Most property owners don’t actually understand the difference between hiring an attorney or a title company. Donnie Hathaway goes into a deep dive on what title companies really are with the President/Owner of C.A.R.E. Title, Carolyn Kahrs. She explains her experiences as a real estate attorney specializing in title insurance and opens up on why she prefers this particular legal practice more than other areas of law. Carolyn also shares the most interesting transaction she handled involving an elderly couple refinancing their million-dollar property to keep it from going into foreclosure.
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Carolyn Kahrs On Determining The Right Time To Hire A Title Company
I’m sitting down with Carolyn Kahrs, who is the Owner of C.A.R.E Title, a title insurance company here in Tarpon Springs, Florida. CARE stands for Competitive, Accurate, Reliable, Expedient. She has been in business for many years. She is a real estate attorney but didn’t get her start in real estate right out of law school. She was at a law firm where they did basically any and all cases.
She got a large amount of experience in different fields and then narrowed it down and figured that she enjoyed the Real Estate Law and being a real estate attorney compared to some of the other law practices and whatnot. I’m excited for you guys to meet Carolyn and learn more about her business and journey over those years. You have to have some stories to go along with it if you have been in the real estate business for that long. Let’s jump right into it. I know you are going to get some good value out of this with Carolyn.
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Welcome, Carolyn. I appreciate you jumping on the show. I’m excited to chat with you because you have a large amount of experience in this industry, real estate, and real estate title, and you are a business owner. Thank you for being here.
It’s my pleasure.
Let’s start with your business C.A.R.E. Title. It stands for Competitive, Accurate, Reliable, and Expedient, all very important to you.
It looks like Jacob gave you some good information.
What do you guys do there, and what is C.A.R.E. Title all about?
C.A.R.E. Title has been in existence for several years, primarily in the Tampa Bay area is what we serve. Although we can close transactions throughout Florida. I came down here from Connecticut. In Connecticut, you have to be an attorney to do title closings. Down here, you can be a licensed title agent or an attorney. That was an adjustment for me. It’s a little bit different down here than it was practicing up in Connecticut.
How is it different?
The first thing that stunned me, and it’s gotten cleaned up now, is the things that title companies did to procure title business. There’s a little thorny statute called RESPA that prohibits cash payments and in-kind payments to people that are sending business your way. I had people outright ask me what I was going to give or do for them, so that set me back a bit. It was a little different flavor than I was used to in Connecticut. The pace was a little bit slower, South versus North maybe, something like that. Since my name was C.A.R.E. Title, I had bought these little Care Bears, and I thought that was a cute thing to help bring in business but that wasn’t what people were looking for. I learned that pretty quickly.
I decided that the best way to grow the business would be to buy a real estate company or start a real estate company. You then would have inside realtors that you could draw a business. I went out and got a partner who had a broker’s license. I did not, at the time. I may have had a salesperson’s license then. I bought a RE/MAX franchise down the road. I bought a second franchise.
I would probably never buy a franchise again but that’s what I did. It was in the heyday of RE/MAX, in my opinion. All the brand names have suffered the last several years. There are a lot more independent real estate companies and so forth. RE/MAX used to advertise quite a bit but you don’t see that the way you used to. They had a change at the top, and things changed.
Anyway, we were the number one real estate company in Pasco. We had 35 agents. What do you do when you buy a RE/MAX franchise? You build a million-dollar building, so that’s what we did. We had the marble floor and chandelier. We had marble from Spain. It was to the nines because that was the market at that time. First of all, it took a while to build this building.
Before we even moved in, real estate crashed in September ’05. Most people will say more like ’07 and ’08 but that’s when lending fell apart. Before we moved into this building, the phones were ringing off the hook, and then they stopped ringing. We moved into this beautiful building with no phones ringing, bills coming in fast and furious, and somehow got through it.
This building is your house like a real estate company, not a title company.
The title was one wing of the building, and then we had offices for agents, and the center where the lobby was, was the admin people.
Let’s take a step back before you even got into this career and talk about how you got into it. Is it something that you grew up wanting to do or how did you get into the business?
I was the oldest of three girls. I liked to make my point when I was a kid. My father would always say, “You should go to law school.” I didn’t think about it. My father had a lot of influence on my life, and I went to law school. I didn’t study for the Law boards. I only applied to one school. Fortunately, I got into that one school, the University of Connecticut. I went through three years of law school and got out.
In my first year in law school, I had a baby, so I wasn’t looking to work in a big law firm with an 80-hour workweek. I worked in a small firm, and that didn’t work out. All of us quit on the same day after finding out things about the owner, which I won’t share. I started my own practice. It was a general practice. When you are a general practice attorney, you take whatever comes in the door. I did probate, adoption, a lot of divorces, bankruptcy, and some civil litigation. I had a dental malpractice case. A guy claimed he could never chew a steak bone anymore after what the dentist did, and they did settle.
You got a lot of experience with different cases, and that’s a good staff.
Real estate was another end that I enjoyed the most.
What did you enjoy about it compared to some of the other things?
I have a real estate company. I am a broker. Real estate transactions can get contentious but it’s nothing like litigation. It’s more transaction work as opposed to the plaintiff versus the defendant. Bankruptcy can be depressing. With real estate, people were happier with what they were doing. The sellers were happy to get their money. The buyers were happy to get their property, so that is what I gravitated towards.
You are enjoying the positive aspect of the transaction versus some of the other cases where somebody’s suing somebody. That makes sense. Did you ever want to have a business growing up?
Integrity and compassion are two basic characteristics any successful individual should have.
I never even thought about it. When I first got out of college, I worked for The Hartford Insurance Group, that’s a big insurance company. I worked for them in Connecticut and quickly learned that I was not a political animal to work in a large corporation. There were lots of meetings. They were mostly, in my opinion, not worthwhile and a lot of politics. It was not me. I didn’t like the environment. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to strike out on my own but I steered away from that after that experience.
A lot of entrepreneurs or small business owners felt that same way. They don’t vibe with that environment and decide to do things themselves. What was it like to start the business? What were some challenges that first business that you started that you had to work through?
Closer in memory is starting the title company several years ago. I would go with that. We talked about my first challenge, which was marketing and getting into the business. I solved that by buying a real estate company. In other challenges, failure was not an option for me. It didn’t go through my head. Even when the real estate market fell apart, I was going to keep at it. The market itself, when it fell apart, was a challenge. Those are probably the biggest challenges I’ve faced.
What’s interesting though, is having the mindset of even though you have challenges or there are things that are out of your control like the market but still you’re committed to pushing through and overcoming whatever those challenges are and finding a way.
For instance, during that time, there were so many short sales. A lot of people don’t realize that but legally, realtors were not supposed to be negotiating short sales. You are supposed to be an attorney or something else. It has been a while now. I focused on short sales quite a bit. I would visit my parents, who were three hours South of here. I would go with 2 or 3 file boxes of short sales. That was the market. That’s what I did. A lot of realtors at that time were doing BPOs broker price opinions to get some money in the door. I was doing short sales.
After talking to people, other agents, and other professionals that have been in the real estate business for a long time, that’s one thing that has stood out to me, the market changes. The way you generate business or find business probably is going to change if you are in real estate for longer than 5 to 10 years. You have to be willing to adapt to those different market conditions.
As I’m getting older and technology keeps changing, I’ve hired a marketing graduate from Florida State who you have spoken with Jacob. That has been great because he’s on top of all the technology and social media. I have never been a social media person. I never had a Facebook account. I’m too private for that somehow. Jacob is doing that for me, and that’s great. He’s 25 and has the acumen and the wherewithal to do that.
To be successful in business, you have to leverage other people and their expertise and what they are good at, so you can focus as a business owner on the things that you are good at. Title insurance, that’s always a question that I feel like that always comes up from the buyer’s or seller’s perspective like, “What is title insurance? Do I need it?” What is it there for?
That’s always asked, “What is title insurance? Do I need it?” It’s not an easy thing to answer. Title insurance, if you have a claim, it’s usually a big one. The chances of a claim are small. It will be something like a deed that wasn’t recorded properly, somebody else has an interest in the property or maybe a mortgage that wasn’t properly recorded and didn’t show up on the title search.
It covers items that are not readily discernible from the public records. It’s a one-time premium. It seems like a lot at the closing but then you are protected for the entire time that you own the property. If something big God-forbid should happen, then you do have that title policy. The chances of using it are probably slim.
Yes, but it’s necessary because if something does come up, it could cause bigger issues than paying that title policy.
The claims that occur tend to be big claims.
You mentioned something that you learned from your father that I wanted to bring up that I found interesting, “I was grateful that the competition was so mediocre. Can you explain that?
I heard that from him many times. Some background on my dad, he grew up the son of a carpenter from Norway. He’s all Norwegian. His mom and dad were 100% Norwegian. They had a very little tenement in Brooklyn, New York. He managed to get through medical school and be a Director of Medicine at Hartford Hospital. He lived the American dream but he would say that he was always grateful that the competition was so mediocre. He felt like he worked hard and had tremendous integrity, and had compassion for his patients and all. He felt like not a lot of people had those basic characteristics that helped him to succeed.
I would agree. You hear other business owners or people that have been successful that they were either more consistent with providing that service or sticking with their career progression.
Consistency, that’s a good point. I got out of college, and there were no jobs to be had. It was 1980. I went work selling life insurance at a 100% commission. There’s one guy not too much older than me but in his 30s maybe and I said to him, “How is it that you are always producing? Every week, you are so consistent.” He said, “Carolyn 99% is just showing up,” and there’s a lot of truth to that.
I remember early on in my real estate career, and I think a lot of people go through this. There are days when you don’t feel like showing up. We used to do some training, role-playing, script practice, and working on things.
That stuff is tough too.
It’s not fun stuff to do but if you want to be good at your craft, it’s things that you have to work on and practice. There would be days where I didn’t feel like going but the days that I didn’t feel like going, and I did go and show up, those are the days that I felt like I learned the most or there was some valuable lesson that I got out of that day. It’s those moments that we don’t feel like going and feel like giving up.
It’s like going to my Pilates class. A lot of days, I don’t feel like it but I’m so glad afterward that I did. Getting there and showing up is the hardest part sometimes.
Once you’re there, it’s easy, and you go through the motions and do it. You have been in the business for quite some time, so I’m sure you have had some crazy stories and situations. You got to give me one that you can share.
I have to preface my answer by saying that I have this unique ability maybe I would say I forget bad things. People have to remind me. If somebody worked for me and they are not working for me and come back and want a job, I have to be reminded of what was so bad about them the first time around. I forget bad things, so that’s a hard thing for me to answer. We have had some people that are a little unhinged.
99% of real estate success is all about showing up.
What about some generally challenging scenarios that come up doing a real estate transaction?
One that comes to my mind was an elderly couple, and it was sad. They had a million-dollar property back several years ago. It was in 2005 time because it was before I built the building in Trinity. They were trying to refinance to keep their house from going into foreclosure. Usually, on a refinance on a home, you will have a three-day right of rescission, and it doesn’t fund right away. I was able to figure out that, “If for certain extreme circumstances, you can get that period waived. If we hadn’t gotten that period waived, it would not have worked,” so we did. We refinanced and funded it that day. I remember being at the office in the evening hours trying to get that thing closed, so they did.
They were able to keep their property. That goes back to having the knowledge and expertise around the different Real Estate Laws and regulations.
I feel like over the years, there have been many deals I have been able to keep together that maybe a lot of other title companies would not be able to keep it going.
What do you think are some of the biggest differences between having a real estate attorney managing that closing versus a licensed title agent? I don’t know what type of schooling and stuff to be a licensed title agent.
I don’t, firsthand myself but I have had people work for me that have gotten their licenses. The test is tricky. It’s not a slam dunk easy thing to do. In my opinion, and I may be biased, you don’t walk away with the same body of knowledge that you have been an attorney all these years. I tell people when they come in that, within a relatively short time, you will know 80% of this business. The other 20% takes time and experience.
I would agree with that. There’s always a situation that comes up and it’s like, “I have never had that percent but then you learn how to handle or deal with it.
Learn it all the hard way.
I’ve talked to agents that have been in the business for a long time too. As an agent or a title company, it’s always helpful to have somebody that has been in the business a long time. Whenever those situations arise, you can go to them and be like, “Have you come across this before? “How did you solve it?” To me, it’s all about solving.
The most fun I have is when there is a situation, and we got to figure out a way to get it done.
Be creative with it. I like to wrap up by asking the guests about one of their favorite local spots in the community, whether it’s a park you like going to or one of your favorite restaurants that you like going to or something like that.
I mentioned Pilates. My yoga studio is called Wendy Fit over on Curlew behind Home Depot. I enjoy that a lot. In fact, I’m heading there after we finish. I love restaurants. My particular favorites around here, there’s one close to the office that we are at now, Acqua Alta. It’s a couple from Venice, and it’s low-key, not fancy. The husband is the chef, and he’s great. It’s Italian.
Is it a fine-dining restaurant or casual?
It’s fairly casual but the food to me is fine-dining. It’s a nice mix. I’ve always loved Molly Goodheads. I’m a seafood lover.
Carolyn, I appreciate you jumping on the show. How can people find your title company and learn more about your business?
Our website is www.CareTitleInc.com. We are on Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs. It was a two-lane road when I opened the business, and now it’s a major throughway. It’s pretty easy to find where between East Lake Road and 19.
Go check her out. Thank you again for joining us.
Thank you again for reading. I hope you got a ton of value out of this episode. Check out our PalmHarborLocal.com, where you can stay up to date on what’s going on with the show, and sign up there to join the locals. Remember, together, we keep Palm Harbor Local.
About Carolyn Kahrs
Carolyn J Kahrs, J.D. is an attorney with over 30 years of title and real estate experience. She is a member of both the Florida and Connecticut bar associations. A graduate of the University of Connecticut, School of Law, Carolyn has worked in many areas of law, including probate, bankruptcy, wills and estates, corporate, family law, as well as her specialty, real estate law. Attorney Kahrs also holds a Florida real estate broker’s license since 2006. She is responsible for the overall company operations and management, compliance with industry and governmental regulations and laws, resolution of title issues and negotiation of short sales.