Familiar footstepa: Head of title company maps out his agency's growth

by Debra Talcott
Legal News

Sometimes a person’s place of residence or chosen profession seems almost predestined. For William (Bill) Robinson Jr., president of Attorneys Title Agency (ATA), both seem meant to be. 

“My father was an attorney and an executive with a national title insurance company, so I really grew up in the business,” says Robinson.  “After graduating with a concentration in political science from the University of Michigan, I knew I wanted to go to law school, but I wanted to work for a year or so first to gain some real-world experience.”

After landing a job with a title company, Robinson went on to earn his law degree from Wayne State University and was considering a future as a litigator when he ran into a friend of his father’s.

“He told me he had a great opportunity I should consider at a title insurance company in Chicago.  Having spent my entire life up to that point in Southeastern Michigan, the idea of moving to Chicago was really appealing to me.  I took the job and have been in the business ever since.”

Before joining Farmington Hills-based ATA in 2008, Robinson served as the Michigan manager of the Talon Group, where he oversaw the operations of 30 branch offices.  Prior to that, he was owner and president of Midstate Title Company for 12 years.  Robinson’s vast experience in the title insurance business uniquely poised him to join ATA with the express mission of charting the company’s path of growth.

Under Robinson’s leadership, ATA has achieved several strategic acquisitions, including Seaver Title, Greco Title, and Midstate Title.  ATA now writes more title insurance than any other agency in the state of Michigan, and the company has recently expanded into Ohio, with four offices in the Columbus market.

“We’re always looking for growth opportunities, and we’re also extremely committed to the development of a regional presence in the Great Lakes area,” explains Robinson.  “Ohio has a strong market which has a very workable proximity to our headquarters in Farmington Hills, so we looked to expand there first.  Having previously worked with the staff at Talon Title Agency of Central Ohio, I knew they were a great organization whose mission and vision would be in alignment with those of ATA.  Besides, as a Michigan alumnus, I thought it was important to learn more about our opponents down south firsthand.”

Just as the metro-Detroit housing market has been active this spring and summer, the central Ohio housing market has seen spring 2013 home sales increase 27 percent over last year, driving the need for title insurance, which is designed to protect both buyers and lenders from ownership defects that may have occurred before the current agreement to sell a piece of property. It provides confirmation to the buyer that the seller actually holds title as represented, and it ensures that the title company will pay all legal fees to defend against any attack on the title as insured.

“The housing recovery has been extremely interesting to witness, and we do feel that it is sustainable, although perhaps not at current growth rates,” explains Robinson. “The most interesting trend, in my opinion, is the presence of overbids above list prices. This was formerly a creature of the coasts, but now we’re seeing it here in the Midwest, and it really highlights the strength of our rebound.”

As with any commodity, housing values will rise or fall according to the laws of supply and demand.  Certain zip codes may see a higher than average increase if those areas offer a lower supply of homes or little available land for new construction. Other factors that drive housing values are good schools, local amenities such as parks and cultural offerings, and convenient access to public transportation or expressways.

“The advice I always give buyers is as follows: If you’re buying the home you will be living in as your primary residence, think with long-term vision. Approach it as an investment, not just a transaction, and make sure the solid factors—such as location, schools, and amenities—are all desirable.

Robinson explains that the post-2008 housing crisis in Michigan was the result of challenges to our local economy, not from a housing “bubble” that markets in other areas of the country have experienced.

“Fortunately, the automotive industry has made a comeback, and we’ve also seen diversification across various industries. Both of these factors have led to significant economic improvement and, in turn, the outstanding strides we’ve seen in the housing market. We have recently seen a softening in demand, however, which may be partly due to rising interest rates. As such, we think the big value increase might be over. Over the next few years, however, we believe we’ll continue a slow, but steady ascent to full recovery.”

Impending legislation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has title insurance companies and consumers waiting to see if new regulations will be imposed. Any new laws are expected to address the issues that led to the most recent housing crisis, including imprudent sub-prime mortgages. 

“The CFPB hasn’t issued final rules, so we can’t be 100 percent certain what to expect. That said, it is widely acknowledged that they are looking very closely at the traditional HUD settlement statement and are planning to increase financial transparency in real estate closings. In addition, it’s expected that the CFPB will more closely regulate settlement service providers. We applaud all those efforts and do not believe they will have any long-term negative impact on the handling of real estate transactions.  Naturally, in the short term, there will be a learning curve as new regulations develop.”

To be sure, Robinson spends his days dealing with large numbers and legal documents.  However, that is not the only way he defines himself.

“When I’m not busy at the office, I enjoy spending time with my family at our home in Harbor Springs. My wife, Martha, and I have been married for nearly 31 years. We have two children—Rebecca, who is 22, and Ned, who is 19. Our daughter was recently married and is moving to Alaska in a few short weeks with her husband, who is in the military. Our son is starting classes at Oakland Community College.”

Robinson also sits on the Board of Directors for Community Housing Network, an Oakland County organization that provides resources to local citizens, many with developmental disabilities, who have had chronic housing needs. Attorneys Title Agency runs a year-round corporate giving campaign because supporting the communities in which ATA does business is extremely important to the company leadership and employees alike. They focus their efforts on housing-related non-profits, including Community Housing Network, Habitat for Humanity of Clinton and Oakland counties, and Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team.

“Each year, our employees are placed on teams for a gift basket auction to raise money. Our employees really enjoy working together to create the baskets, and we always involve them in selection of the nonprofits that benefit from the efforts. Last year, we raised $6,000. We’re hoping to top that in 2013.”

While the community service organizations Robinson supports have connections to housing, his favorite hobby is connected only in that it takes place in a “playhouse.” 

“I’ve been a member of The Players in Detroit for more than 30 years, and my grandfather, father, and uncle were all members before me. Collectively, my family has been part of the club for nearly 100 years,” says Robinson.

Robinson is most proud of his direction of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in 2002. Most recently, he directed a theatrical adaptation of an episode of “Fawlty Towers,” a British sitcom that aired on BBC in the mid- to late-1970s.

Later this fall, Robinson will serve as lighting director for the musical comedy, “Clue,” which is based on the popular Parker Brothers board game.

That role of lighting director is very fitting for someone who is witnessing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel in the Midwest’s housing market recovery.

“The title insurance business has been great to me and my family—both my wife and kids and my ATA team. While I may not have known it at the time, sometimes dumb luck prevails and sets a person on the right long-term path.

This year has been exciting for ATA, with continued growth and market expansion. We’re looking forward to an equally promising 2014 as the housing market continues to rebound.”

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