Thursday, January 22, 2009

A very large real estate brokerage is burying language

in the sales agreements of transactions in which they have the listing directing the title insurance order to their affiliated title agency.  There is no simple waiver or acceptance for this paragraph, it's just sitting in the middle of a bunch of boilerplate stuff the buyer and the selling agent skip.

I ran into this the other day on a cash transaction.  I have three title transactions in process for one buyer.  This buyer likes our Choose and Save program.  It's fast.  It's easy and it's the most affordable way to buy title insurance and settlement services in PA.

The listing company backed down and didn't pursue the matter once they understood the good deal the buyer was getting and that we had already processed the transaction, though I got the impression that they normally press the issue.

Buyer beware.  Read that contract very carefully or perhaps just add a clause to the contract stating that YOU will select your title insurance and settlement provider and any language to the contrary in the agreement is null and void.  Stay in control of your transaction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

RESPA violation? What do you think?

We've got a regional law office soliciting business from mortgage lenders by offering to perform telemarketing on their existing customer base. The deal is that they solicit refinance applications for the lender in exchange for the guarantee of the title order.

Is this a RESPA violation? I think so. What do you think?

Interestingly, we had a closing the other day in which the seller had been referred to this law office by the listing agent for deed prep. This law firm charged $195 which is far higher than most law firms in the area, besides which the seller was eligible for free deed prep by our office since the buyer had opted into the Choose and Save program.

Add to that - the law firm NEVER delivered the deed to us or to the agent or to the seller. They showed up empty handed so we used the fax draft from our file. Some service, huh?

When I run across a competitor like this, I do shake my head. They are all about giving something to get something but it's never about giving the consumer a good deal.

We at The Closing Specialists made our choice long ago. We are consumer-centric in all aspects of our business. Mortgage lenders and real estate agents who care about the quality of service and the cost of settlement services direct orders to our office and I can sleep at night.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

query: How can I check to see if my tax inheritance payment has been recorded for the title to my property.

If you properly file an inheritance tax return and clearly identify the real estate in the inventory of assets, that will suffice.  The title insurer will check the Register of Wills office for the return  and payment receipt records to evidence the payment and claer title.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Preparing for a Refinance

Refinancing is what you do when you put a mortgage on a piece of real estate you already own. Mortgage lenders call it a refinance even if you own the real estate free and clear. Use this handy TCS refinance guide to understand the process and avoid common pitfalls. We at TCS have had lots of experience closing refinance transactions. We’d like to help you be an educated consumer.


If you have an existing mortgage, the very first step is to ask your mortgage lender for a
payoff letter. All of the calculations you and your new lender figure will be based on how
much you owe. Do NOT skip this step. There may be a small fee to get the letter, but
it’s worth it.

Don’t just check your current principal balance, it’s not the same as a payoff. Why?
Well, mortgage interest is paid in arrears. That means that your September payment
actually paid the interest for August, so you are always one month behind in interest.
When you payoff your mortgage, the lender will play catch up and add the remaining
interest to bring you current. AVOID THE MOST COMMON REFINANCE PITFALL by
getting a payoff letter up front.


Timing and pre-planning a refinance will help you AVOID THE SECOND MOST COMMON REFINANCE PITFALL – getting caught in a cash crunch because your money is tied up in an escrow account at the time of closing.

If your existing mortgage lender has money set aside in an escrow account, look closely
at the payoff letter to determine how they will handle these funds. Some mortgage
lenders will give you an immediate credit for the escrow balance and this reduces the
amount of the payoff. That’s great, but most lenders will simply mail you a refund check
2 to 3 weeks after the mortgage has been paid off. If it looks like you’ll be getting a
refund check, it is very likely that you will have to bridge the gap and come up with cash
at closing to set up your new escrow account for the new mortgage lender. Here’s a tip –
most mortgage loan officers don’t really understand this scenario, so YOU really need to
plan ahead yourself.

Timing again is the key to AVOIDING THE THIRD MOST COMMON REFINANCE PITFALL - a cash squeeze related to property taxes. If you are closing your refinance transaction at the same time the property taxes are due, you could get caught in a title guarantee “Catch 22”. Here’s how it works. Let’s say the county property tax is due at discount on March 31st. You are planning to close on March 20th. The tax collector is reporting the tax as unpaid. Your existing mortgage lender has debited your escrow account to pay for the tax and may or may not have actually mailed the check to the tax collector. Since the tax has NOT been officially paid, TCS has to collect the tax from you at closing to guarantee payment for your new mortgage lender. It’s a real “Catch 22” and the only way to avoid it is to plan the closing date around the payment of the tax. Closing would need to either take place before your existing lender debits your account OR closing should be delayed until the tax payment has been posted by the tax collector. This is often easier said than done because you may be up against a rate lock expiration with your new mortgage lender and can’t delay closing.

The good news is that in either case, when you have to ante up cash at closing to cover
tax or insurance related payments, you will always eventually be made whole. Refunds are processed as the payments are made and posted. If you have the cash available to ride
through the refund process, that’s okay, but if you don’t, this information will help you to
plan to avoid this kind of a last minute snag.


Refinancing often gives you a one or two month break from having to pay a mortgage
payment. For instance, let’s say you are closing on February 5th and haven’t yet made a
mortgage payment for February. Well, your existing mortgage will be paid off before
the end of a typical 15 day grace period and it’s likely that your new mortgage payments
won’t start until April 1st. Make a note to discuss this with your new lender and keep any
possible cash flow benefit in mind just in case you need to come up with unexpected cash
to close due to tax or insurance related payments.


Your new mortgage lender will want to know. Are you just reducing the rate/term or do
you actually need to pull cash equity out of the property? Each mortgage loan program
has specific guidelines relating to the length of time you have owned the property, how
much cash you can pull out, etc. Be prepared to estimate the value of your property and
discuss why you want to refinance. This will help your new mortgage lender find a
program that’s right for you. An appraisal ordered by the new mortgage lender will
ultimately set the current market value, but you have to consider possible options should
the value come in lower or higher than expected, later on you and your lender can adjust
the loan amount accordingly.