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Archive for the ‘title insurance’ Category

Reading Title Commitments For Better Closings

Q: What is the most common mistake Realtors (and FSBO parties) make in reviewing a title insurance commitment?

A: They don’t review or read it at all!

Most Realtors are trained not to act as attorney’s or give any legal advice. The Title Commitment is a legal document and advising a client on it could constitute legal advice. In addition, many Realtors and FSBO parties simply don’t know what to look for and, therefore, don’t read the document.

Title Commitments Provide Critical Information

All Realtors should be reviewing the title commitment for certain, important information. A title commitment has three sections or schedules: Schedule A, Schedule B-I Requirements, and Schedule B-II Exceptions. At a minimum, Realtors should be reviewing the following:

Schedule A

The first part of the title commitment provides the names of the proposed insured. This should be your buyers. If it is not, call the title company right away – they might be missing an Amendment or their might be an error in your paperwork.

The Policy Amount should match your purchase price.

The name of the seller should be listed in paragraph 3 as the “fee simple” owner. If the name is different, there may be a title issue such as a deceased individual or spouse that still owns the property, a trust or LLC that has an interest in the property, or some other issue that requires attention.

The land referred to in the policy should match the land being sold. It will be a legal description, not a postal address. Review to make sure it looks right, especially if the property is a Condominium or includes multiple lots.

Schedule B-I Requirements

This portion of the title commitment provides a list of requirements that must be met in order to close. The requirements will call out any unusual issues that must be dealt with at closing. For instance, if the seller is deceased, the Requirements might require a valid Personal Representative to be appointed to sign on behalf of the estate.

In addition, most title companies will include any loan payoffs, taxes, or other liens that must be paid at closing. Some title companies, however, will show those liens in Schedule B-II.

Schedule B-II Exceptions

This section shows all of the title “issues” that are excepted from coverage – in other words, the title company will not insure for these issues. They are usually things like covenants, restrictions and easements. But, at some title companies, seller mortgages and liens will appear in this section. Therefore, it is important to review.

Reviewing is not Advising

Although Realtors should review the title commitment, they should not advise their clients about the legal meaning and effect of this document. That would constitute legal advice and is prohibited under Wisconsin Law. Nevertheless, if the Realtor spots a problem (the wrong seller or buyer or too many Mortgages), that should be brought to the client’s attention with the advice to seek legal counsel.

The title commitment is a critical document that provides all parties and their agents with notice of the current state of title. While Realtors should not make a “legal” review of this document, they should make a thorough review to avoid any closing problems.

 

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Set Your Clocks Back!

What if you set your clocks back to 1984? The cost of an owner’s policy of Title Insurance on a $200,000 purchase in Dane County was $975.

Back in 1993 the same policy cost $1345.

But, by 2011, the price for that policy in Dane County had fallen to $575.

Prices took the same downward spiral in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, most other counties in Wisconsin did not experience this “race to the bottom.” Throughout the state, owner’s title policies ranged between $700 and $1010. That’s one of the reasons the State Insurance Commissioner stepped in. The discounts had not only become random and unrelated to risk, they where potentially discriminatory. A Dane County resident might pay $575 while in Wausau, the exact same policy cost $1010 to cover the exact same risk.

Title Underwriters heeded the commissioner’s warnings and filed new rates. Contrary to some recent rumblings, these rates are not much higher than past rates. Today, that $200,000 policy will cost a Dane County seller $664 – $830, depending upon the underwriter and risk. That’s lower than 1984, much lower than 1993, and, in most areas of the state, even lower than 2011.

For a detailed explanation of the new title rates, link to:

https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/title-rate-clarifications/

In the meantime, Daylight Savings Time ends on November 4th at 2am.

Set your clocks back one hour!

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Closing Cost Credits – Buyer Beware!

A simple contract term can cause so much confusion:

“Seller shall provide buyer with a closing cost credit of $3,000 at closing.”

Closing cost credits are often used to help buyers cover their costs or to address contract issues prior to closing. When Buyer’s and Sellers agree on this credit, everyone should be happy. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The buyer’s lender must approve all closing credits and they must appear on the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. Problems arise when lenders reject these credits.

Contract Language and Communication

Realtors must draft good contract language and communicate with their Buyers. First, Realtors may provide for a “closing cost and prepaid” credit. Lenders will only allow credits up to the amount of the Buyer’s actual closing costs. Including “prepaids” allows many lenders to increase the allowable credits to include prepaid mortgage interest and tax escrows. Realtors should also avoid excessively large closing cost credits. In Dane County, for instance, it is unusual for closing costs to exceed $3,500. A closing cost credit of $8,000 is virtually certain to be denied. It is also important to communicate with your Buyers and warn them that the closing cost credit requires lender approval. Prepare them for the possibility that the credit may be limited or even rejected.

Avoiding Lender Rejection of Credits

Many Realtors or attorneys include provisions that reduce the purchase price by the amount of any rejected credits. Beware: this can cause delays and the need to re-underwrite a loan. The seller may also credit “prepaid” items to increase the allowable credits. Check with the lender prior to drafting the “closing cost and prepaid credit” provision to make sure it is acceptable. The best practice is to avoid closing cost credits that exceed actual closing costs.

Most importantly, if a lender rejects a credit, there are certain things that are not acceptable:

  • Do NOT have the Seller write a personal check to the Buyer at closing
  • Do NOT ask the title company to write a check to the buyer, and reduce the seller’s proceeds by that amount.
  • Do NOT have the Realtors write a check to the Buyers.

Each of these “solutions” may constitute loan fraud. It is never worth risking a Realtor’s license or an attorney’s practice to assist or instruct their clients in the commission of loan fraud (no matter how unlikely it may seem that there would be any real consequences).

This information is provided by attorney Pete Zarov. This is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in place of individualized legal advice. For more real estate tips, check out Homestead Title’s blog.

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New Rates In Response To OCI Bulletin

Wisconsin title companies recently revised rates in response to State regulatory pressures from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (the OCI). There has been a lot of confusion over the recent rate changes. Indeed, there have been suggestions that the new rates have nothing to do with the OCI’s recent Bulletin and that title agents can continue to offer any rates or discounts they wish.

In fact, an OCI Bulletin sent a clear warning about rates and when discounts are allowed. The OCI warned title companies that:

  • Discounts must be made pursuant to a filed rate program.
  • Discounts can only be offered for risk-based reasons.
  • Discounts may not be made for purely competitive reasons.

This is a significant change in how the OCI regulates title rates. The result, however, has not been significantly higher rates. Title companies have filed new rates that are actually lower than previously filed rates. And they filed rate-discount programs that allow rates to remain competitive.

A Short History Leading Up To The New Rate Filings

The state has always required title companies to file their rates. The filed rates must be approved and cannot be “excessive or inadequate.” Over the last two decades, however, stiff competition led title agents to discount their charges from the filed rates on every single closing.  For instance, the filed rates on the sale of an average home ranged between $900 – $1,300. Yet, local title companies in Dane County and Milwaukee discounted from these filed rates, charging anywhere from $400-575. Title companies offered these substantial downward deviations from filed rates for strictly competitive reasons.  Arguably, the discounts were excessive and the rates inadequate.

The OCI Bulletin Set Limits on Discounts

The OCI signaled a significant change in enforcement of the law. The Bulletin reminded title companies that they must charge filed rates and these must be neither excessive nor inadequate. The OCI outlined when and how companies could offer discounts from filed rates, emphasizing that discounts could only be made based upon a “rate deviation program” that is based upon risk factors.

The OCI has made clear that it will no longer allow downward deviations (discounts) from any company’s filed rate based upon “market competition.”  Now, any discount must be (1) documented, (2) based on a filed “deviation program,” and (3) made for risk or actuarial reasons. This is a significant change in policy and enforcement.

New Rates – Lower than Previously Filed Rates

Most underwriters responded to the OCI’s actions by filing new rates that are lower than previously filed rates. They generally allow discounts if the title agency is provided with an older (prior) title insurance policy for the property. The filed discounts range from 10% to 20% of the rate and reflect the lower risk in insuring a property where there is already a policy in place.

The result will be a modest increase in prices in the Dane County market and a drop in rates in many areas of the state. In 2011, for example, a typical $200,000 title policy might have cost about $575. Today, that same policy will cost $665 – $750 (assuming the property had been insured previously). This represents an overall increase of less than 1% of the typical seller’s closing costs. Buyer title costs remain unchanged and refinance rates remain fairly static with lower prices on high end properties.

Overall, rates in Wisconsin are still very low compared to regional and national averages. Homestead Title writes for three underwriters and continues to have competitive rates and incredible service. For a rate sheet, contact us at Home@HomesteadTitle.net.

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DEED PROCESSING NOTICE – Don’t Fall For it!

Home owners are being targeted for a simple, yet effective scam. At least two companies are offering to send copies of “grant deeds” for a charge of $86. They recommend that homeowners obtain this deed in order to confirm their ownership in the property. Yet, these public records are readily available for almost no cost.

Why Do Many Officials Call This A “Scam?”

These companies send official looking notices that often include warnings of late fees, compliance response deadlines, or the phrase FINAL NOTICE. While these sales pitches are not illegal, they are deceptive. As the Lake County Recorder of Deeds in the Chicago area noted: “It is not against the law, but it breaks the spirit of the law . . . It is very, very deceptive.” Officials Warn Homeowners of Deed Scams, Chicago Tribune.

The companies often charge $86 for the deed but also include a $35 late free for not meeting a fictional deadline. It is only in the fine print that they disclose that this is not a bill and that you could receive the same information from the County Recorder (or register of deeds).

Deeds Can be Obtained Inexpensively or Free

In fact, copies of deeds, mortgages, or any recorded document may be obtained from your local Wisconsin Register of Deeds office, for a very nominal fee. Generally the fees are $2.00 for the first page, and $1 for each page thereafter. Deeds are usually one or two pages.

In addition, homeowners should have received a copy of their deed from their title company when they purchased. Homestead Title and many other title companies will provide a duplicate to their customers at no charge.

Homestead Title Company is always happy to assist Dane County homeowners with such requests.

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Short Sale Escalation With Social Media

Challenges arise in almost every short sale. Frustrated and running out of options, Realtor Nicole Charles of Keller Williams in Madison, Wisconsin, turned to twitter:

@Ask_WellsFargo Can anyone please help me with a short sale issue? Getting the run around an am about to lose the Buyer due to delays. HELP

Wells Fargo responded! First, in tweets, they asked for more information and direct contact. After a few more tweets and correspondence, a representative promised to escalate the matter and have answers that day. She had revived a dying sale through social media!

Escalation

Creative and persistent agents understand the importance of escalation in short sale negotiations. This can be as simple as contacting a manager or supervisor. It can also include contacting the investor or mortgage insurance company directly. The goal of escalation is to reach an individual with more authority and the ability to move the transaction towards closing. Often, the biggest challenge is simply finding contact information for that escalated individual. Some agents call Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac directly, when they know they are the investor. Others manage to glean investor contact information from hints or clues in correspondence. And this creative agent discovered the newest way to get things done – social media and twitter!

Thank you Nicole Charles for this fantastic tip!

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A new settlement among big banks may provide relief to many struggling home owners.  Nearly 20% of all home mortgages are underwater – the home is worth less than the amount owed to the bank. This has been the major cause of the foreclosure crisis nationally and a problem many have sought to remedy. A new settlement with big banks raises hope for many underwater home owners that they may be able to reduce their loan or refinance with better terms.

New Federal Settlement

Ordinarily, a bank will not lend to a homeowner if the home is worth less than the current mortgage because it requires the homeowner to borrow more money than the home is worth. Under the new settlement, tens of billions of dollars will be earmarked for homeowner relief. It is unclear how this money will be dolled out, but it is presumed that it will include:

  • Reducing the principle balance owed on a loan
  • Refinancing to a lower rate
  • Providing incentives to lenders to approve refinances, modifications, or short sales
  • Providing cash settlements to some homeowners who have already lost their home to foreclosure

As with previous federal programs (HAFA and HAMP), this program is not expected to provide broad reaching relief. It will only apply to about 10% of underwater homeowners. Nevertheless, this might be enough to stabilize the housing market and provide a much needed boost to the hardest hit segment of the market.

For a detailed summary of the settlement, see the New York Times Article.

Madison Realtors, lenders, and attorneys are invited to our seminar on Short Sales & Foreclosures:

Short Sale Seminar

February 23, 2012: 1pm – 4pm

City Center West
525 Junction Rd.
Madison, WI 53717-2152

REGISTER HERE

Licensed REALTORS, Attorneys and lenders are invited to attend this powerful seminar on short sales, foreclosures, and navigating distressed properties. This seminar has previously been approved for 3 Hours of Continuing Legal Education credits in Wisconsin.

Attorney Peter Zarov will be breaking down the foreclosure time line, the short sale process, and REALTOR’s risks and responsibilities. This class will cover:

  • Short sale time line
  • Foreclosure process and understanding timing and leverage.
  • How to avoid liability during a short sale (Your referral team, common scams, etc.)
  • The short sale packet and best practices to submit
  • The HAFA Short Sale Program and other new incentives
  • Transactional pitfalls and how to avoid them
  • Bankruptcy and how it affects sales

Agents will a acquire critical knowledge of the foreclosure process in Wisconsin, short sale procedures, and important trends in distressed property transactions.  Surviving and thriving in this market requires a familiarity and understanding of these topics. 

The Event is $15 and includes a 65 page packet of outlines, materials, and forms.  

 
 


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