Rotarian Larry Garces cautious about short-term real estate prospects

DOWNEY - Larry Garces, who took over ownership of the independent, medium-sized, Downey-based escrow firm of Security Land Escrow Company in 2002, after his owner-mom passed away, is not overly excited about recent economic developments that purportedly show encouraging signs of recovery from the malaise that has characterized the economy for so long.The Federal Bank's Ben Bernanke the other day was quoted as announcing that "consumer spending and business investment have increased" while the "housing market has strengthened"-sure indications that the economy may indeed be on the road to recovery. A strengthening of the housing market would normally be music to an escrow official's ears, as escrow is clearly a derived demand from real estate activity, but Garces is not betting on an escrow activity surge, and therefore an increase in his business transactions. He says banks are holding on to their foreclosed properties right now, waiting for housing prices to go up. This means the inventory of houses remains low, and there's nothing much out there for buyers to choose from. Some real estate speculators may be salivating at the low interest rates they can get for borrowing funds, but again, the banks and other financial institutions are not letting go of their properties and are loath to release funds. "Real estate is tough right now because of the stricter lending requirements," Garces said, because of the traumatic 'bubble burst' of the past. "We are basically a clearing house," he says, "and right now not too many financial instruments cross my desk and are being cleared." Fed chairman Bernanke shares Garces' caution. At his press conference the other day, Bernanke said that while the economy has improved, prudence would dictate that the Fed will continue its "aggressive stimulus policies [purchasing $85 billion a month in bonds] until it's convinced the [apparent] economic gains can be sustained." The Fed regards an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent as a "threshold"-a distinct signal, but not a "trigger"--for a possible interest rate increase. It was also indicated that the unemployment rate has dropped to 7.7 percent, definitely an encouraging 4-year low. Then the Cyprus crisis erupted, sending shivers all around. Security Land Escrow Company, according to Garces, was established in 1944 here in Downey by the original owner, Paul Wissack. "It's probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in Southern California," says Garces. The only other claimant to the title would be Wilshire Escrow in Los Angeles, he adds. Garces' mom, Sara, started working for Wissack at age 17. She was the third owner of the company, which she bought in l976. She has since passed away. Born and raised in Downey, Garces, an only son, went to St. Marianne's School in Pico Rivera, and graduated from St. John Bosco High School. He attended UCLA for two years before likewise taking business classes at Cal State Long Beach. He started as a messenger for the escrow company, by then owned by his mom, at age 16. When he reached 21, Garces says he was running a desk. His parents were divorced when he was four. A sister, Teresa, lives in Colorado. His 24-year-old son, Geoffrey, is a manager for ARC Light Theatres, while 22-year-old Daniel works for American Bank downtown. Nicole, 21, works for her dad at Security Land Escrow and is attending Hope International University. Security Land Escrow used to be on Paramount Blvd. and 2nd Street. It moved to its present location at the corner of Paramount and 5th in 1982. A member of the Rotary since 1989 and a member of the board for two years, Garces is currently vice-president and is slated to lead the club as president within the next couple of years. In the meantime, he remains very active, lending a hand in practically every activity/project, be it as a finemaster, or greeter, or emceeing the 10K Night, or coordinating the blood drive, etc. He is also active in the Downey Board of Realtors which meets monthly, and otherwise maintains memberships and interest in the Downey Chamber of Commerce, California Escrow Association, American Escrow Association, the Escrow Institute, and the Rio Hondo Men's Club. "I love my job," Garces says. "Every situation is different." As long as the firm has been around, Garces enjoys "a lot of referrals," not really needing to advertise aggressively for new business, as the "grandchildren of our original clients have now become our present clientele. They know they'll get the same good service from us." He says the firm's opening escrow rate averages 45 a month, while it closes 25 to 30 escrows. "This is a very good average in the industry," he says. Its list of services includes: residential, business opportunity, ABC license transfers, 1031 Exchange, subdivisions, probates, commercial, bulk sales, income properties, refinance, mobile homes, and trust transfers. The firm provides no messenger fees, no "in house" notary fees, and same day escrow instructions. The company is gearing up to mark a milestone in its history next year: its 70th anniversary.

********** Published: March 21, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 49