Before I had what you might call a career, I worked for a company that pulled real estate documents from town halls and county property registration offices. It’s a pretty cool story about the company, but it’s not really my story. I only worked there.

Here’s a quick summary. A young unemployed mother from California is asked by a friend to go search for and pick up a document at a county deeds office for $50. She performed the quick and simple task, collected her money, and then half jokingly half serious asked how she could do more of the same.

She moved her family cross country, started a company, advertised her services, hit the road searching and pulling records, and eventually hired others to expand into new areas, growing it into a company with revenues in the millions. I worked for her and pulled real estate records from the two busiest locations the company serviced.

I made pretty good money working for this company, but it had expanded during a time when excessive mortgage refinancing was going on, so banks were hungry for this information. Once this refinancing boom died down, so did business, and the layoffs began. I was one of the last to get the boot, but I still saw opportunity.

I enjoyed this type of work and really wanted to continue doing it. Once you learned how to navigate the clunky software most of these offices used to catalog documents, it was pretty easy work. I also loved being able to pull an old book off the shelf to see what kind of documents were recorded back in the 18th and 19th centuries. You’d probably never see spoons or other common household items left in a will these days, but you did in the days of yore.

I assume the owner lost her will to run this company because I was told she was folding it up while it was still bringing in over 20k a month, but that meant there was still money to be made out there. I felt like I knew plenty, but not everything about the business so I purchased a rather expensive book (though they called it a course) at to hopefully fill in the gaps.

It’s clear someone put a lot of time into the book, but it did nothing for me. What a bust. I don’t remember learning a thing from it. Perhaps I knew more than I was giving myself credit for, but even if I had known nothing before reading the book, I still felt that this book wouldn’t have helped me much.

None of the stuff is hard to learn, but I still feel like you need a live mentor for this business. Sure, you need to know grantors, grantees, deeds, assignments, and all sorts of other terms and documents and their function and relationship to one another, but you also need to know where the books are, how you request certain documents, how to use each locations computer system, who to see about missing books, etc. You can’t teach that kind of stuff from a book, especially when it’s constantly changing.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that the book didn’t propel me into working on my own. Shortly thereafter, a lot of these larger records offices started coming online, so customers could now pull their own documents from the comfort of their own offices.

The wave of refinancing was over and documents were coming online. This business was changing. You no longer needed an army of record abstractors scanning old mortgages from books on site. There will always be a need for on site research or to obtain certified copies, but there was less meat on the bone now that a large portion of the work can be done remotely by anyone.

I still think this is a pretty interesting line of work, but I’d pass on the book and try and get into a title search company. It might be a tough veil to crack though. I know the title insurance industry requirements for researching chain of titles varies quite a bit by state, but in the states where I worked, if you didn’t know somebody, the job was mostly delegated to law students or paralegals.

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