A former public-private partnership is finding itself attracting some unexpected customers for its electronic land registry tool.

Teranet, which went private following the Ontario government’s decision to sell off its half-interest in the firm last year, is best known for creating the paperless registry system, called Teraview. The tool was initially conceived as a way to assist the property industry, but a growing number of customers are tapping into its 3.5 million documents to assess credit-worthiness.

Rona/Cashway, for example, has been using Teraview for close to four years, conducting title searches to see if it can extend credit to a renovation customer depending on the status of their home. Historically, companies like Rona employed freelance title searchers to get this information in a process that took several days.

Julie Enright, one of Rona/Cashway’s credit administrators, said Teraview has allowed her to find the same information in a matter of minutes.

“”A collection agency that we used had heard of it and asked if I’d be interested in it,”” she said. “”I don’t think we knew of any other way until he gave us that information.””

In the 1980s, the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations began developing its Province of Ontario Land Registration System, or POLARIS. A private firm, Teramira came in around 1991, to assist in the conversion, at which point Teranet was launched.

Mike Little, Teranet’s director of institutional sales, said banks and credit unions have used Teraview for credit-checking purposes, but Rona was an early adopter in the retail segment.

“”It hasn’t been one that we traditionally pursued,”” he said. “”They weren’t what we would have considered our typical customer.””

Enright said she provides search information from her office in Barrie and e-mails the results to Rona’s Toronto office.

“”One thing we can’t search by is legal description — we can only search by physical address and name,”” she said. “”If we get a credit application where the customer himself might not own the property where he’s building and he’s only given us the legal description, we have to phone him back and ask him who owns the property.””

Little said there are ways around those hurdles.

“”You can obtain information about the lawyer who’s on title and often the lawyer can direct you to the owner you’re looking for,”” he said. “”There’s lots of tricks you can do because they’re getting more investigative in the way they use Teraview.””

Rona/Cashway still employs some freelance title searchers, Enright said, to cover the areas not entered into Teraview, but Little said the conversion to electronic records was happening at a rapid pace.

“”There’s four and a half million properties in the province, and we’ve automated about three and a half,”” he said. “”In terms of real estate transaction activity, it represents the busiest parts of Ontario. A lot of the stuff that we haven’t done is properties up in the north that don’t really have a lot of transactions around them.””

Other verticals trying out Teraview include wholesalers, suppliers to builders and developers and large equipment sales organizations, Little said.

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