title companies

Who is Responsible for Who Gets Paid?

Whos on FirstWho to pay?  It starts to feel a little like “Who’s on first, What’s on second and I-don’t-know is on third” when we start to look at complicated mortgage transactions these days. We have mortgages, deeds of trust, lenders, assignees, beneficiaries, lender’s servicing agents, trustees, securities, exchange securities, and more.  

Here, as happens, title companies are charged with collusion in a complicated Ponzi scheme. I question how we legitimately know who should be paid in some of these complicated transactions.  Should the check for a payoff go to the Lender holding the Mortgage or to the Servicing Agent, in hopes it will be properly credited? Did the title company know the scheme?

From Lexology Title Insurance Article by Carlton Fields, an interesting read:

Escrow Agent: Where payments are disbursed to lender’s servicer and escrow agent has not knowledge of servicer’s scheme to defraud lender, lender fails to state a cause of action against escrow agent — Fazeli v. Williamson, No. H036951 (Cal. App. March 27, 2014) (affirming escrow agents’ objections)

Who Has to Sign the Mortgage Documents?

One of the most common sources of confusion at closing seems to be who must sign the mortgage docs. It seems to befuddle even experienced closers of title companies and title agencies. Does the Deed have to match the Mortgage and does the Mortgage have to match the Note? Many are sure that when there is a husband and wife, the closer should prepare the Warranty Deed in both names in joint tenancy, and then prepare the mortgage to exactly match the names on the Warranty Deed. They are not quite sure about signatures on the Mortgage Note, however, because lenders sometimes require others to sign the Note as well.

Truth is, in Minnesota (not necessarily all states) it takes “one to buy and all to sell,” meaning a person can buy real estate without their spouse going into title. There may be good reason for that. Say one spouse has significant financial exposure due to the business she owns. The husband may want to go into title in his name alone, so that should a bad business climate come along and the wife has judgments filed against her, the judgments will not attach to the property.

Also, far as joint tenancy – that may not be the best solution for all spouses. For example, Harry and Mabel, both elderly, have lost their spouses. A winter romance comes along and they decide to be married. They pool their funds and buy a home together. Both wish for their children to inherit their respective halves upon their death. They want to take title not as joint tenants, but as tenants in common.

However, Minnesota, as many states do, has an automatic interest of the spouse in the homestead. Now how do we know if they are living in the property as their homestead? Answer is: we don’t. Therefore, to be prudent, we ask spouses to subordinate any interest they might have, by signing the mortgage. They don’t have to be in title to sign the mortgage. But by signing the mortgage, we have cleared the potential interest.

Best Practice: ALL parties who show in title must sign all mortgages, and rule of thumb is to get their spouses to sign as well. Yes, I recognize that some real estate is unlikely to be homestead, but to be safe, get your underwriter to sign off on not getting the spouse’s signature. After all, that apartment building could also contain the apartment that your client claims as home.

As far as the Mortgage Note, it is simply a personal pledge to repay the full amount of the debt. So if son and daughter-in law, for example, need a little assistance in buying their first home, Mom and Dad may help it happen by, in effect, guaranteeing the loan. Mom and Dad sign the Mortgage Note but do not have to go into title (unless the lender demands it.)

As a disclaimer, this is NOT intended as legal advice, and those who prepare legal documents should be careful to seek legal advise to fulfill the intentions of the title holders. This is merely information from a seasoned closer and title examiner who has seen problems crop up due to misunderstanding how it the documentation works.

To Fix the Housing Crisis: Get Rid of Title Insurance?!!

Reuters has an interesting, albeit confusing, article referring to a Fix for the Housing Crisis by reinventing  or getting rid of the title insurance industry. It is a great example of just how misunderstood the title industry is. (Thankfully, Reuter’s says the views expressed are the author’s own.)

The author, Elena Panartis, an institutional economist states:

The United States has a broken registry system, and instead of ever fixing it allowed a title insurance industry to arise as a substitute. Title insurance is non-transparent and (at best) inconsistently regulated, yet it is the main system through which information about property valuation flows. Plus, you have to pay for the information. This leads to all sorts of problems, and fuels speculation.

Some examples of the author’s confusion:

·         She confuses the Australian and Canadian Torrens Systems with the U.S. recording system. Only a few counties in the U.S. have the state sponsored Torrens indemnity program

·         She does not recognize there are 50 separate state recording systems for both land title and liens against people that affect title, and  that title companies simplify these into a single, understandable title product for the secondary market

·         She suggests that title companies set values for property rather than insuring market values established by willing buyers and sellers or an appraiser. Not true.

·         She seems to think information obtained from public offices is free. Not only not free, often difficult to obtain from the myriad of places to search.

It seems we need to do a lot more education with economists to explain what title insurance does and how it makes the housing market safer for the public and better for the economy. The author is a teacher at the university level. She should be more careful in what she says. She does not know the product , nor does she how the systems work.

What does Mortgage Modification mean to the Title Industry?

The Title Insurance industry has slowed to a crawl. Most of the business at the closing table is either a foreclosure or a short sales. And with Congress’ plan to modify existing mortgages, even that pittance will be drying up. 

Congress plans to modify existing mortgages to lower rates so borrowers can afford their monthly payments.  How does this affect the title industry you ask? In the past, when mortgages were modified, title policies were still in the picture, because intervening liens were a concern. For example, let’s say Sam Smith wanted to modify the terms of his loan by increasing the loan amount. You were the first mortgage lender. If you modified the loan, you had to worry about what that would do to your 1st lien position. If there was a second mortgage or a tax lien on the property, changing the terms of your loan might bump you into second place or third place. The title industry therefore stepped forward with updates to the policies. we checked for intervening liens, we got subordination agreements from the secondary lien holders, we recorded lots of documentation, and endorsed the policy with matching fees for our work.

So, how is this different? Think about it. Titles on all of these troubled loans have already been insured. But this time, they likely won’t need to be insured again. The new loan modification law will generally decrease the interest rate and that will be an advantage to any secondary lien holders, putting them in a stronger position. Therefore, the modification should stand on its face, and no endorsements should be needed. So, there won’t be any need for that title review, or an endorsement to the policy, or new title insurance premium fees. Their might be a pittance for sitting down with the consumer to sign the modification agreement and record it (and with the new RESPA law, title companies won’t even be able to mark up the recording fee.)

Loan modifications are good for the consumer, and good for the economy. They help neighborhoods. They keep banks out of the painful REO business. But they provide little role for title companies. Ouch – another big ding for an already hurting industry.

The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan

Moody’s Economy.com estimates nearly 13.8 million of the 52 million U.S. homeowners, almost 27 percent, owe more than their homes are worth after many months of declining prices. So what does the Obama plan say and how will that affect title insurers?

The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan anticipates slowing 7-9 million foreclosures. One part of the plan would be to refinance mortgages on primary residences insured by Freddie and Fannie whose values have sunk below the mortgage balance. The plan would make the lender responsible to lower interest rates so that a borrower’s monthly mortgage payment is no more than 38 percent of his income. The government would then pay to lower that even further, down to 31 percent of the borrower’s income for a period of five years. The rate would then progressively increase to the original respective loan rate. The program would not be available to real estate speculators, for second homes, investment properties or “flipped” houses.

 

Benefits For the Borrowers:

This would significantly reduce monthly payments. Under the plan, not only will the borrowers amortize their loans quicker, but they will also receive an incentive for making timely payments, receiving principal balance reductions up to $1,000 each year for 5 years for good credit habits.

 

Benefits For the Lenders/Servicers

·         Servicers could receive up-front fees of $1,000 for each eligible modification meeting guidelines

·         They would also receive “pay for success” fees — awarded so long as the borrower stays current on the loan — up to $1,000 each year for three years.

·         Another incentive offers mortgage holders $500 paid to servicers, and $1,500 to mortgage holders, if they modify at-risk loans before the borrower falls behind in  payments.

·         A $10 billion quasi-insurance plan will insure lenders against falling values on modified loans, linked with declines in the home price index, as an incentive for lenders not to jump the gun on foreclosures due to fear of the continuing drop in home values.

·         Clear guidelines and rules for loan modifications for all loans owned or guaranteed by the Feds, including Ginnie, Fannie, Freddie, FHA, VA, etc. would be established

 

Congress is also considering allowing bankruptcy judges to rewrite terms of mortgages so long as the homeowners commit to make payments and stay in their homes.

So what does that mean for a title insurer? My bet is the regulations will provide that mortgage modifications will not require any type of endorsement to existing loan policies, leaving title companies with either no role in the process, or simply that of a loan modification signing agent.

 

Source: White House Press Office

 

Are You Ready for the New RESPA HUD-1

Title Companies – All those line items for: Settlement or closing fee, Abstract or title search, Title examination, Title insurance binder, Document preparation, Notary fees, Title Insurance premiums, courier fees, Admin fees, fax fees, email fees, processing fees,  are going away… Fees will be either elimninated, or at the very least, reduced to cost under the new RESPA. No longer will the common mark-ups be acceptable, nor can they be hidden from the customer in a myriad of confusing fees.

Under the new RESPA law, courier fees, admin fees, closing fees and dozens of other charges cannot be hidden in those miscellaneous line items 1102-1199 on the HUD-1.  Title companies will now have to PRINT new all-inclusive rates. These will be filled in as a single item on ONE LINE – line1101. And title companies will have to hold to that number for the lender, because the lender is responsible for overages if settlement charges do not match the HUD-1. Title Companies will also have to legitimately back-up the numbers with specific reports as to their validity, and maintain those reports, so that HUD can audit their authenticity.

While this will make comparison shopping much easier for the consumer, and will force title companies to sharpen their pencils, it will be difficult for an industry that for a long time has used marked up fees for additional revenue. It would seem that no one is anxious to go to the new HUD-1 before he has to – it will cost title companies some serious revenue!

Are you ready for the change? This is NOT simply a matter of updating your software, it means a lot of planning and preparing detailed numbers for all those items on the closing statement. Actual out of pocket costs must be averaged and lumped into a single number for line 1101. (Other lines are intended for third party providers, for example, Line 1102 is only to be used when using a non-title company third party vendor for closing.) When the new numbers are available, schedules must be printed and distributed for your lenders to use on the new GFE, and for savvy consumers to see as well.

Watch for the complete gory details in my soon to be released online course: The new GFE Based HUD-1

MERS Ruled Nominee and Not Lender in Foreclosure Actions

A Florida Circuit Court judge has ruled that MERS cannot stand as plaintiff in foreclosure cases, prompting MERS to suspend all foreclosure actions in Florida. The Circuit Court Judge ruled that MERS could not sue for foreclosures because it was the Nominee (i.e. the firm into whose name the mortgages were transferred in order to facilitate transactions, while leaving the customer as the actual owner of the mortgage) because MERS did not hold the mortgage notes that were still in the hands of the original lenders. This essentially put MERS into the status of a debt collector, instead of the lender, giving them no legal status to foreclose.

Read more detail here at  MSFraud.org.

County Anticipates New Public Notice on Foreclosures

A good article in a local newspaper  the Record-Bee reminds us that unfinished homes are a problem for communities and counties that want to collect unpaid fees. One county is working to create a public notice to make it easier for title companies, abstractors and buyers of the problems. It is difficult enough to search various locations for all the problems and unpaid fees in this time of heavy foreclosures, but especially on new construction. The recording of these problems and delinquencies in a prominent location is a wonderful idea that will help both the public and private sectors, and I hope it catches on.

LAKE COUNTY, CA The Lake County Community Development Department’s building division is proposing a measure that would address problems that arise when unfinished homes go into foreclosure…”What happens is that with the housing market the way it is, a lot of people just walk away from these homes. … this is something that will allow us to put notice on the public record …to make things more clear to the downstream person who gets the property,”

Info On Home Closing

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