By David Blanchette
Dana Lyons is a lifelong resident of the Springfield area. When she was a senior at Riverton High School, an employment agency placed her in a receptionist position with Lincoln Land Title and Abstract Company. She later worked for Lexis Document Services and Zelle Title Company before opening The Illinois Real Estate Title Center in 2002 with three employees.
The company has now grown to include 12 branch offices. In addition to managing IRETC, Dana also represents the corporate office, Investors Title, on a statewide level.
Dana and her husband, Alex, have three children and nine grandchildren and reside in Riverton.
How did you get started in title insurance?
I actually stumbled into the title insurance industry by accident. Most people who are working in title insurance would tell you they entered the same way. Either their family owned a title company or they just stumbled into it, because most people don’t even understand what it is we do.
I started working for Lincoln Land Title and Abstract Company back in 1982. I had gotten that job through an employment agency and had no idea what title insurance even meant. I interviewed for a receptionist position, and the rest is history. I have been in the title insurance business for 40 years now.
What is title insurance?
Title insurance is provided when you buy or sell real estate. It protects the property owner or the bank for events in the past versus things in the future. If you were to buy a house and buy title insurance, and later you want to build a fence and your neighbor says you are encroaching on his property, the title insurance company will work with you to see if mistakes were made regarding the boundaries of the property you own or easements you might not be aware of. We are protecting your equity in that property.
Title insurance is always going to be a necessity, whether the purchase market is up or down. People may want to take out real estate loans to reconsolidate debt, or if there’s a death in the family some property may be sold. There is always going to be work for title insurance companies.
What is your current role?
I have a unique dual role. In 2018, I was asked by our corporate office, Investors Title, to work for them as a statewide representative. In 2020, I went back to manage The Title Center, so I’m wearing two hats now.
Investors Title has investors that invest in title companies. My primary job as a state rep is to identify prospects in Illinois for ownership in our agency. For instance, there might be a group of banks in the Chicago area that might like to have their own title company. So, I would be the one to orchestrate that, bring the partners together, open that agency and be responsible for overseeing it.
Investors Title will typically have two or three title agencies in a state. In Illinois, I just found ways to continue to grow our business, and we are rather unique at The Title Center because we have morphed out into additional branch offices. That’s not necessarily common within the Investors Title footprint. So, we have been thinking outside the box here in Illinois for some time.
The Illinois Real Estate Title Center, or The Title Center as it’s known, started out with three employees back in 2002 and we now have 53 employees and 12 branches including two in Springfield, Bloomington, Champaign, Edwardsville, Effingham, Fairview Heights, Jacksonville, Paris, Pekin, Peoria and Quincy and are getting ready to open our 13th location in Lincoln.
What does your typical workday look like?
My typical day is not typical. I do everything from the management of the agency with my management team to working with our corporate office. There’s no stopping; opportunities present themselves and I have to take those opportunities. That’s why we are moving into the Lincoln market, because there’s a need there.
My job is to identify where there might be servicing issues in locations around the state, where lenders or real estate agents are not able to get their title insurance or their closings fulfilled. I have a lot of contacts, and we do a lot of networking. Where there is a need, we see what we can do.
My job is very unique, and I have a lot of excitement because there’s not one day that is like the next. But I love it. I do a little bit of everything from marketing to operations. It’s somewhat rare for a manager like myself to do all of those pieces, but I love all of those pieces, and it would be very hard for me to decide which one to give up. So, I continue to try to do it all.
How has the business changed in the last 40 years?
More technology is being used, and it’s giving us an opportunity to reach farther. Many of our counties have online access now, so we can do many of our property searches from our desk or home. We don’t have to go to the courthouse in every single case to do our searches like we did years ago.
When I started in the industry, Lincoln Land Title had little index cards, and as we got copies of documents from courthouses the information would be entered on those cards. Chicago Title has what they call a title plant that still, to this day, houses all of those documents.
What changes did you have to make due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
We were considered an essential business, so we had to find ways to close loans. We did closings by having customers text when they arrived, called in the parties individually and did closings through a glass window, reviewed and notarized the documents they signed, disinfected everything, then called the next set of customers in.
Right before the pandemic hit, interest rates dropped to a historic low, so we were slammed with orders already. We were able to send employees home to do business as usual, but the volume was so high that it was certainly a learning experience. But we all survived it and learned a lot while doing that. I don’t know that we will ever go back to doing everything exactly the way it was before.
What is the best part of your job?
Sometimes I will ask to close a real estate transaction myself just because I love that. I will volunteer to drive to one of our other agencies if we have someone on vacation to close a loan for them.
It’s so exciting because every day we get to make someone happy. We have the opportunity to work with people that are making one of the biggest transactions of their entire lives, and we get to be a part of that. I love what I do.
What advice would you give to young people?
Work hard, dress for success and don’t give up.