Craig de Thomas,
founder of Insignia Title Insurance
founder of Insignia Title Insurance
An interview by Damon L. Jacobs
Before today I never associated title insurance with words like "altruism," "generosity," "compassion," or "social conscience." Yet Craig de Thomas lives at the intersection of these seeming disparate passions. Please join me for this inspiring discussion with one of the nation's highest fundraising participants in the 2012 AIDS Walk, as well as the founder of Insignia National Title Agency, LLC.
Damon L. Jacobs: I want to begin by thanking you. I take part in the AIDS Walk every year, and noticed that you were the seventh highest individual participant in 2012. Why is this cause important to you?
Craig de Thomas: My mother passed away from AIDS in 1991. It was very important for me to find a way to honor her memory, think about her, and remember her struggles. I remember the things I watched her endure on a daily basis when there was no medication and there was no hope for people with HIV/AIDS. By the time she was diagnosed in 1989 she had full blown AIDS.
When presented with a challenge in her life, my mother always tried to find a way to get over the hurdle, approach the challenge, and get better. She said, “I have to fight this, I just can’t let it take me without a fight.” Her doctor found an experimental trial program close to where we lived. She enlisted herself into a drug trial. Unfortunately that didn’t work out. For many years I wanted to do something that would honor that part of her, that fight she entered into so willingly.
I moved to New York City in March of 2000. I started learning about GMHC and the AIDS Walk, when a friend asked me to make a donation. I did more research and realized what an impact the AIDS Walk has in the HIV community. I registered myself, told people the story about my mother, my friends who I lost in the years later, and people responded. I realized my story carried weight, people really did care, and I could do something to help others. AIDS Walk New York gave me a voice. The first year I did it and saw 40,000 others doing it, I realized I was not alone.
For so long I felt alone, I didn’t know who to talk to, I didn’t know where to go. When I stepped into Central Park I realized I wasn’t alone. There were 40,000 people living with AIDS, or had been affected by it, and we all had our stories to be told. Every year I work harder and harder to raise money. I have become more involved with GMHC during the rest of the year and became more committed to the community. Eventually they asked me to sit on the Board Of Directors, and I was happy to accept. By being on the Board and being such an integral part of GMHC, I feel I am impacting the course of this disease.
DLJ: Now tell me about Insignia National Title Agency? What exactly do you do?
CdT: I’ll give you the scenario: You’re purchasing a house, you settled on a price, you get to the point everyone agrees, and you as the buyer hire an attorney. Your attorney talks to you about the costs, you sign the contract. Your attorney then uses a title company and orders the title insurance with me. We do the research on the public record on the piece of property you are purchasing. Most information about the property, the deeds, the loans, the mortgages, the judgments, or anything about the property is public information in the county. We go there, we check the chain of title, we search back 40-60 years to make sure the title is good.
Essentially we want to make sure that the person who is selling you the property can truly you sell you that property, that they own it 100%. We want to make sure that Grandma didn’t give that property to eight different people and only seven are willing to sell. Those are the kinds of things we look for within the chain of title. Then we also check the records for any judgments or liens filed against any of the current owners in the past ten years. If anything is filed, it attaches to the property, it becomes a clout on the ownership and it is a possible threat to the ownership of the property. A creditor could come in and try to foreclose on the property or take the property away somehow. We do the same thing with mortgages. We take all this information, we create a nice little clean report and we send it out to all the attorneys involved. If there are any problems they usually communicate with us to find out how to rectify it. Then when we get to closing, if there were any issues on the Title, they get resolved to our satisfaction, usually by the seller. Once they are good and we are pleased that they are cured then you actually get a title insurance owner’s policy, which insures you that you are getting your property free and clear of any encumbrances, liens, judgments, mortgages, any issues that could arise.
DLJ: How did you get into this?
CdT: I started doing this as a summer job upstate in 1986. When I graduated in High School I just stayed with it. I worked with an attorney for about ten years. Eventually I moved to New York City and knew I wanted to get involved with real estate. I got involved with a small start-up company, and helped it grow for about six years. I was offered a position of Managing Director at a very large title company with a national platform. But I didn’t like the corporate approach to this industry. I came from a Mom’n’Pop organization and I recognized customer service, taking pride in your work, providing the best service possible to your customers, and relationship building. I didn’t like the chop-shop mill approach.
DLJ: What sets Insignia apart from those other companies?
CdT: I designed the company with a boutique style agency in mind. We are not a large chop-shop that cranks out reports with errors and typos and missed information from the public record. We cater to the customer, which are the attorneys, the mortgage brokers, and some bankers. We understand their relationships with their customers and how crucial our role is in getting those transactions closed. I understand that every relationship I have with my customers is a partnership and an opportunity for them to do better. We take pride in the work that we do and the product we turn out, unlike so many others. A lot of people got into this work so they could open up a title company and make a lot of money. Maybe their brother was a real estate broker who told them, “There’s a lot of money to be made in the title company.” They have no knowledge of the industry, the statutes, the laws, they just open up a company to make a dollar.
Every single employee here at Insignia has vast experience in the title insurance world. It’s been their career. My top attorney Joann Prinzivalli has been involved with title insurance and real estate for over 35 years. She has had top positions with top underwriters so she comes with some serious pedigree. Truly everyone in my office is proud of what they do. They chose to be here. The level of knowledge that we have compared to other companies, and the level of service we provide, is unsurpassed in our industry. We answer our phones. We answer our emails. We respond; we are available. We put an old-fashioned touch on title insurance side of the transaction with modern ways of thinking.
DLJ: How has joining NGLCCNY helped Insignia?
Cdt: It helped very quickly. As a title company there are so many to choose from. We have to constantly network. We network with attorneys, mortgage brokers, real estate brokers. Very quickly I was able to meet a lot of real estate attorneys through the Chamber who were very interested in working with a gay owned title company in New York City. I think I’m the only gay owned title company in New York City. The Chamber was very helpful, and people have been very responsive through my work in GMHC and the AIDS Walk. I truly believe in giving back to the community. From day one my goal with Insignia was to be as socially responsible as I could afford to be.
DLJ: How do you make these connections with other Chamber members?
CdT: I’m new to the Chamber. But the M3’s have been a perfect way. I go to networking things all the time, you never know what caliber it’s going to be. But I walked into my first M3 and instantly recognized people I knew. When they started speaking I recognized that this was the caliber I was looking for. My marketing strategy in 2012 included thinking about the GLBT professional community, how I can attract people to do business with me, and how I can help their businesses grow. So I went to the M3, felt great about it, spoke with Richard Oceguera, and quickly joined the Chamber.
It’s been easy, there’s no pressure. There’s a commonality there, people want to meet and help each other. It’s a very important organization. We as a community can’t get these things done unless we really do support each other. We can’t get these bills passed and these laws passed unless we can get Congress members and senators voted in. They can’t get elected unless they have the financial support from our community. We can’t help AIDS Service organizations if there is not money in our community to do so. It takes this kind of community spirit to get this work done. This is how we help youth programs, AIDS Services, meal programs. That's why it is important we think about this as a whole, talk about it, and uplift each other by supporting each other’s businesses.
DamonL. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist who helps individuals and couples learn to improve communication, create and rebuild trust, cope with grief and loss, health issues, stress management, depression, addiction, ageism, HIV specific concerns, bullying trauma, and caretaking fatigue. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret toLiving the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To schedule a counseling visit or speaking engagement, call 347-227-7707, or email at Shouldless@gmail.com. An initial complimentary consultation is offered to NGLCCNY members, or people who are referred by NGLCCNY members.