The Escrow and Title industry is one of the least ethnically diverse professions in the US, with a huge majority of practitioners being White. There are very few Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) professionals in the industry, much less leading their own organizations.
Fred Stewart, Founder and President of Vanport Escrow & Title Company, Inc., is one of the leading Black figures in growing the visibility of ethnic minority professionals in the industry, as he believes that escrow and title is one of the last frontiers when it comes to economic equity.
“There already are Black-owned banks,” Stewart says. “They're not very big, but they're there. We've also got Black real estate companies and development companies. Representation has been increasing in most financial industries. Unfortunately, there is a huge shortage of Black people involved in the industry. And, right now, when it comes to Black-owned escrow and title companies, mine is the only one in Oregon State.”
Stewart founded Vanport in 2019, offering escrow and title services with a specialized focus on the Portland Metro market. However, before arriving at where he was now, Stewart spent many years in the real estate and financial industries, gaining the vital experience and expertise needed to navigate the complicated world of escrow and title.
Born to a military family, Stewart’s father served in the Army during the Vietnam War. The family moved from Wisconsin to Portland, Oregon in 1976, where Stewart would grow up and spend most of his adult life.
Right after finishing high school, Stewart joined the military as a Marine, spending six years in the service. After his service in the Marine Corps, Stewart got into real estate, founding Stewart Group Realty Inc. in 1993. This kickstarted his decades-long commitment to helping locals navigate the complexities of Portland’s housing market. Stewart stood out when he entered real estate, as he was both young and Black, with the average real estate professional at the time being a White person in their mid 40s to early 50s.
According to Stewart, he dedicated most of his business to selling real estate in the north and northeast of Portland, helping it transition from a troubled, high-crime area to one of the prime districts for commerce and tourism in the city. Today, the area hosts headquarters of several major athletic shoe and apparel brands, who chose the area due to its conduciveness to business and stability.
In the early 2000s, Stewart joined an Australia-headquartered global banking giant, as a business development manager under its US mortgage division. There, he worked with banks, mortgage companies, and credit unions, across 10 states, primarily on the West Coast. He says this stint at the major bank gave him significant experience in the finance and real estate industry, which would be of great help later in his career.
Following the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, Stewart rejoined the real estate industry for roughly a decade, before founding Vanport Escrow & Title Company in 2019, right before another crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic did cause some problems for the fledgling business, it also presented opportunities that Stewart was keen on grabbing.
“My former boss in banking, one of the highest-paid executives in Australia, says that the best time to start a new business is during an economic down cycle,” Stewart says. “He says that the down cycle is for ambitious people, and, looking back at my life, he was absolutely right. I think starting Vanport came at the perfect time, not just for the business, but for the industry and society as a whole.”
Today, Vanport continues to be one of the Portland Metro Area’s most trusted escrow and title companies, helping home buyers, sellers, mortgage brokers, and real estate brokers achieve streamlined and smoother transactions. It is also a champion of increasing diversity in the industry, as it trains more Black individuals, giving them a foothold in a lucrative industry that was previously closed off to them.
Name: Fred Stewart
Email: [email protected]