LEXINGTON — Cameron “Cam” Smith works at the oldest family business in Dawson County and is now licensed as an abstractor giving him another link to his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather.
H.O. Smith Company was established in 1885 by Smith’s great-great-grandfather Hanford Otis Smith, which is where the business gets its name. He started the abstract company after moving west to work on the original government survey in Nebraska. He also served as Dawson County’s first county surveyor prior to opening the abstract business.
In 1920, H.O. Smith sold the business to his three sons: Hanford D., W. Rollin and Harry F. Smith.
Hanford D. Smith’s son, George Hanford Smith, started working in the business after he returned from World War II and eventually bought out the three brothers in the early 1960s, making him the third generation owner of the firm
His son, Cam’s Smith’s father, Steve Smith, began working at the firm in 1983, and became officially registered as an abstractor after taking and passing the state administered test in May 1983.
In October 1986, G. Hanford Smith retired and Steve Smith bought the business, becoming the fourth generation owner.
In 2011, Cam Smith started working at H.O. Smith. He became licensed as a title insurance agent two to three years later. He recently passed the state abstractor examination and is now licensed as an abstractor too. He is the fifth generation of the family who does this work.
As an abstractor, Smith said he is enabled to sign title reports and can fully perform all aspects of the business.
Smith said abstracting is a “dated thing,” but it involves creating a record of a property that is a timeline from the current owner back to the patent when the United States gave away the land. In some cases, it is useful to determine water or mineral rights.
He said it offers a detailed snapshot of the history of a property.
Smith said most realtors, banks and home buyers have their needs satisfied through a title report, used to obtain title insurance, which also comes from a search of public records at the courthouse.
Title insurance protects property buyers and mortgage lenders against defects or problems with a title when there is a transfer of property ownership.
Smith said he spends a lot of time at the courthouse scouring records kept by the register of deeds, treasurer and the county and district courts. He is looking to see if there are unpaid taxes, pending legal action or liens associated with a property.
A commitment is issued telling what is needful to clear up those matters so there can be a clean title when the property is transferred from a seller to a buyer.
Anyone who has a mortgage on a home has a lien, said Smith. Paying off the seller’s bank is the most common lien. Lake properties may have a SID assessment that is paid off at closing instead of being passed to the new property owner.
Smith said the test to become licensed in abstracting is eight hours long. He studied on his own to prepare for it and felt comfortable that he was ready because of what he has learned from working alongside his father.
Smith said he likes working with his father.
“I enjoy it. We get along really well. He’s a great mentor, very knowledgeable in what he does. He’s a great person to work behind,” said Smith.
He said he observes how people in the community come to his father for real estate advice.
Smith is following in his father’s footsteps beyond earning a livelihood in the title insurance/abstracting field.
Smith is a member of the Lexington Planning Commission, which is a possition his father once occupied prior to being elected to serve on the Lexington City Council.
“I enjoy being involved in the community. It goes a little bit with what I do,” Smith said of his understanding of the importance of plats and subdivisions.
“Our city offices, city manager and staff do a good job of projecting out 20 years down the line,” said Smith, giving housing as an example.
Smith is a 2006 graduate of Lexington High School and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010 with a degree in business administration.
He said it wasn’t always his intent to work in the family business. He started out at UNL with the intent to be an athletic trainer, but switched his major to business and liked it much better.
After graduating from UNL he worked for two years as an assistant manager at a Target in Lincoln.
“I realized during that time I wanted to move back to Lexington,” said Smith. He said he was drawn back because it is home, where his family resides, and a place where many people work together to keep the community progressing. He said he is impressed with the level of donations made through the Lexington Community Foundation and through Lexington Regional Health Center’s annual fundraiser.
“In a small community like ours, the amount of people willing to get behind projects is impressive,” Smith said. “I haven’t lived in a ton of different communities, but I’ve never seen anything like that.”