Abstracting/Searching

Reimagining Land Records and GIS


An event, “Reimagine Land Records – Join the Conversation” orchestrated by the Legislative Committee of the Minnesota State Bar Association, Real Property Section, took place on October 20th. In attendance were an assortment of County Recorders and other County Officials, Land Surveyors, Abstractors, Attorneys, GIS Specialists, Teachers, Land Records Information Systems (LIS) Software Companies and Title Companies.

The session started out with a slide as to what constitutes land records and it was broken down three general categories and who maintains the records and uses them.

Objects (Improvements – roads, physical easements, buildings, etc.
Land Rights (Ownership, estates, government rights, liens, easements, restrictions, etc.)
People (Title, liens that tie to people, etc.)

Discussion revolved around Layers of Information needed by land title specialists and how they can be mixed and used by all most effectively. We all have a stake in this – Homeland Security; FEMA; DOT; Federal, State and local authorities; and hundreds of other entities. My takeaway of the future from the event is as follows:

CLOSINGS OF THE FUTURE

In the not too distant future, we will feel light-years ahead of today. For those of us who remember typing abstracts on electric typewriters, and getting fax machines in the office, it is truly amazing. Even those who daily toil creating and printing documents, watching people sign, making copies of the signed documents, preparing them for delivery back to the lender and to the respective counties, cutting checks, etc. will see an amazing change.

THERE WILL BE NO PAPER. Documents and closings will be “Born Digital.” They will be created in a secure electronic commerce cyber-system, and emailed to the client through a secure web portal. The closer, a licensed, e-sign notary (perhaps hundreds of miles away from the clients,) will see the clients using a web-cam, review their drivers licenses against the online faces, and e-sign their notary as the clients click through, and e-sign the mortgage, deeds, and other documents.

NO PERSONAL HANDSHAKES when meeting, no paper, no file folders, no copies, no notary stamps or checks, just cyberspace. If owners need information, it will all reside in the cloud, or on their computer or flash drive.

THE FUTURE OF LAND RECORDS AND GIS

The digitally signed documents will then be electronically submitted back to the lender, with digital copies for the title company, and of course an e-signed digital copy will go directly to the appropriate county (with e-fees) where the documents will move though departments to verify, and reside digitally.

Someday, when the owner takes a future home equity line or sells the property, a title searcher will simply go to a computer to look up the digital documents in cyberspace. But there will be only one place to look up all needed information for each piece of real estate.

A Geographic Information System, accessed by a PIN number (a smart number that ties to Sec- Twp-Rng-1/4 -1/4 and parcel) will open up a Pandora’s Box of information. We will be able to access anything you can imagine about real estate – the physical properties of buildings; terrain; topography; zoning; ownership rights, title and interests; roads; utilities; flood information; zoning; Homeland security; layer after layer.

Records from the – Treasurer, Auditor and Assessor that include current and delinquent taxes (Green Acres, etc.); type of property (single family 3BR, 3BA, 2 story, 2300 sq ft….home); Register of Deeds and Registrar office information (with the ownership, restrictions, easements, mortgages, etc.); District Court files (showing judgments, divorces and court filings against the owners); Death and Probate Court documents; Health and Human Services information (maps of wells and lien information); Federal District Court filings; Dept. of Transportation (updates on roads and widening of streets); Department of Natural Resources; Wind farms; Detailed utility information; FEMA flood maps; City zoning data; Trash bills; Photos of the property with GIS overlays and on and on.

And the records will solve problems besides title searches for many – FEMA, 911, DOT, Homeland Security, Minnegasco, Xcel, public utilities, – when a hurricane or tornado blows through, FEMA can overlay the GIS of the hurricane and know the owners names and rough amount of damage to the property. 911 will have better access to helping people,, because they will estimate number of people impacted, where the nearest hospitals are, and fastest routes to get people there. The DOT will estimate road damage will know where to concentrate their efforts. Gas and electric companies will know where the gas and power are out, and how to proceed as quickly and effectively as possible to make needed repairs.

It’s hard to believe, but the pieces are already there, it’s just (just???) that all the pieces need to be joined into one access point. The future of GIS is coming and it will be interesting.

License Renewals for MN are Due by June 30th

Real estate agents, abstracters, closing agents and brokers are reminded that they must renew their licenses on or before June 30th. So please check your license for renewals.

Information from the Commerce Department on MN state licensing can be found here.

Pulseportal information can be found here.

Title Agent Charged with Negligence and Compensatory Damages

A Connecticut title agent was held liable for $77,500 that was paid by a Title Underwriter to clear title to property it insured, as well as more than $20,000 in compensatory damages for fees and expenses incurred in negotiating the settlement. The case showcased liability by the agent for a negligent title search, and breach of duty to the underwriter.

Read the case here.

MN Dept Commerce New E-license Website

The Minnesota Department of Commerce  has a new e-license Website regarding Closing Agent Licenses, look here for info:  https://mn.gov/elicense/a-z/?id=1083231369#/list/appId//filterType//filterValue//page/1/sort//order/

For the Abstracter Licensing the new  e-license link is: https://mn.gov/elicense/a-z/#/list/appId/0/filterType/Subject/filterValue/Abstracters/page/1/sort//order/

Minnesota Considers New Ag Tax Credit for Farmers

Author Comment:  In spite of Green Acre taxes, Minnesota Farmers face heavy real estate taxes on farmland, causing them to vote against independent school district referendums. So look for a new tax search to follow along with deferred Green Acre and Open Space  Taxes.   Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is working to help resolve this. 

Daily Globe | January 20, 2017

Smith called the current situation a perfect storm. Farmers are suffering from low commodity prices, high land values and, for many, crushing health care costs. The prospect of their property taxes increasing by hundreds or thousands of dollars sent many to the polls in November to vote down building bond referendums like the one for ISD 518.

“The farm economy has been struggling for the past few years. Rising property tax bills are not what’s needed across the state,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner David Frederickson. Noting that property taxes have increased by 114 percent for Minnesota farmers in the past decade, Frederickson said a majority of levy referendums in rural Minnesota failed in 2016, while the majority of levy referendums posed to city dwellers passed.

Read More on this

California Man Gets Two Years in Title Theft Scheme

   

press release

11/20/2016

Daniel Deaibes was sentenced recently to 24 months for his role in a scheme to steal title to Southern California homes and then “sell” the properties to unsuspecting buyers – before the buyers realized who the true owners were.

From September 2012 through their arrest in November 2014, Deaibes and his co-conspirators, including co-defendants Mazen Alzoubi and Mohamed Daoud, fraudulently sold or attempted to sell at least 15 homes worth more than $3.6 million that actually never belonged to them. On at least 10 occasions, they were successful—earning illicit proceeds of nearly $2.2 million.

Deaibes pleaded guilty in March 2015 to participating in the fraud and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant. As part of this plea, Deaibes admitted that he used aliases to deceive escrow and title officers into believing that he was “John Moran,” and that he was the true owner of property that was being marketed for sale. In fact, “John Moran” did not exist, and Deaibes and his co-conspirators planned to fraudulently sell the properties, divert the proceeds to their own bank accounts, and then quickly disburse the money overseas. On at least three occasions, Deaibes, posing as “Moran” and presenting a fake driver’s license, appeared before notaries to sign title documents and property deeds.

To make it appear that they owned these properties, the co-conspirators generated forged deeds that made it appear the true property owner had sold his or her home to a sham real estate “investment” business the co-conspirators controlled. They forged the true owners’ signatures on the deeds, and used forged notary stamps to make them appear legitimate. In reality, though, the true owners were entirely unaware of the pretend sales. Once the fraudulent documents were recorded in the chain of title, Alzoubi (using aliases and stolen identities) listed the properties for sale, posing to buyers, escrow companies, and title officers as the new owner. In this way, the co-conspirators collected all the proceeds of the sale, and the true owners were left with nothing.

Alzoubi, the ringleader of the fraudulent scheme, assumed multiple fake identities to keep the scheme going. He also posed as real people, pretending on one occasion that he was an attorney for one of the true owners. (Unbeknownst to Alzoubi at the time, he was talking to an undercover federal agent.) As a result of his greater role in the scheme, Alzoubi was charged with, and in January 2016 pleaded guilty to, aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison in addition to his sentence for the fraud and money laundering. His sentencing is scheduled for November 7, 2016, at 9:00 am, before Judge Bashant.

Mohamed Daoud also pleaded guilty, in July 2015, admitting that he helped Alzoubi launder the proceeds of the scheme. They used Daoud’s company, “Norway LLC,” to pretend to acquire title to some of the properties. Daoud received approximately $270,000 in proceeds. In December 2015, before he was sentenced, Daoud fled the country and is now a fugitive.

Most of the properties the co-conspirators “sold” were post-foreclosure properties owned by banks or institutions such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are governmentsponsored enterprises with a mission to provide liquidity, stability, and affordability to the United States housing and mortgage markets. As part of this mission, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchase residential mortgages in the secondary market, enabling lenders to replenish their funds to finance additional single family loans. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can become the property owners if they own the mortgage loan at the time a home is foreclosed.

“Schemes like this one undermine the public’s confidence in their most personal and important investment, their homes,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “I am committed to prosecuting people who continue to prey on the victims of the devastating mortgage meltdown, and sending those criminals to prison.”

“This scheme was designed to literally rip home ownership right out of the hands of innocent victims, and for those victims the costs were far greater than a title to a house,” said Leslie P. DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge, Western Region. “This scheme is callous and the perpetrators deserve the punishment set out for them. FHFA-OIG remains committed to our relentless pursuit of individuals who try to profit from the aftermath of the housing crisis.” “

Fraud targeting a family’s home, the heart of a family’s financial investment, has a ripple effect through our nation’s economy,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum. “The FBI is committed to investigate and uncover schemes by those who defraud homeowners.”

In addition to his jail sentence, Deaibes was ordered to pay $1,819,591 in restitution to the victims of the fraud.

 

CFPB Updates Use of Service Providers

On October 31st, the CFPB issued updates to lenders  on use of Service Providers. This appears to allow a bit more flexibility for the lender to handle day to day affairs with its Servie Providers and is good news for title companies, abstracting and closing companies.  The update states:

“The Bureau is reissuing its guidance on service providers, formerly titled CFPB Bulletin 2012-03, Service Providers to clarify that the depth and formality of the risk management program for service providers may vary depending upon the service being performed—its size, scope, complexity, importance and potential for consumer harm—and the performance of the service provider in carrying out its activities in compliance with Federal consumer financial laws and regulations. This amendment is needed to clarify that supervised entities have flexibility and to allow appropriate risk management.”

Lenders continue to be advised to:

take steps to review Service Providers and should include, but are not limited to:

  • Conducting thorough due diligence to verify that the service provider understands and is capable of complying with Federal consumer financial law;
  • Requesting and reviewing the service provider’s policies, procedures, internal controls, and training materials to ensure that the service provider conducts appropriate training and oversight of employees or agents that have consumer contact or compliance responsibilities;
  • Including in the contract with the service provider clear expectations about compliance, as well as appropriate and enforceable consequences for violating any compliance-related responsibilities, including engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices;
  • Establishing internal controls and on-going monitoring to determine whether the service provider is complying with Federal consumer financial law; and
  • Taking prompt action to address fully any problems identified through the monitoring process, including terminating the relationship where appropriate.

For more information pertaining to the responsibilities of a supervised bank or nonbank that has business arrangements with service providers, please review the CFPB’s Supervision and Examination Manual: Compliance Management Review and Unfair, Deceptive, and Abusive Acts or Practices.[3]

 

 

 

ALTA Members Comment on FinCEN Money Laundering Prevention Effort

The American Land Title Association (ALTA), the national trade association of the land title insurance industry, released the following statement in response to the United States Department of Treasury Financial Crime Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN) new Geographic Targeting Orders (GTO) announced today:

“As an independent party at the closing table for millions of real estate transactions each year, ALTA members take their responsibility seriously,” said Michelle Korsmo, ALTA’s chief executive officer. “Once again, we are ensuring our members have the tools and information they need to properly comply with FinCEN’s reporting requirements. We appreciate FinCEN’s efforts to prevent money laundering schemes and the illegal purchase of real estate.”

Top 5 Things to Know about the GTOs:

  1. New GTOs include all title insurance underwriters
  2. Effective Date: 180 Days Beginning on August 28, 2016
  3. Counties Covered and All-Cash Purchase Price Thresholds include:
    1. Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas – $500,000+
    2. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, Florida – $1,000,000+
    3. New York City Boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island – $1,500,000+
    4. New York City Borough of Manhattan – $3,000,000+
    5. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, California – $2,000,000+
  4. ALTA will continue to work with FinCEN and ALTA members to implement the expanded orders
  5. More information and ALTA’s FAQs on the FinCEN GTOs will be updated soon here.

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About ALTA

The American Land Title Association, founded in 1907, is the national trade association representing 6,000 title insurance companies, title and settlement agents, independent abstracters, title searchers, and real estate attorneys. With offices throughout the United States, ALTA members conduct title searches, examinations, closings, and issue title insurance that protects real property owners and mortgage lenders against losses from defects in titles.

Title Insurance Costs Exceed Estimates by Thirty Percent

RedVision/Accenture have put out a study on the changing costs for Title Insurers due to what it aptly calls “Multiple Disruptive Forces” including such things as regulatory changes, digital operations, industry convergence, and a subdued economic outlook. The benchmark study focuses on the true costs of title insurance origination and finds that the true cost is about 30% higher than their study participants estimated.

From my perspective, it’s a thoughtful analysis. I think the ultimate thought would be to have all the information simply digitally dumped into an automated system that would spit out a title commitment. But, as we all know, as the chain of title is put together, there are many stops involved and many places to collect data, all with different systems:Treasurers, Auditors, Assessors, County Recorders, Cities, plats/surveys, etc.etc. And while I know there are inefficiencies in manually obtaining data, and I recognize that much of the information can be downloaded, I believe we are light-years away from a one-stop automated process.

In order to have a “good” title product, someone has to actually LOOK at the data as it will not simply download into the appropriate category. There are too many variables. A good search needs to verify the physical signatures on that deed, look for recitals in documents, review divorce decrees, etc. Yes, streamlining is very important, but so is the knowledge of those persons who examine the instruments. On the other hand, if the industry wishes to become completely automated, it could choose to do so and become like a casualty underwriter – don’t check past history, just prepare and reserve for much higher claims.

It has been a long time since I have seen information from Commerce on the Licensing requirements for Abstracters, and I was pleased to see their latest bulletin.  While I know there is no education requirement, the content is significant and requires a good working knowledge of the trade. For those who need assistance with the legalese in title searching the online Principles of Abstracting course can help.  In any case, here is the outline from the PSI bulletin.

ABSTRACTER EXAMINATION CANDIDATE INFORMATION BULLETIN

Legal description and elements of real property (10 items)

  1. Definitions and components of real property
  2. Methods of legal description
  3. Estates in real property
  4. Forms of ownership
  5. Transfer / alienation of real property
  6. Deeds
  7. Types
  8. Characteristics / elements

iii. Warranties

  1. Land use controls
  2. Public
  3. Private/Covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs)
  1. Condominium Law

Documents (15 items)

  1. Conveyance
  2. Recording
  3. Torrens
  4. Encumbrances
  5. Types and priorities of liens
  6. Easements
  7. Encroachments

Research and Compilation of Abstract (20 items)

  1. Indexes
  2. Search requirements and techniques
  3. Documents and Entries
  4. Legal description in abstract
  5. Searches (including judgments in favor of the U.S.)
  6. Certification

Licensing and Professional Conduct (5 items)

  1. Licensing requirements
  2. Prohibited conduct

 

Info On Home Closing

Home Closing 101: An Educational Initiative of the American Land Title Association