Choice Title celebrates 35 years in the River Parishes

Published 6:20 am Wednesday, May 10, 2023

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LAPLACE — The pineapple has for centuries been a universal symbol for southern hospitality and friendship. Pineapples are abundant in each of Choice Title’s office locations, signifying the company’s commitment to treat every client like family.

“We are small town people, and we like doing business with small town people. Everybody is a friend or family,” owner Sheila Bonnette said. “It’s like inviting someone into your living room. We still have people stop in just to chat and drink coffee.”

This year, Choice Title celebrates 35 years of serving the River Parishes. Bonnette started her career working on a contract basis, handling title divisions for area attorneys. After becoming ill and being unable to work for a while, Bonnette decided to become a notary. Some former clients found her and asked if she could do some closing work for them. She was initially hesitant, but she agreed, and she still finds herself in the closing business more than three decades later.

“It just sort of exploded and had a life of its own,” she said.

With the vast majority of title companies owned by attorneys, Choice Title stood out by being owned by a notary — more specifically, a young woman notary in a field that was dominated by men. Today, Choice Title is operated by Bonnette and her daughter, Jennifer Beale, who have a combined 55 years of experience in the real estate industry. The staff is comprised entirely of women across three office locations, and Bonnette jokes that it’s like having a bunch of daughters.

Certified by the Small Business Administration as a woman-owned business, Choice Title is able to provide services that not all title companies can offer, including government acquisitions for state and national agencies.

Services include real estate closings, wills, powers of attorney, affidavit and vehicle transfers, small successions and property research. The approachable and experienced staff can assist with curing title issues for a smooth closing process.

Choice Title also operates a full-service insurance agency offering home, flood, auto and mobile home coverage.

Choice Title gives back to the communities it serves by raising funds for cancer services and volunteering at VFW functions.

The first Choice Title location opened on the West Bank of St. Charles Parish in Luling in September 1988. Subsequent office locations served the region from Boutte, Destrehan and LaPlace. Today, the LaPlace office continues to serve the community from 1708 Chantilly Drive Ste. E.

While there are two other office locations in Prairieville and Baton Rouge, Choice Title serves all 64 Louisiana parishes. Mobile notaries travel across the state when clients are unable to meet in person, and some notary services are handled online via video conferencing. Choice Title employs three notaries, 14 staff members and two attorneys to meet the public’s needs at every step of the real estate closing process.

“We try to have a laidback closing atmosphere and allow people to ask questions so they understand the entire process,” Beale said.

Choice Title also has a virtual assistant, Penelope, who responds to clients’ questions online.

The real estate market is constantly in flux. According to Bonnette and Beale, production is currently down 50% in area markets. In St. John Parish, year-to-date sales total 120, compared to 262 across the three River Parishes and 443 in Ascension Parish. The median price of a home in St. John Parish currently stands at $190,000 to $200,000.

“When inventory was low, prices were inflated. Now that inventory is back up, some of the prices are still very inflated,” Beale said.

Escalating flood insurance rates are another factor stifling the real estate market in Southeast Louisiana, Bonnette said.

While navigating these difficult times, Choice Title is continuing to keep an eye on the future of real estate. Industry changes in the works include comprehensive online notary services, AI integration, and heightened security of client data to combat fraud. With fraudulent schemes becoming more intricate, the industry is responding with increased security on banking and wiring funds and real time payments.