US House Representative Maxine Waters and Rep. Albio Sires introduced a bill called the “Home Equity Protection Act of 2010” on Wednesday. The bill seeks to amend the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act “RESPA” by prohibiting the collection of private transfer fees, also known as capital recovery fees or resale fees.

Often a housing or condominium developer establishes a legal covenant which requires the purchaser of a home in a large subdivision or condominium to pay a private transfer fee back to the developer or are allocated to the homeowners or condominium associations maintenance funds when they sell their home. The fees sometimes are often around one (1) percent of the sales price and the private transfer fee can often last as long as 99 years.

The private transfer fees have been controversial because some home buyers have claimed they were unaware of the restriction and in some cases the covenant doesn’t require the homeowners signature at all. The proponents of making the private transfer fees illegal believe the fee strips the homeowners of their equity when they sell their property. Those in favor of keeping the private transfer fees intact believe it helps keep condominium and homeowners associations afloat by giving them needed capital to operate.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which will oversee the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) now has a decision maker to help set up the CFPB. President Obama announced today the appointment of Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren to implement policies and procedures to protect consumers from financial products. Ms. Warren who is widely known as the person who developed the idea for the CFPB will also be responsible for helping select a director to head up the CFPB.

Warren is considered a strong consumer advocate and her ideology has some in the financial services industry concerned. The concern reached a fevered pitch over the last two months with Republicans and the financial services industry pledged to hold up her confirmation in the Senate. Obama’s move of not appointed her to the CFBP but rather giving Warren supervisory authority of the CFPB without going through a senate confirmation process stunned her critics.

It remains to be seen how Warren will tackle the enforcement of RESPA in the near future but I suspect that we will see a huge increase in both funding and manpower in the RESPA enforcement arena.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued an interpretive rule on June 26, 2010 in the Federal Register on the issue of how home warranty companies can pay real estate agents and real estate brokers under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) without violating Section 8(a) and 8(b).

The interpretive rule was released in response to a Feb. 21, 2008 unofficial staff interpretation letter that Paul Ceja of HUD’s Office of General Counsel issued that caused a great deal of confusion in the real estate industry. Since the letter was issued The National Association of Realtors (NAR), Real Estate Settlement Providers Council (RESPRO), National Home Service Contract Association (NHSC), and others pressed HUD to clarify the rule on the subject of home warranty compensation.

HUD’s new clarification breaks down the issue into three distinct categories:

1. Unlawful Compensation for Referrals: RESPA does not prohibit a real estate broker or real estate agent from referring business to a home warranty company. But RESPA does prohibit a real estate broker or agent from receiving a fee for merely referring or “marketing” a buyer or seller to purchase an insurance policy from the home warranty company. A referral by itself is not a compensable service for which compensation can be given and would be a violation of Section 8(a) illegal kickback and Section 8(b) unearned fees under RESPA.

2. Bona Fide Compensation for Service Provided: HUD’s RESPA guidance rule says that Section 8(c) allows payment of bona fide compensation for services actually performed. HUD said that depending on the facts of a particular case (based on a case-by-case determination), a home warranty company may compensate a real estate broker or agent for services when those services are actual, necessary, and distinct from the primary services provided by the real estate broker or agent and those additional services must not be nominal or duplicative. An example would be a real estate agent filling out all the information required to issue a home warranty policy and submitting the policy to the home warranty company.

3. Reasonableness of Compensation: Lastly, HUD said they want to assess whether the value of the payment by the home warranty company is reasonably related to the value of the services actually performed by the real estate agent or broker and not just compensation for the mere referral of business. The compensation from the Home Warranty Company to the real estate agent must be based on the fair market value of the services performed in the area where real estate agent operates. For example if the fair market value is $200 dollars in New York but in Missoula the fair market value is $60 to fill out the home warranty application, fill in the registration codes for various appliances, and do some other functions then the real estate agent in Missoula should recieve $60 dollars for that work not $200 if that is the going rate in New York. HUD appears to have taken the position that charging $200 in Des Moine when the fair market value is $60 is unreasonable compensation.

The RESPA interpretive rule raises a large legal question on the issue of whether this rule expands the definition of who a settlement service provider is. Lenders do not typically require a home warranty policy to be purchased by a buyer (or seller) as a condition in securing a federally related residential loan. The result has been that in many jurisdictions across the United States the home warranty policy is paid outside of closing and not listed on the HUD-1.

The question we need clarification on is whether RESPA believes that all home warranty policies issued on the purchase of a home where a federally related mortgage is involved be listed on the HUD-1. If that is not the case does this interpretive rule extend to companies that traditionally were not considered settlement service providers (pest inspection companies, home repair companies, privacy protection companies, etc.) under the original definition?
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The U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made a number of surprising management changes last month including the shuffling of Ivy Jackson, the Director of the Office of RESPA and Interstate Land Sales to the Office of Insured Health Care Facilities. Ivy Jackson’s departure took the real estate industry by surprise and created uncertainty for state regulators who were relying on her to educate them the new RESPA regulations this year.

The Sterbcow Law Group would like to thank Ivy Jackson for her contributions over the years at RESPA. She will always be remembered as a federal regulator who was fair to the real estate industry and to consumer interests while at RESPA. Ms. Jackson’s work ethic, honesty, and experience will be missed.

HUD promoted Teresa Baker Payne to the position of Assistant Deputy Assistant Secretary and Barton Shapiro was named Acting Director of RESPA and Interstate Land Sales. Ms. Payne and Mr. Shapiro both bring experience to their new positions. Ms.Payne and Mr. Shapiro both are excellent choices for their respective roles at HUD.
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On July 30, 2009, some of the provisions of the Mortgage Disclosure Improvement Act of 2008 (MDIA) go into effect and lenders, mortgage brokers, title agents, real estate agents, and real estate brokerages need be alert as to these new federal governmental regulations. Here are the details for the MDIA:

1. The 3/7/3 Rule requires a seven business day waiting period once the initial disclosure is provided before closing a home loan (business days are everyday except Sundays and Holidays). This means that before a borrower can close on a transaction the borrower must receive the initial Good Faith Estimate (GFE) and initial TIL statement disclosing the final Annual Percentage Rate (APR) seven days prior to closing.

2. If the final annual percentage rate APR is off by more than .125% from the initial GFE disclosure then the lender must re-disclose and wait yet another three business days before closing on the transaction.

3. The consumer has the right to cancel and not proceed with the transaction if they so choose.

4. Lenders are forbidden from collecting money for appraisals, loan applications, etc. prior to the delivery of the Truth In Lending (TIL). Lenders can only collect from the borrower the credit report fee at the time of prior to delivery of the final TIL. No other fees are permitted to be collected at the time of application. If the TIL is sent by mail, additional charges can occur after the 3rd business day after the borrower receives the TIL in the mail.

5. The following language must be clearly written on the initial and final TIL: “You are not required to complete this agreement merely because you have received these disclosures or signed a loan application.”

If you are a real estate agent or title agent you need to manage the process very carefully by:

A. Making sure that you check the initial Good Faith Estimate and Truth In Lending form for your buyers and look for discrepancies in charges. The new rules were put in place to protect consumers from being low balled one figure by a loan officer only to find out at the closing table that the fees charged were much higher. The new MDIA rules will absolutely delay closings if these steps are not followed carefully.

B. Buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals should not schedule a closing until the borrower has completed the seven day waiting period as required in the initial TIL.
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U.S. Rep. Barney Frank officially introduced legislation to create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The legislation, which is backed by the Obama Administration, would consolidate the consumer protection powers of the fifty various federal financial regulatory agencies by creating a single regulatory agency. The creation of this single regulatory agency is the single most important aspect of the proposed 229 page Consumer Financial Protection Agency proposal.

The current financial governing system encourages abuses in the industry to take place because of the loopholes created by an inefficient and ineffective regulatory structure. The loopholes are exploited even further by the mass infighting that many of the governmental regulatory bureaucracies regularly display. The consolidation of these various federal agencies into one rule-making and investigative federal division should provide more uniform rules for those in the real estate industry and for consumers of real estate products.

The CFPA will have sole authority to draft and interpret regulations under the existing consumer financial services and fair lending statutes. The recent Good Faith Estimate/HUD-1 Settlement Statement forms developed by HUD and the Truth In Lending Act form is a prime example of decisions being made by one federal agency without input from a completely different agency. The biggest benefit consolidation presents to the industry and to the consumer is that this will increase the number of enforcement investigators. The consolidation of regulatory investigators is crucial because quite often investigators in one agency stop investigating abuses that relate to other agencies due to a myriad of reasons.
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