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30 jobs lost in Stanislaus County as title company closes

Alliance Title Co. is going out of business, laying off all its employees and closing its doors today. At least 30 employees in Stanislaus County, plus hundreds more elsewhere in the state, will lose their jobs at 5 p.m.

Alliance has been Stanislaus County’s busiest escrow and title company the last four years, and it has about 500 real estate transactions pending.

“We’re going to make sure there’s a smooth transition. We’re moving everything to First American Title,” said Terry Harwell, division president for Alliance in Stanislaus County. “There will not be a delay in any closings (of real estate transactions).”

Harwell was shocked to hear his four offices — three in Modesto and one in Turlock — would be closed.

“We’re the market share leader in Stanislaus County, so it didn’t seem viable that they would close us down,” Harwell said. “We were on pace to break even this month.”

But rumors started swirling Tuesday evening that something was wrong. Harwell said his employees weren’t able to log into the company’s computerized payroll system, which triggered suspicion that layoffs were in the works.

Corporate officials at Alliance’s Campbell headquarters didn’t explain what was happening until a telephone conference call late Wednesday, Harwell said. His offices have been scrambling since to move accounts and box up belongings.

In 2005 at the peak of the real estate buying and refinancing boom, Alliance had more than 200 offices and about 2,500 employees in California, Harwell said. That included 10 branches and about 165 employees in Stanislaus County.

“Two years ago we made a ton of money,” Harwell said. He said Alliance raked in $370 million in income that year.

Then the housing market began crashing, and Alliance started slashing staff. Harwell closed six Stanislaus County offices and eliminated more than 100 jobs this year. He also closed six other branches in Merced and Fresno counties. About 14 additional employees in a Lathrop title service center now will be let go.

Alliance also has offices in Manteca, Lodi and Stockton who will be out of work.

“This is a really big deal,” said Mike Zagaris, president of PMZ Real Estate. “Alliance had about 30 percent of the (title insurance) market share in Stanislaus County. ... We and other real estate companies have scores and scores of escrows pending with them.”

Zagaris said he’s confident escrow funds — like the deposits buyers put down when purchasing homes — will be safe. But the fears real estate transactions will be disrupted.