January 1, 2010, the new and improved Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (RESPA) will be fully en force. Considering this is the first sweeping change in the home buying process since 1974, it is worthy of our full attention. The new RESPA means more than new forms-it means major changes in the way real estate closings happen.
The key motive of RESPA’s new rules is to make sure consumers understand loan costs and binding parameters before singing the closing statements.
With mountains of paperwork at the closing table, there is little chance that borrowers are going to spend the many hours necessary to wade through the documents. What’s more, borrowers, especially would-be first-time homeowners, may be intimidated by the process and miss the opportunity to seek competing settlement services that could save them money.
As a real estate broker, here’s what you need to know: the new rules may impact your ability to refer business to title companies, inspectors and others you typically work with as part of the sales process. RESPA wants to make it easier for borrowers to shop for the lowest-cost, most convenient closing services by mandating borrowers receive a written list of settlement service providers. That comprehensive list includes closers, appraisers, real estate brokers, title examiners, attorneys, underwriters, pest inspectors, mortgage insurers, loan processors and other settlement service providers.
Since borrowers will receive a laundry list of competing settlement service providers, they may be inclined to shop around for the best price, even if it only means saving a couple of hundred dollars.
This is the crux of the matter as it relates to real estate practices and comes in the wake of industry abuses. Some in the real estate industry have received kickbacks for referring consumers to mortgage brokers, appraisers and other professionals along the road to homeownership. In some cases, those referrals may not have been in the best interest of the homeowner based on price or serviced provided. In other cases, the real estate agency owned the title firm or the appraisal firm at non-competitive prices.
As we move into 2010, be aware of how you might violate RESPA to avoid any issues. The chief concern is giving the appearance of kickbacks, whether in the form of money, ownership interest, marketing help or other arrangements. There is a fine line between collaboration and violation of RESPA and it can be a complicated issue.
The good news is, HUD announced that that it will be lenient in the first 120 days of enforcement of the new RESPA regulations going into effect January 1, 2010 so long as good faith efforts are made to comply. Still, in order to avoid any confusion, you should consult with an attorney about full compliance with the rules.