Real Producers Partner Spotlight: Todd Ewing, man with an axe to grind
This story first appeared in the August, Northern Virginia edition of Real Producers magazine.
Todd Ewing has an axe to grind.
The founder and CEO of the largest independently owned title company in the District of Columbia, Ewing says the consolidation of the real estate transaction leads to fewer checks and balances and ultimately threatens to grievously damage the hard-fought reputations of top real estate professionals.
“How does it look to a homebuyer when their Realtor recommends a title company with noticeably lower online reviews and significantly higher fees,” Ewing ponders as he squares up with his target at Sister Axe on Bellavita Farm in Brookeville, Maryland, lightly gripping the wooden handle as he raises his axe overhead with both hands and lets it fly.
The steel blade sticks within inches of the bullseye.
Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, where he competed in 4-H cattle competitions and used the money he raised from his projects to help put himself through college and law school at Drake University, Ewing is very much an outdoorsy, do-it-yourself kind of guy who likes to work with his hands – and reward his dedicated staff with decompression sessions at the axe throwing range.
He started Federal Title & Escrow Company in 1996, on a desk he fashioned from a piece of plywood strewn across a couple of sawhorses, in a tiny office in the Tenleytown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. His vision for the company was disruptive to a system that commonly saw the exchange of kickbacks to referral sources in exchange for business.
“From the very beginning, we have staked our [Federal Title’s] success on the quality of care and service we deliver,” Ewing said. “We are committed to remaining a neutral third party in the real estate transaction – and to earning the business of the local real estate market.”
He would eschew the traditional arrangements, instead crediting money back to homebuyers at closing and equipping Realtors and lenders with tools to help them compete more successfully in their own businesses. His model was so disruptive, he was eventually summoned before the District’s Bureau of Insurance due to complaints from other title companies.
The Bureau upheld Federal Title’s innovative business model.
“The traditional model threatens the integrity of real estate professionals as much as it hurts the consumer,” says Joe Gentile, settlement attorney and president of Federal Title, who has been Ewing’s right-hand man for nearly 20 years.
Gentile is drinking a light-bodied beer as he watches the action. The easy-going foil to Federal Title’s charismatic leader, Ewing describes his business partner as a shrewd adjudicator who is adept at distilling complicated legal concepts and making clients feel at ease around the closing table.
Gentile says title companies are “unfortunately infamous” for their lack of transparency, which has perpetuated a misconception among consumers and real estate professionals that title companies are all the same. Having worked for other title companies, Gentile says he knows first-hand that’s not true.
“The integrity of the real estate transaction depends on a system of checks and balances among real estate brokerages, banks and title companies,” Gentile said. “If two of those entities have the same interest in mind, it becomes impossible to hold the best interests of a buyer or seller.”
He said one of the factors that led to his decision to work for Federal Title was Ewing’s aspirational vision for a title company that was fiercely and truly independent, leveraging technology and guile to reach the top echelon of title companies nationwide and stay relevant.
In addition to opening new offices in Virginia and Maryland, Federal Title is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Over the years, Federal Title has strung together a series of consumer-friendly innovations that help real estate professionals distinguish themselves, Ewing said. It started with the introduction of Quick Quote, a web calculator that clearly outlines the consumer’s exact title fees and other closing costs.
On its heels came the innovative online order portal and REALCredit that delivers an instant closing cost credit to homebuyers when services are ordered through the portal.
Following that, the company introduced its groundbreaking app Close It!, which knows exactly how much cash will traverse the closing table, including escrow reserves and brokerage fees.
The company then introduced the REALegal program that provides peace of mind to consumers and their advocates in the form of two hours of legal consultation for matters concerning the property in their contract.
Most recently, as a global pandemic set in, when other title companies continued to rely on traditional approaches to settlement and “drive-through closings,” Federal Title introduced Real Safe digital and contactless closing solutions, which Ewing says have become wildly popular with buyers and sellers.
“At the heart of every innovation we develop is a desire to take excellent care of the people we serve – and to do it with uncompromising integrity,” Ewing said.
He picks up another axe and squares to his target. This time the blade strikes dead center on the bull.