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A new modem of operation for title searches

It used to be that each time employees of Gulf Coast Title Co. Inc. needed to search land records, they had to trek to the courthouse. Although the Hernando County Courthouse is just a block from the title company's Brooksville office, employees often had to wait while other people finished records searches on the public computers. And the title company could work on the searches only during courthouse hours, meaning it could take longer to fill requests from customers.

But as of three weeks ago, the title company _ and anyone else willing to pay hookup and access fees _ can search records in the Clerk of Courts Office via telephone links to computers.

"It's a matter of providing service for our customer base," said Roger Eppley, president of the title company. "When it comes right down to it, you can invest several thousand dollars to get it hooked up, but it's all about providing a better service for our customers. And that's what it's all about because we're a service-oriented business."

In addition to the title company, four other businesses have signed up for computer access to the clerk's records, including a lawyer and insurance companies.

Circuit Court Clerk Karen Nicolai sent 30 letters to businesses and individuals she thought might be interested in the service. Fifty percent responded, said Darla Asbel, the office data processing director.

The initial expense is from $400 to $1,300 depending on the computer system used. The access charge is $50 monthly, with an additional $6-per-hour charge for on-line time.

Eppley said the convenience of the service lured him to sign up. It means that records searches for clients can be done more quickly. Among other things, title companies search for liens on properties.

The computer service lets Eppley and his employees access clerk's office records whenever the computer system is running. It usually is down only for maintenance or during threatening weather.

"If the system is up, they have 24-hour access, seven days a week," Asbel said.

"We have had several instances where we've done title searches at 6 a.m. (when) I've been in here some days," Eppley said. "And we have used it after hours, after 5 p.m."

Asbel said the program didn't cost much for the county to begin, and expenses have been covered through fees. Nicolai decided to offer the service after hearing that other counties offered computer access to records and talking to Eppley and others about the level of interest.