Real estate closings generate enough paper to line the hamster cages in a small pet store for several months. There are documents galore — often in sets of six. New homeowners go home with a stuffed envelope of approximately the size of the New York Times in the run-up to Christmas in a prosperous year.
This paperpalooza is wasteful — and expensive, says Ehab Abousabe, president of Signature Title Agency, which opened last spring on Lenox Drive. “My office is completely paperless,” he says. “I don’t even have filing cabinets.” Instead, he and his partners, Doug Borden and Jeff Perlman of Borden Perlman Insurance, and Paul Ian McArthur of Trillium Realty, “invested heavily in technology,” he says.
One result is that homeowners — and business owners, too — leave his real estate closings with a little zip drive, which, when inserted in the USB port of any computer, displays all the documents from the closing.
Signature’s technology streamlines the purchase of real estate all along the line. Documents are sent to lawyers, lenders, sellers, buyers, real estate agents, and county recording offices electronically. “No more FedEx fees,” says Abousabe, who points out that at $20 a pop these charges quickly up the “miscellaneous” column of money to be paid at a closing.
But what about the 97-year-old couple — not to stereotype — who are selling their homestead and think only of woodshed dropping when they hear the word “mouse”?
“Not a problem,” says Abousabe. He is equipped to print out documents for those who want them. In fact, he says, “one of the lawyers I work with likes me to carry the documents over to him. So that’s what I do, and we sit down and have a nice cup of tea.”
Just as some people are not comfortable with technology, some New Jersey counties — quite a few in fact — have not yet made a move to embrace computers and software, at least not in regard to their real estate records. Abousabe works with independent records searchers in each county, and many still have to research property liens and encumbrances by pulling huge, heavy books from long rows of shelves.
The researchers are charged with looking back 60 years to find any and all recorded events that could cloud a title. Abousabe’s new company then insures the title, offering assurance to his clients that they are buying a property that is free and clear.
Title companies are a vital part of every real estate transaction. In a down economy, with sales — both residential and commercial — way down, many are struggling, and a number have gone out of business. Yet Abousabe chose to start a new title company in 2009.
“I’m a contrarian,” he says cheerfully. “When everyone else is contracting, that’s the best time for expansion. When everyone is panicking on the way down, that’s the time to build a business.”
Abousabe wants to differentiate his company. He is promoting it as a “green” company, a tech savvy company, and a company that works hard to hire the best employees and contract researchers. But he was fine with choosing a name already taken by many other title companies. “Yes ‘Signature’ is a common name for title companies,” he says. “There are 18 in New Jersey.” He isn’t sure why the name is so popular, but he does indicate that in his field it denotes professionalism. “I didn’t want to be ‘ABC Title,’” he says.
He doesn’t see the common business name as a problem in any way. “I owned a mortgage company called ‘United Capital Mortgage,’” he says. “Lots of mortgage companies use that name.”
Abousabe, who grew up in West Windsor, started the mortgage company shortly after finishing college. He was entrepreneurial from the start, despite the fact that he can point to no business owners in his immediate family. His father was a professor of microbiology and genetics at Rutgers University until his retirement. “Now he teaches at Kean College for fun,” says Abousabe. His mother spent her days raising him and his brothers and sister, all of whom have remained in the greater Princeton area. Emad is a principal in the HACBM architecture firm, while Myra and Rami work in IT for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson respectively.
Abousabe is a single father who lives in Montgomery with his nine-year-old son, Jad, and his five-year-old daughter, Mia, who will soon start kindergarten.
He has been in banking, and more particularly in real estate lending, for most of his career. Most recently he was head of residential lending at First Choice Bank. He says that he has long wanted to start and run a title agency. Asked about the source of his start-up funds, Abousabe jokes, “I just keep writing checks.” He says that all start-up money has come from his savings and from his partners. The company operates exclusively in New Jersey “for now,” he says.
Business comes from three distinct streams — attorneys, real estate agents, and lenders. Abousabe says that establishing relationships is extremely important in his business. “I’m very involved in the community,” he says. “I’m on the board of the Mercer County College Foundation and the Eden Institute. I’m involved in both Chambers (Princeton and Mercer County).”
Sales in every part of the real estate market are down, but Abousabe has no second thoughts about going out on his own now. “It’s not scary,” he says. “I believe in what I do. People have to buy houses.”
Signature Title Agency, LLC, 2000 Lenox Drive, Suite 202, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-439-9080; fax, 866-685-1650. Ehab Abousabe, president.