Local firm advises Turks; Quake shows need for title insurance, land registration


When an earthquake struck Turkey in August, Oktay Okatar and Nihat Kandal watched as portions of their country were reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes.

Now, the two Turkish city planners are trying to get Izmit and other areas near Istanbul rebuilt -- and one Baltimore company is helping them along the way.

Security Title, a title insurance company on Calvert Street, was host to Okatar and Kandal last week to discuss Baltimore's system of title and land registration and the need for property and title insurance in Turkey. They said August's natural disaster caused some property lines to shift as much as 12 feet.

"Most of the buildings in Turkey were not insured, and the earthquake brought out the need for insurance. Everybody is wanting to insure everything," Okatar said.

Okatar's and Kandal's visit was coordinated by the International Visitor Program, a U.S. government effort that brings foreign professionals from throughout the world to the United States to study everything from state court systems and the election process to museum exhibits and cultural events.

In Turkey, the government controls the majority of property title transactions as well as property registration. Okatar and Kandal were sent by the government to explore the possibility of modeling America's land registration and purchase process by privatizing portions of Turkey's real estate industry, including offering private mortgage, title and property insurance.

"We need a private company to speed up the process," Kandal said. "Especially when it comes to settling claims."

In Turkey, all title and property disputes are settled in court, and Okatar said inheritance disputes -- which can be especially complicated in Turkey -- can tie up the nation's courts for years.

William C. Rogers Jr., chairman of the board for Security Title, said privatizing the transfer of title would streamline the country's claims process.

"Privatizing the transfer of title is essential so that with the influence of title insurance, they can speed up the clearing of claims," Rogers said.

Rogers said Turkey has a long way to go before a workable insurance system is in place.

"It will take them several years of researching specific problems, setting appropriate premiums and building reserves before they can even begin to think about setting up insurance," Rogers said. "They are at the very rock bottom of this long process of reform."

Until Turkey can begin to offer adequate insurance, Okatar and Kandal are helping the nation get started on reforming its land registration process.

The pair has spent the last several years computerizing Istanbul's land and property records and compiling them in an Internet database. With the city's property records easily available online, their work could be instrumental in helping the city deal with devastating quakes.

"What they have done is break down the entire region of Istanbul into lots and blocks and put it on the computer," Rogers said. "It's nearly identical to the system we use here in Baltimore and in other cities across the country."

Baltimore has computerized records of title and land transactions dating back to 1989.

Okatar says the entire project should be completed late next year.

"We have finished the pilot stage of our project and now wish to expand the computerized records to the areas around Istanbul," Okatar said. "We are well on the way to a better system."

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