A Conversation With: Bill Blue

Longtime abstracter establishes Des Moines business.

After working in the abstract and title business for 30 years, Bill Blue decided to strike out on his own in the Des Moines market. Just last month, he opened Bill Blue & Associates, Professional Abstracters. They provide abstracts, title certificates, and other real estate search products to those in the lending, real estate, and legal industries in central Iowa. Blue also owns Jasper County Abstract Company in Newton, Iowa, which he purchased in 2011.

Where did you grow up?

I’m a Des Moines native.

How did you get involved in this line of work?

You’ll find that most people in the abstract business got into it because their parents were abstracters, or by accident. I don’t know anyone who set out to be in this field intentionally.

I wasn’t long out of high school when I found myself at the Des Moines office of Job Service of Iowa, looking for work. The woman who was helping me received a phone call as we were talking, jotted down some information, and said, “Well here’s a job you may be interested in.” It was as a delivery boy for an abstract and title company in Des Moines. I went there, applied, and got the job.

Initially, I carried abstracts around downtown. Then I began moving my way up to abstracter, manager, and finally general manager, a position I held until I left the company in February 2014.

What appealed to you about the abstract industry?

I really was fascinated with all of the information, and how much of it was flowing through my fingertips everyday. I just loved it. It was very stimulating, to be analyzing the history, seeing court cases. You were like a detective, putting together a puzzle. When complete, it detailed all of the documents that are part of the public record impacting the title to the property. With time and experience, you developed this kind of sixth sense, knowing when something didn’t seem quite right. Eighty percent of the abstracts are just what you expect. But boy, that 20 percent can be mind-bending, sometimes. But it’s very enjoyable work. I like doing it.

What are the steps to creating an abstract?

We receive the request, do our initial research, figure out who the title owner is, and order all the various information we need, deciding what data we’ll gather ourselves. We compile the information, which someone will analyze and then put together in an abstract. If there are any problems, we correct them.

What changes have you seen in the industry over the years?

There’s been a huge shift in the technology and interconnectivity between abstracters and clients. We can turn around clients’ requests at an incredible speed today. For example, we’re able to provide customers with some of our refinance products in a day or two, or in some cases, the same day. Things that would have taken a week to complete in the past can now can be done in one day.

Can you go into more detail about the impact of technology on the industry?

When I started in the title business in 1985, everything was truly done on paper. There was nothing digitized at all. With today’s technology, it’s no longer necessary to travel to the various offices such as the county recorder, treasurer, and clerk of court to collect information. But I must admit, we do miss the interactions we had with people at the courthouse and county buildings.

The amount of time spent gathering the data has been compressed because of the increasing digitization of records. For example, Iowa Courts several years ago switched to an electronic data management system. Previously, it may have taken one or two days to order a court file because it had to physically be pulled from a shelf in the basement. When you can order a file electronically, you don’t have to wait that long. But, there will still be some records on paper that cannot be converted to digital because they’re contained in old, crumbling books.

My goal is for my company to be completely digital and to produce a product that’s quicker and easier. The whole lending and real estate industry moves much faster than it used to. Today, closing on a home can happen in two or three weeks; in the past, it would have taken a couple of months.

Real estate transactions are comprised of many moving parts, and our product is just one component on the assembly line. We don’t want to be the cause for any delays in the process. We want to leverage all the technology we can to ensure that everything goes smoothly for clients, and that we can communicate effectively with them. We want to provide customers with the product they want, on time and on their terms. We want to be customer-centric.

What do you see as the major challenges facing abstracters today?

The challenges continue to be meeting deadline demands and tracking down older records.

Tell us about your family.

I live in Ankeny with my wife, Mindy. We have three children: Brandon, 25, Andrea, 10, and Allison, 8. My kids’ sports activities and spending time with my family keeps me busy. One thing we’re particularly looking forward to is meeting our first grandchild, who is due to arrive in July.