It is difficult to believe that almost a year has passed since I was sworn in as president of the New England Land Title Association (NELTA) during the 2017 Annual Convention at the Omni Mt. Washington Resort in New Hampshire. The memories of the astounding trout that can be found in local waters there are still fresh in my mind, so apparently it is true that the older you get, the faster time passes! It has, however, been an unforgettable and enjoyable year, deserving of a look back.
NELTA’s mission to provide premier education, information and networking opportunities to the New England title industry included some successful, well-attended seminars over the last year. A program entitled “Back to Basics: Highways, Byways and (Shared) Driveways” was held in Worcester, Mass., and addressed such topics as common law and statutory issues regarding access to properties, the role of the surveyor, maintenance agreements (or the lack thereof), and appropriate title insurance coverage. NELTA is fortunate to have well-respected leaders in their fields willing to take the time and effort necessary to present at our seminars, and I would like to thank the following individuals for doing so at this one: Edward Rainen, Esq. of Rainen Law Office; Ward Graham, vice president and underwriting counsel at Old Republic National Title Insurance Co.; surveyor Richard Meehan of Meehan and Goodin Engineers-Surveyors, P.C.; and Barbara Smith, vice president and branch counsel at Fidelity National Title Insurance Co.
Also well attended was a seminar we presented in Concord, N.H. entitled “Update on e-Closings: What’s Currently Being Done and What’s New in New England Practice?,” which addressed the spectrum of challenges involved in the growing area of digital closings. Again, such a presentation would not have been possible without a panel of experts, and I would like to thank the following speakers for their time and hard work: Rainen, of Rainen Law; Carol Willoughby, V.P. and N.E. regional counsel of First American Title; and Richard Bramhall, chief underwriting counsel of Westcor Land Title Insurance Co.
This past October I enjoyed the privilege of representing NELTA at the ALTA ONE national conference in Doral, FL. It was a remarkable opportunity to hear from well-known authorities regarding current challenges to our industry and various tactics to overcome them.
Information security was discussed at length, with cyber-attacks becoming more varied and cunning every day. The fraudsters have realized that diverting funds from a real estate transaction is a jackpot worth spending weeks or even months investing in, monitoring e-mails and other hacked computer activity. Constant security awareness training of every person involved in a real estate transaction and its settlement, including attorneys, title insurers, real estate agents, and the sellers and buyers themselves, has become necessary to avoid a potentially catastrophic security breach.
Another topical discussion was the legalization of marijuana by a growing number of states across the country, and the dangers facing the real estate industry with respect thereto. Legal issues ranging from the relationship between federal and state law (including the Supremacy and Commerce Clauses of the U.S. Constitution), to local zoning considerations were discussed and analyzed. Perhaps the greatest risk to real estate related businesses, however, stems from the fact that under the federal Controlled Substance Act (the CSA), marijuana is currently in the same category as heroin, regardless of whether it has been “legalized” in a particular state. And under federal sentencing guidelines, even a relatively small farming or dispensary operation could easily face a minimum ten year prison term for a CSA violation. This, when coupled with 21 U.S.C. §846, the federal statute that makes anyone helping another person violate the CSA a “conspirator” in the federal crime and subject to the same penalties as those convicted of the underlying crime, causes title insurers, settlement service providers, lenders, property insurers, and other related businesses to tread warily into cannabis-related transactions, or to avoid them altogether.
In closing, I would like to thank the current NELTA board of directors for all of their support and hard work over the last year. I have served on numerous boards in the past, but none with the strengths, knowledge base, and willingness to serve as this one. Our industry is lucky to have such a group, and it has been my honor to be a part of it. And as every President before me who has had the pleasure of working with her, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to our executive director, Cathy Jones. Her tireless dedication to this organization is a major element of its success.
I look forward to seeing many of our members, and other subscribers to the New England Real Estate Journal, at NELTA’s 2018 Annual Convention, being held at Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina in R.I. With nationally-known speakers presenting educational programs on Friday and Saturday, it will be an informative and enjoyable event, with plenty of time to explore one of New England’s most idyllic destinations!
James Bodurtha is the outgoing NELTA president and senior underwriting counsel at Chicago Title Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass.