By Meghan Hall
Technology has become a permanent fixture in the real estate sector, and, with the emergence of COVID-19, a necessity as opposed to just an option. Many companies, such as LemonBrew, are seizing upon the opportunity to expand, and are coming up with unique ways to grow their business and handle increased demand. In recent months, LemonBrew has partnered with Qualia to power its title and escrow division. The Registry spoke with Amit Doshi, COO of LemonBrew Technologies, and Nate Baker, co-founder and CEO of Qualia, to discuss how the two firms are working together and expanding during a time of rapid—and required—technological adoption.
The traditional brokerage model has long been dependent on face-to-face and in-person interactions. Can you please tell The Registry a little bit about LemonBrew’s beginnings? What were some of the pain points in the industry that as a firm you sought to solve?
Amit Doshi (AD): LemonBrew, as a whole, is a full-service real estate platform that streamlines the real estate process from start to finish. The two main issues we found within the home-buying journey is the process of finding a local, real estate agent that is actually a good match for the buyer and the fact that the process from finding a home to getting to the closing table is extremely fragmented. There is no real central hub or project manager to take you all the way through the process, to cover all the gaps and ensure a smooth closing. We still appreciate and celebrate the in-person interaction of a buyer and real estate agent. We’ve just digitized the agent search piece of it to ensure the buyer and real estate agent are a great fit for each other.
Why did LemonBrew choose to partner with Qualia to expand LemonBrew’s title and escrow division?
AD: LemonBrew, at its core, regardless of the business vertical, is a technology company and we love to partner with other companies in the space that have the same mindset of using technology to solve big, industry-wide problems. Specifically, Qualia Marketplace and Qualia Connect have added tremendous value. Qualia Marketplace allows us to utilize numerous vendors and build relationships across the country. Qualia Connect allows us to provide a clear and transparent experience for all parties associated with each transaction with the click of a button. When choosing a partner, not only do we look at the current product offering, but also the leadership team and potential growth and Qualia has a great leadership team with great strategic vision.
Since partnering with Qualia, how have you seen the title and escrow vertical of LemonBrew grow?
AD: Since implementing Qualia as a part of our operational system we have seen a 90 percent increase in files handled by our team on a monthly basis. We have also been able to reduce our cycle time by 23 percent and will hopefully gain further efficiency as we continue to develop our customized workflows and processes within the Qualia system.
With the advent of coronavirus, how have you seen title and escrow businesses impacted?
AD: Although there is a pause in the broader market of buying and selling of real estate, record-low mortgage rates have caused a spike in refinancing. As a technology company, we were able to quickly transition to a work from home environment with no disruption to our business while maintaining a high level of client service. We’ve also been able to grow some market share as lenders and attorneys look for title partners who are able to successfully operate in this new work from home, cloud-based, technology-driven environment.
Prior to the pandemic, contactless closings were an option; now they are a necessity. How do you believe contactless closings will evolve as a result?
AD: The current closing options we’ve deployed include a “drive-by” closing where we maintain a safe social distance or a true “contact-less” closing where the closing docs are delivered to the client’s doorstep. We’ve always been a big supporter of the virtual closing and the implementation of Remote Online Notarization or RON. The industry has been talking about RON for years now and the pandemic simply forced the industry participants to accelerate changes that were pretty imminent anyways. We’re excited to see more states adopt RON and we are adapting to support the market need. We actually anticipated the push towards RON and other virtual closing options pre-Covid and built a proprietary electronic transfer platform called LemonBrew Pay. The LemonBrew Pay platform allows clients to safely and securely deliver electronic transfers for funds required for settlement or earnest money deposits from any location, 24 hours a day, and for no additional fee. It’s as simple as authenticating and linking a checking account for one-time use and securely transferring the cash to close amount to LemonBrew’s escrow account. The use of the platform reduces wire fraud and eliminates the need for a paper check or a trip to the bank for a certified check. It is truly the last piece of the puzzle to complete a true contact-less closing!
When evaluating partnerships, what company fundamentals do you look for prior to solidifying a business relationship? Why?
Nate Baker (NB): We are always thrilled to work with like-minded partners that share our vision for bringing real estate into the 21st century with technology. LemonBrew is taking an innovative approach to the brokerage model, and we’re excited to play an integral role in powering their expansion and transition to contactless closings.
We aim to partner with those who share our philosophies on fostering continuous innovation and are thoughtful in how they work with their industry partners. After all, the real estate and mortgage industry can be a complex ecosystem to work in.
Today’s pandemic only highlights the importance of technology partnerships within the real estate ecosystem. As an example, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for remote and contactless transactions, and businesses have coordinated more closely with the partners supporting them through this change in the status quo. Going forward, we expect continued innovation to become the norm and believe that the brokerages, lenders, and title & escrow agents that can most adequately adapt to the changing landscape in real estate will be the ones most set up to succeed.
Why do you believe Qualia is best equipped to help platforms like LemonBrew expand their services?
NB: Five years ago, the technology infrastructure that companies like LemonBrew needed to enable expansion didn’t exist. Before implementing the Qualia platform for their operations, LemonBrew Abstract’s closing process was complicated and their outdated technology limited their ability to scale their footprint nationally.
Today, with the end-to-end closing platform we’ve built, it’s a much simpler undertaking: we automate processes, are easy to implement, and connect everyone in the real estate ecosystem to one system of record for seamless, secure, real-time transaction management. We provide the infrastructure to power the entire real estate ecosystem – not just one party in the transaction – making it easier and more efficient to buy and sell real estate.
For those who are unfamiliar, can you explain what it means to operate as a “technology platform of record,” and how partnerships like this are accelerating tech’s integration into the real estate sector?
NB: With over a dozen parties involved in real estate transactions – there’s the buyer and seller, the real estate agent, the lender, the title and escrow agents, the appraiser, the surveyor, the title insurance underwriter and more – a technology platform of record offers a simple, integrated and streamlined way to power core operations and ultimately, improve the home buying experience.
Coronavirus has placed a greater need for technology than ever before as it seeks to replace necessary in-person interaction. From Qualia’s perspective, how will this impact the digital real estate sector?
NB: The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated innovation in the real estate industry. Industry players have been forced to implement new business practices that they may have previously been slow to adapt and regulators have expedited new rules that allow for contactless closings. For instance, digital real estate solutions such as e-recording, cloud-based real estate workflow software, and remote online notarization have been converted from concepts of convenience to those of necessity. I expect we will only see greater adoption of innovative technology solutions in the months and years to come.