Insurance, take a test about that stuff and then receive a license in something that has nothing to do with any of it and doesn’t even allow you to use that information for profit. But I did it and lived to tell about it.

Third, I had to borrow against my home to finance this thing.  If you want to test your marriage, sit down with your partner and tell them, and your three little kids under the age of six, that you’re thinking of quitting your job and becoming self employed in a market that you weren’t entirely sure could even support you. Details escape me, but there were moments of emotion, but I guess it must have gone alright for us.

Lucky for me, a banker in Traverse City named Rob Henry was very supportive and allowed us to hock our house for as much as we needed. Better yet, he played a very prominent role in getting us in front of clients. I hope that everyone that reads this has the kind of relationship with a banker that we have enjoyed from our beginning days.

From idea to opening day was about ten months and not a day went by that I didn’t have to convince myself that we were doing the right thing. Eventually though we opened the doors, worked hard, had fun and with the support of several great customers and Underwriters, we proved that the little town of Elk Rapids is plenty big enough to support a single title company.

Twenty five years can go by quickly, especially when the story is good.

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