The real estate business, true to its cyclical nature, is heading down again--at least as far as employment at one company goes.
First American Title Insurance Co. in Santa Ana, the nation's second-largest title insurer, said that 20 employees were laid off this week at the company's Orange County title search facility, leaving it with about 190 workers.
The layoffs come as the overheated home refinancing market cools down and home purchases fail to take up the slack.
"1992 was an absolutely crazy year," said Larry White, First American Title's executive vice president. Orders for title searches ran at record levels as the nation's homeowners took advantage of low mortgage interest rates.
In January, 1992, for instance, the company received 110,000 title orders, about 30,000 more than in any previous month, White said. The biggest group of orders came from California, particularly Orange County and Southern California, he said, and those markets have cooled quickly.
By last month, he said, orders were down to about 70,000 and are expected to remain at that level for some time, he said. Managers at other First American title plants around the world may well have plans to trim their staffs as well, White said, but there is no corporate directive requiring reductions.
Not affected by the layoffs are another 140 employees who work at the Santa Ana headquarters for the title company's national staff, its sister companies and its parent company, First American Financial Corp. in Santa Ana.
White said that the business of searching and reporting on titles to ensure clear ownership of properties is labor-intensive. Managers are constantly monitoring their mix of business and adjusting their work forces, he said.
The layoffs, coupled with a similar reduction in title offices elsewhere last month, barely dented the title company's worldwide staff of 7,000 employees.