Title Insurance

Real Estate Crash Has Resulted In Many More Forms and Disclosures

These days buyers are leaving closing rooms with not only their keys but a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome! The reason for sore forearms and wrists is the voluminous stack of closing documents which are now required to be signed and notarized at every Massachusetts real estate purchase or refinance closing.

One of my opening “break the ice” lines at closings is to suggest that the buyers start massaging their writing hands. Then I show them the 2 inch stack of documents they must review and sign, and they usually say, “Are you serious? We have to sign all that?” Yep, I reply. You can thank Fannie Mae and the real estate collapse for that! All the new rules and regulations passed in the last 5 years have resulted in, you guessed it, more forms. Do you think the Feds and state ever eliminate old or out-dated forms? Nope.

Let me quickly go over some of the more important — and less important — documents signed at a typical Massachusetts real estate closing.

The Closing Documents

  • HUD-1 Settlement Statement. This is arguably the most important form signed at closing. It breaks down all the closing costs, lender fees, taxes, insurance, escrows and more. We did a full post on the HUD-1 and all the closing costs you can expect to pay here. Under the newer RESPA rules, most closing costs must be within 10% tolerance of the Good Faith Estimate provided by the lender (which you will also re-sign at closing).
  • Promissory Note & Mortgage. These two documents form what I like to call the “mortgage contract.” The promissory note is the lending contract between borrower and lender and sets the interest rate and payment terms of the loan. It is not recorded at the registry of deeds. The Mortgage or Security Instrument is a long (20+ page) document and provides the legal collateral (your house) securing the loan from the lender. The Mortgage gets recorded in the county registry of deeds and is available to public view. Read a full explanation of the Note and Mortgage in this post.
  • Truth in Lending Disclosure (TIL). The Truth in Lending should really be called “Confusion In Lending,” as the federal government has come up with a confusing way to “explain” how your interest rate works. This is a complex form and we’ve written about it extensively in this post. Your closing lawyer will fully explain the TIL form to you at closing.
  • Loan Underwriting Documents. With increased audit risk on loan files, lenders today are requiring that borrowers sign “fresh” copies of almost all the documents they signed when they originally applied for the loan. This includes the loan application, IRS forms W-9 and 4506’s.
  • Fraud Prevention Documents. Again, with the massive mortgage fraud of the last decade, lenders are requiring many more forms to prevent fraud, forgeries, and straw-buyers. The closing attorney will also make a copy of borrowers’ driver’s licenses and other photo i.d. and submit the borrower’s names through the Patriot Act database. They include Occupancy Affidavit (confirming that borrowers will not rent out the mortgaged property), and the Signature Affidavit (confirming buyers are who they say they are or previously used a maiden name or nickname).
  • Escrow Documents. Unless lenders waive the requirement, borrowers must fund an escrow account at closing representing several months of real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance. This provides a cushion in case borrowers default and the taxes and insurance are not paid.
  • Title Documents. For purchase transactions, Massachusetts requires that the closing attorney certify that a 50 year title examination has been performed. Buyers will counter-sign this certification of title, as well as several title insurance affidavits and documents which the seller is required to sign, to ensure that all known title problems have been disclosed and discovered. Of course, we always recommend that buyers obtain their own owner’s title insurance which will provide coverage for unknown title defects such as forgeries, boundary line issues, missing mortgage discharges, etc.
  • Property Safety Disclosures. In Massachusetts, buyers and sellers will sign a smoke/carbon monoxide detector compliance agreement, lead paint disclosure, and UFFI (urea formaldehyde foam insulation) agreement. These ensure that the property has received proper certifications and will absolve the lender from liability for these safety issues.
  • Servicing, EOCA and Affiliated Business Disclosures. Chances are that your lender will assign the servicing rights to your mortgage to a larger servicer, like JP Morgan Chase or CitiMortgage. You will sign forms acknowledging this. You will be notified of the new mortgage holder usually within 30-60 days after closing. In the meantime, the closing attorney will give you a “first payment letter” instructing you where to send your first payment if you don’t hear from the new servicer. You will also sign forms under the federal and state discrimination in lenders laws and forms disclosing who the lender uses for closing services.

Well, those are most of the documents that buyers will sign at the closing. Sellers have a slew of their own documents to be signed at closing, and I’ll cover that in a future post. As I said, at your closing, massage your signature hand, grab a comfy pen, and sign your life away!

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. He can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

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When you are considering purchasing a home in Massachusetts, the property may have the benefit or burden of an easement. Most easements and restrictions are quite “harmless” and standard, however, some can have a major impact on future expansion possibilities and the right to use portions of the property. In this post, I’m going to go through the most common types of easements and how they can affect property.

What Is An Easement?

In plain English, an easement is a right that another person or company has to use your property. They don’t own your property, but the easement gives them the legal right to use your property as specified in the easement instrument. The property that enjoys the benefit of the easement is sometimes referred to as the “dominant estate,” and the property over, under, or through which the easement runs is sometimes referred to as the “servient estate.” Easements are usually recorded in the registry of deeds, but sometimes they can arise from “implication” or “by necessity.” I’ll explain those later.

Utility Easements

The most common types of easements in Massachusetts are utility easements for such things as overhead and underground power lines, cable lines, gas lines, and water mains. These easements allow the utility companies to use portions of residential property to provide their respective utility services. Sometimes, the easements will show up on a plot plan or survey, and some will be found recorded in the title, usually when the lot was first laid out. The majority of these easements do not materially affect the use and expansion of your property, however, the one type of easement to take note of are high pressure gas line easements.  For obvious safety reasons, these easements usually carry with them strict restrictions on what can be built on or near them.

Driveway or Access Easements

Another common type of easements that are found in Massachusetts are access easements for driveways and the like. Properties with shared driveways will often have easements enabling such sharing– or they should! These easements should also provide for common maintenance and upkeep responsibilities and expense. Other types of access easements include walking and bike paths and beach access – very common down the Cape and on the Islands.

Drainage Easements

Another common type of easements are drainage easements which are typical for newer subdivisions. Drainage easements allow for one lot to drain its storm water onto another or into a detention pond.

Prescriptive Easements

If you have heard of adverse possession, then you know what a prescriptive easement is all about. An easement by prescription is an easement acquired through adverse possession – which is the hostile adverse use of someone else’s property for 20 or more continuous years. Prescriptive easements arise where people have acted as though an easement has existed but there is no instrument of easement recorded at the registry of deeds. For example, a prescriptive easement can arise if a neighbor’s family has used a walking path on the neighbor’s property for over 20 years. twenty years. I’ve written extensively on adverse possession in this post.

Easements by Implication and by Necessity

An easement by implication is found in the law when there is no recorded easement, but where the circumstances show an easement was intended to exist. It usually exists where there is common ownership of a lot, the seller conveys a portion of the land under current ownership, and both parties intended to create an easement at the time of conveyance. If someone claims an easement by implication which negatively affects one’s property, the owner’s title insurance policy, if any, will typically cover that situation. Easements by necessity occur when a property is sold in a land-locked configuration without any legal access. An easement is therefore created “by necessity” to prevent the land-locking. An adverse easement by necessity would also be covered by an owner’s title insurance policy.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. They can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

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Case Underscores Importance of Safeguarding Loan Documents And Getting Subordinations

JPMorgan Chase & Co. v. Casarano, Mass. Appeals Court (Feb. 28, 2012) (click to read)

In a decision which could impact foreclosure cases involving missing or lost loan documents, the Appeals Court held that a mortgage is unenforceable and must be discharged where the underlying promissory note securing the mortgage could not be found.

Seller Second Mortgage Financing

This case involved an unconventional second mortgage for approximately $15,000 taken back from a private seller. The homeowner subsequently refinanced the first mortgage several times, but the refinancing lenders’ attorneys never obtained a subordination from the second lien-holder. That was a mistake. The first mortgage wound up in Wells Fargo’s hands which realized that due to the lack of recorded subordination, the second mortgage was senior to its first mortgage.

Alas, a title claim arose and the title insurance company had to step in and file an “equitable subrogation” action. In this type of legal action, a first mortgage holder asks the court to rearrange the priorities of mortgages due to mistake, inadvertence or to prevent injustice.

Where’s The Note?

The second mortgage holder had lost the promissory note which secured its mortgage, and notably, could not locate a copy of it. The mortgage itself referenced the amount of the loan and the interest rate but was silent on everything else, including the payment term, maturity date, and whether it was under seal. The second mortgage holder argued that enough of the terms of the missing note could be “imported” from the mortgage, but the Appeals Court disagreed, reasoning that there wasn’t enough specificity on key terms to enforce the mortgage.

Lesson One: Safeguard Original Loan Docs

This decision underscores the importance of safeguarding original promissory notes and other debt instruments, or at a minimum keeping photocopies so that if enforcement is required, the material terms of the original can be proved to the satisfaction of the court. With all the paperwork irregularities endemic with securitized mortgages these days, missing or lost promissory notes and loan documents have become more prevalent. This decision is potentially problematic for those foreclosures where the original promissory note is lost. The standard Fannie Mae form mortgage does not spell out the loan terms with specificity, instead, it references the promissory note. Indeed, the Fannie Mae mortgage does not even reference the interest rate. Based on this decision, a mortgage without sufficient evidence of a promissory note could be rendered unenforceable and un-forecloseable.

As an aside, a lender who lacks an original promissory note could rely upon Uniform Commercial Code Section 3-309, which provides:

(a) A person not in possession of an instrument is entitled to enforce the instrument if (i) the person was in possession of the instrument and entitled to enforce it when loss of possession occurred, (ii) the loss of possession was not the result of a transfer by the person or a lawful seizure, and (iii) the person cannot reasonably obtain possession of the instrument because the instrument was destroyed, its whereabouts cannot be determined, or it is in the wrongful possession of an unknown person or a person that cannot be found or is not amenable to service of process. (b) A person seeking enforcement of an instrument under subsection (a) must prove the terms of the instrument and the person’s right to enforce the instrument. If that proof is made, section 3-308 applies to the case as if the person seeking enforcement had produced the instrument. The court may not enter judgment in favor of the person seeking enforcement unless it finds that the person required to pay the instrument is adequately protected against loss that might occur by reason of a claim by another person to enforce the instrument. Adequate protection may be provided by any reasonable means.

Lesson Two: Get Subordinations For Junior Liens

This decision also underscores the importance of getting a subordination agreement for second mortgages and other junior lien-holders when closing refinances. A subordination agreement is a contract whereby a junior lien-holder agrees to remain in junior position to a first mortgage or other senior lien-holder during a refinancing transaction. Otherwise, the first in time rule of recording would elevate a junior lien-holder to first, priority position after a refinance. If a subordination was obtained and recorded here, this case would not have occurred.

Disclaimer:  I drafted the original complaint in this case while working at my previous law firm. I had long since left when the case was decided at the Appeals Court.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and title defect attorney. He can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

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Update (2/6/14):  Legislation to Fix Ibanez Defects Much Closer to Passage

Update (8/3/12): Foreclosure Prevention Act Signed, But Fails To Address Ibanez Title Problems

Massachusetts Senate Bill 830 Addresses Toxic Foreclosure Titles

Finally, Massachusetts lawmakers have taken action to help innocent purchasers of foreclosed properties in the aftermath of the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez and Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez decisions, which resulted in widespread title defects for previously foreclosed properties. The legislation, Senate Bill 830, An Act Clearing Titles To Foreclosed Properties, is sponsored by Shrewsbury State Senator Michael Moore and the Massachusetts Land Title Association. Full text is embedded below.

The bill, if approved, will amend the state foreclosure laws to validate a foreclosure, even if it’s technically deficient under the Ibanez ruling, so long as the previously foreclosed owner does not file a legal challenge to the validity of the foreclosure within 90 days of the foreclosure auction.

The bill has support from both the community/housing sector and the real estate industry. Indeed, the left-leaning Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), non-profit umbrella organization for affordable housing and community development activities in Massachusetts, has filed written testimony in support of the bill.

Properties afflicted with Ibanez title defects, in worst cases, cannot be sold or refinanced. Homeowners without title insurance are compelled to spend thousands in legal fees to clear their titles. Allowing such foreclosed properties to sit and languish in title purgatory is a huge drain on individual, innocent home purchasers and the housing market itself.

A recent case in point:  I was recently contacted by a nice couple who bought a Metrowest condominium in 2008 after it had been foreclosed. Little did they know that the foreclosure suffered from an “Ibanez” title defect. Unfortunately, the lawyer who handled the closing did not recommend they buy owner’s title insurance. They have been unable to track down the prior owner who went back to his home country of Brazil, and now they are stuck without many options, unable to refinance or sell their unit. This bill will help people like this who have helped the housing market by purchasing foreclosed properties, and improving them.

The bill is now before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Please email them to show your support of Senate Bill 830.
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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and title defect attorney. He can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

Massachusetts Senate Bill 830

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Update (6/22/12): SJC Issues Final Opinion (click to read)

For interested legal observers of the foreclosure crisis, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Supplemental and amicus curie legal briefs have been filed in much awaited case of Eaton v. Federal National Mortgage Ass’n, and they make for great reading. The briefs were filed in response to the SJC’s concern, mid-appeal, over whether an adverse ruling against foreclosing lenders will have a disastrous impact on foreclosure titles and, if so, whether its ruling should be applied prospectively rather than retroactively. Click here for our past posts on the case.

Notably, the Federal Housing Finance Association, the congressional conservator of the bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, filed a rare amicus brief and laid a shot across the SJC’s bow. It suggested that the congressional bailout law would trump an adverse decision by the SJC to the extent that it interfered with Fannie and Freddie’s mission to secure the health of U.S. secondary mortgage market. This is the first time that I’m aware of the federal agency intervening in a particular foreclosure case.

Not surprisingly, Fannie Mae, FHFA, and REBA (Real Estate Bar Ass’n) and the other industry groups argue against a retroactive application of an adverse ruling, claiming that it would have a disastrous effect on homeowners with foreclosures in their titles.

Eaton (which cited this Blog), the legal services groups and foreclosure defense groups say that the sky will not fall down if the unity rule is applied retroactively; indeed, foreclosures in Mass. have increased post-Ibanez. They also argue that the law is the law, and it’s the lenders fault for creating a securitization scheme in violation of the law, so they should have to deal with the repercussions.

I have also attached REBA’s and Attorney Glenn Russell’s (lead counsel in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez) submissions on the recent Land Court ruling in Wells Fargo v. McKenna where the Land Court Judge Gordon Piper held that Massachusetts does not require the unity rule.

A final decision is expected in February or March.

Click here for the particular brief:

Real Estate Bar Ass’n (REBA) Brief      REBA Letter re. McKenna case

Land Title Ass’n Brief

WilmerHale Legal Services Brief

Appellee Henrietta Eaton Brief (citing this Blog)

Fannie Mae Brief

Federal Housing Finance Ass’n Brief

Ablitt Schofield PC Foreclosure Law Firm Brief

McDonnell Property Analytics Brief

Professor Adam Levitin Brief

National Foreclosure Defense Group Brief

Attorney Glenn Russell Foreclosure Defense Brief (Part 1 and Part 2)

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate litigator and attorney. Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure title dispute.

 

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Massachusetts Plot Plan

Plot Plans, also called Mortgage Inspection Plans, were once part of every Massachusetts real estate purchase closing. These days, some lenders do not require them and I will tell you why in this post. However, despite the limitations of a plot plan, I think it’s a good idea for buyers to purchase a plot plan at closing. The typical cost of a plot plan is around $125.00 so it’s affordable.

While it is not nearly as accurate as a full instrument land survey, a plot plan will give the buyer a visual of the lot lines, the approximate location of the home and accessory structures, and any easements running through the land. Also, when you go to sell your property, a plot plan is helpful for prospective buyers to review as part of the marketing package.

What Is A Plot Plan?

A plot plan, also called a Mortgage Inspection Plan, confirms the following information:

  • Does the house or building, as well as accessory structures (pools, sheds, etc), conform to the local setback zoning by-laws?
  • Does the house or building, as well as accessory structures, fall within the FEMA flood hazard zone (which would require flood insurance)?
  • Are there any building encroachments?
  • Are there any recorded easements running through the property?

In addition to answering these questions, a plot plan includes helpful reference information such as the deed book and page numbers, property plan numbers, land court plan numbers (if applicable), assessor map and lot numbers and F.E.M.A. rate map numbers. This information can be very helpful to the homeowner and a potential buyer as well.

How Is A Plot Plan Prepared?

It is important to point out that a plot plan is NOT a land survey, and is not prepared using standard instrument survey instruments. A plot plan is prepared using visual inspection and measuring tapes only. A physical inspection of the dwelling’s exterior is made, with tape measurements to show the approximate location of the dwelling. The preparer will review the recorded deed and plan(s) obtained at the Registry of Deeds or town offices to determine the lot configuration. Information from the field is merged with record information to create a drawing of the property (the plot plan) and the approximate location of the dwelling on the lot. The flood zone is determined. A quality review performed by Professional Land Surveyor.

The accuracy of a plot plan is usually within two to three feet. The field work involved in preparing the Mortgage Inspection Plan does not include the setting of property line stakes. Therefore, although tape measurements are sufficient to make zoning and flood hazard determinations, the plan should not be used as a substitute for a “Building Permit Plot Plan” or to determine property lines. A plot plan cannot be used as a substitute for a full instrument land survey.

What is Not Provided by a Mortgage Plot Plan?

As stated before, a plot plan has its limitations, which is a reason cited by lenders for not requiring them, such as:

  • No representation is made as to the accuracy of the depicted property lines.
  • No attempt has been made to verify the boundary configuration or, typically, the mathematical correctness of the legal property description.
  • Property corners can not be located based on this type of plan, therefore no fences, hedge rows or other improvements can be determined or located.
  • The location of any improvements shown are approximate, and therefore any planned construction should not be based on the locations as shown.

What is a Certified Plot Plan, Boundary, Land or Instrument Survey?
An accurate instrument land survey involves the location of established monuments or survey control points, which are then mathematically tied in to the property being surveyed. This process utilizes sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment, and precisely locates both the property lines and the improvements on the property in relation to those property lines. The cost of a full instrument survey can range from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the property. You can use a land survey for construction, Land Court, and Registry of Deeds plans.

How Do I Get A Plot Plan?

If your lender requires a plot plan at closing — check your Good Faith Estimate or closing cost worksheet — it will order one for you and you’ll have it at closing. If your lender does not require a plot plan, speak to your closing attorney and they will gladly order one for you!

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. Please contact him if you need assistance with a Massachusetts purchase or sale transaction.

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Joe Paterno Conveys Home to Wife For $1, “Love and Affection”

For topical reasons, I have had no reason to post about the despicable Penn St. child abuse scandal on this blog. Until now — when I came across an interesting New York Times article on Joe Paterno’s recent real estate activity. The Times reports that this summer “Joe Pa.” transferred title to his State College home to his wife for $1 and “love and affection.” Some say the transfer was intended to avoid the inevitable fallout from the Penn St. child abuse scandal and legal action brought by victims of the scandal. Joe Paterno’s attorney, however, says that this transfer was part of the Paternos’ long standing estate plan.

Fraudulent Transfers

The debate centers over what’s known legally as a fraudulent transfers. Fraudulent transfers are property conveyances made with the specific intent to place the property outside the reach of creditors, or made where “the debtor received less than a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for the transfer and made it while insolvent.” The latter definition, in plain English, means the owner was broke and received less than market value for the sale of the property. Fraudulent transfers can be undone by the courts so creditors can tap into a home’s equity to satisfy legal judgments.

In Joe Paterno’s case, the $1.00 stated consideration for the transfer to his wife typically raises a red flag as a potential fraudulent transfer. If Paterno can prove that the transfer was indeed made as part of a legitimate estate plan, then he could avoid a fraudulent transfer determination. If the transfer is determined to be fraudulent so as to avoid liability for the child abuse scandal, the transfer to his wife can be undone by his creditors with the help of the court. And this is true even if Joe were to file bankruptcy. Moreover, the look-back period for fraudulent transfers is rather long–as long as 4 years under the Massachusetts Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, and even up to 10 years in the case of conveyances into trusts (where the debtor holds the beneficial interest) under 2005 bankruptcy law amendments.

Also, fraudulent transfers are typically excluded from coverage under owner’s title insurance policies. So if you purchased a property which later becomes the subject of a fraudulent transfer lawsuit, you may be on your own, which is a scary proposition.

Asset Protection, Homesteads and More

There’s nothing wrong or illegal about protecting your assets for the future. There are a myriad of legal and safe methods from protecting your property. But, if you wait until there is a problem, it’s usually too late to fix it. The same is true for asset protection planning. Simply put, do it as early as possible, well before creditors are chasing you down.

The first choice should almost always be to declare homestead protection on your principal residence. We’ve written about the new, enhanced Massachusetts homestead protection quite a bit. In a nutshell, a homestead will protect up to $500,000 in equity from most creditors. It’s a relatively simply form recorded with the county registry of deeds.

For more sophisticated asset protection devices such as trusts, family limited partnerships, LLC’s, and even offshore vehicles, I would recommend a reputable estate planning attorney. My friends at Pabian & Russell in Boston are a good place to start.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. Please contact him if you need legal assistance purchasing residential or commercial real estate.

 

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No Easy Fix For Defective Foreclosure Titles After U.S. Bank v. Ibanez Ruling

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its opinion today in the much anticipated Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez case considering property owners’ rights when they are saddled with defective titles stemming from improper foreclosures in the aftermath of the landmark U.S. Bank v. Ibanez ruling last January. (Text of case is embedded below). Where Ibanez consider the validity of foreclosures plagued by late-recorded or missing mortgage assignments, Bevilacqua is the next step, considering what happens when lenders sell defective foreclosure titles to third party purchasers. Previously, I discussed the oral argument in the case here and detailed background of the case here.

The final ruling is mix of bad and good news, with the bad outweighing the good as fixing defective Massachusetts foreclosure titles just got a lot harder and more expensive. But, contrary to some sensationalist headlines, the sky is not falling down as the majority of foreclosures performed in the last several years were legal and conveyed good title. Bevilacqua affects those minority percentage of foreclosures where mortgage assignments were not recorded in a timely fashion under the Ibanez case and were otherwise conducted unlawfully. Importantly, Bevilacqua does not address the robo-signing controversy, which may or may  not be considered by the high court in another case.

The Bad News

First the bad news. The Court held that owners cannot bring a court action to clear their titles under the “try title” procedure in the Massachusetts Land Court. This is the headline that the major news outlets have been running with, but it was not a surprise to anyone who has been following the case. Contrary to the Daily Kos, the court did not take the property away from Bevilacqua. He never held good title it in the first place–and you can blame the banksters for that. If you don’t own a piece of property (say the Brooklyn Bridge), you cannot come into court and ask a judge to proclaim you the owner of that property, even if the true owner doesn’t show up to defend himself. It’s Property Law 101.

The Good News

Next the good news. The court left open whether owners could attempt to put their chains of title back together (like Humpty-Dumpty) and conduct new foreclosure sales to clear their titles. Unfortunately, the SJC did not provide the real estate community with any further guidance as to how best to resolve these complicated title defects.

Background: Developer Buys Defective Foreclosure Title

Frank Bevilacqua purchased property in Haverhill out of foreclosure from U.S. Bank. Apparently, Bevilacqua invested several hundred thousand dollars into the property, converting it into condominiums. The prior foreclosure, however, was bungled by U.S. Bank and rendered void under the Ibanez case. Mr. Bevilacqua (or presumably his title insurance attorney) brought an action to “try title” in the Land Court to clear up his title, arguing that he is the rightful owner of the property, despite the faulty foreclosure, inasmuch as the prior owner, Rodriguez, was nowhere to be found.

Land Court Judge Keith Long (ironically the same judge who originally decided the Ibanez case) closed the door on Mr. Bevilacqua, dismissing his case, but with compassion for his plight.

“I have great sympathy for Mr. Bevilacqua’s situation — he was not the one who conducted the invalid foreclosure, and presumably purchased from the foreclosing entity in reliance on receiving good title — but if that was the case his proper grievance and proper remedy is against that wrongfully foreclosing entity on which he relied,” Long wrote.

Given the case’s importance, the SJC took the unusual step of hearing it on direct review.

No Standing To “Try Title” Action In Land Court

The SJC agreed with Judge Long that Bevilacqua did not own the property, and therefore, lacked any standing to pursue a “try title” action in the Land Court. The faulty foreclosure was void, thereby voiding the foreclosure deed to Bevilacqua. The Court endorsed Judge Long’s “Brooklyn Bridge” analogy, which posits that if someone records a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, then brings a lawsuit to uphold such ownership and the “owner” of the bridge doesn’t appear, title to the bridge is not conveyed magically. The claimant in a try title or quiet title case, the court ruled, must have some plausible ownership interest in the property, and Bevilacqua lacked any at this point in time.

The court also held, for many of the same reasons, that Bevilacqua lacked standing as a “bona fide good faith purchaser for value.” The record title left no question that U.S. Bank had conducted an invalid foreclosure sale, the court reasoned.

Door Left Open? Re-Foreclosure In Owner’s Name?

A remedy left open, however, was whether owners could attempt to put their chains of title back together and conduct new foreclosure sales in their name to clear their titles. The legal reasoning behind this remedy is rather complex, but essentially it says that Bevilacqua would be granted the right to foreclosure by virtue of holding an “equitable assignment” of the mortgage foreclosed upon by U.S. Bank. There are some logistical issues with the current owner conducting a new foreclosure sale and it’s expensive, but it could work.

That is if the SJC rules in the upcoming Eaton v. FNMA case that foreclosing parties do not need to hold both the promissory note and the mortgage when they foreclose. An adverse ruling in the Eaton case could throw a monkey wrench into the re-foreclosure remedy–it would also be an even bigger bombshell ruling than Ibanez, as it would throw into question the foreclosure of every securitized mortgage in Massachusetts.

In Bevilacqua’s case, he did not conduct the new foreclosure sale, so it was premature for the court to rule on that issue. Look for Bevilacqua to conduct the new foreclosure and come back to court again. The SJC left that option open.

Other Remedies & What’s Next?

The other remedy to fix an Ibanez defect, which is always available, is to track down the old owner and obtain a quitclaim deed from him. This eliminates the need for a second foreclosure sale and is often the “cleanest” way to resolve Ibanez titles.

Another option is waiting out the 3 year entry period. Foreclosure can be completed by sale or by entry which is the act of the foreclosure attorney or lender representative physically entering onto the property. Foreclosures by entry are deemed valid after 3 years have expired from the certificate of entry which should be filed with the foreclosure. It’s best to check with a real estate attorney to see if this option is available.

The last resort is to demand that the foreclosing lender re-do its foreclosure sale. The problem is that a new foreclosure could open the door for a competing bid to the property and other logistical issues, not to mention recalcitrant foreclosing lenders and their foreclosure mill attorneys.

Title insurance companies who have insured Ibanez afflicted titles have been steadily resolving these titles since the original Ibanez decision in 2009. I’m not sure how many defective foreclosure titles remain out there right now. There certainly could be a fair amount lurking in titles unknown to those purchasers who bought REO properties from lenders such as U.S. Bank, Deutsche Bank, etc. If you bought such a property, I recommend you have an attorney check the back title and find your owner’s title insurance policy. Those without title insurance, of course, have and will continue to bear the brunt of this mess.

More Coverage:

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced real estate litigation attorney who’s handled numerous foreclosure title defect matters & cases in Land Court and Superior Court. Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure title dispute.

Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez; Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court October 18, 2011

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yodaDon’t Let An Undischarged Mortgage Ruin Your Closing

Real estate attorneys are often confronted with difficult and complex title defects which need to be cured. With the refinancing boom of the last 10 years, sloppy, high-volume closing attorneys occasionally failed to obtain discharges of mortgage they were paying off at closing. Likewise, home equity closings at local bank branches were also notorious for not tracking down and recording mortgage discharges.

These undischarged mortgages and “missing” discharges from years ago rear their ugly heads when the homeowner goes to sell his property and a full 50 year title examination is undertaken by a competent closing attorney. Some of these missing discharges are from old banks and financial institutions which have gone bankruptcy, are now in FDIC receivership, or were merged with other banks several times. Some are with private lenders who are no where to be found. Of course, title must be cleared prior to closing or there is no closing!

This is when even the most experienced real estate closing attorney has to call in the cavalry. And that person is someone like Kurt Stuckel, Esq.

I like to call Kurt the Jedi Master Discharge Tracker. Operating out of a small office in little Pepperell, Mass., Attorney Stuckel handles and solves thousands of title requests every year for real estate attorneys and title companies throughout the Commonwealth. He’s handled several thorny issues for me in recent months – even one where I thought “there’s no way he can get this one” from the FDIC–and low and behold, he did. His fees are reasonable, and he makes the closing attorney look good in front of their clients.

If you are in need of excellent title curative services, please contact Kurt Stuckel, Esq. at 978.443.5241 or email at kurt@kurtstuckel.com. And tell him I sent you!

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L to R, bottom: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Ginsberg; top: Sonya Sotomayor, Steven Breyer, Samuel Alito, Elana Kagan

U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Edwards v. First American Title
In a case closely watched by the title insurance and real estate settlement services industry, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a class action which will decide whether consumers can sue under the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) over a title insurance referral arrangement that allegedly violated RESPA’s anti-kickback provisions. The case’s outcome could shield title insurers, banks and other lenders from litigation under RESPA and a wide range of federal and state laws. If First American wins this case, we could see title insurance companies in Mass. taking a much more active role in the operations of their favorite and most profitable agents.

The case is Edwards v. First American Title Co. For more coverage of the case, read the SCOTUS Blog summary here.

No Kickbacks

Class action attorneys file hundreds of cases each year on behalf of borrowers alleging violations of RESPA, which prohibits “any fee, kickback or thing of value,” in exchange for a business referral. RESPA also forbids that a “portion, split, or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real estate settlement service” be paid for services that are not actually rendered to the customer. If a violation of the statute is proven, a court can award a plaintiff treble damages, or triple the amount, for any charge paid.

In a lawsuit filed in 2007, Denise Edwards claimed her title insurer, Tower City Title Agency LLC of Highland Heights, Ohio, entered into a “captive insurance agreement” with First American Title that was illegal under RESPA. The lawsuit said that because First American paid $2 million for a 17.5% minority interest in Tower City in 1998, it received the majority of the local agent’s referral business which violated RESPA. The suit sought class action status on behalf of all consumers who purchased title insurance through a title agency that was subject to an exclusive referral agreement with First American, and damages of up to $150 million.

The case went up to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals which sided with Edwards that “the damages provision in RESPA gives rise to a statutory cause of action whether or not an overcharge occurred.”

Supreme Court Review

The Supreme Court will review the constitutional issue of whether consumers must prove they were actually injured under RESPA and other truth in lending laws. A favorable ruling for First American could mean a significant dent in costly class action suits under RESPA and TILA. Oral argument is expected in the Fall term, in October.

Massachusetts Impact: Cozier Agent Relationships?

Beyond curtailing or expanding consumers’ ability to bring all sorts of claims under RESPA and Truth in Lending (TILA), a favorable result for First American could enable title companies to get into much cozier relationships with attorney agents in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is a so-called attorney agency state, where attorneys issue title insurance policies. Title insurance companies in Massachusetts cannot (yet) legally invest in or own law firms (although this rule is being challenged nationally). So we don’t have a “captive insurance agreements” or the like. Certainly, some attorney agents prefer to give their business to one or two particular title insurance companies, but to my knowledge, there’s no formal agreement among insurers and agents here in Mass.

If First American wins this case, we could see title insurance companies in Mass. considering captive insurance agreements and taking a much more active role in the operations of their favorite and most profitable agents. We will see….

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When you find out you have a major title problem that prevents you from selling or refinancing your home, have fun explaining to your spouse that for a fraction of the cost of your home you could’ve prevented it by buying title insurance.

Enhanced Owner’s Title Insurance Coverage

Available for a few years now, enhanced coverage policies offer vastly improved protection for common title problems at about a 10% cost over a standard coverage policy. (These policies run about $4 per thousand of purchase price). Enhanced coverage policies now cover some of the most common title problems facing Massachusetts residents. Realtors and mortgage professionals should be aware of the benefits of an enhanced coverage policy, and should recommend that their clients opt for the increased coverage. It’s well worth the small cost in premium.

Additional Coverages:

  • Appreciation in property value. Standard policies do not increase their coverage amount in a rising market as a home increases in value. The enhanced policy will increase coverage by 10% per year for 5 years up to 150% of the original policy limit.
  • Encroachments/adverse possession. Standard policies, to most homeowner’s chagrin, do not cover encroachments like a neighbor’s fence, wall or structure over a property line. Enhanced policies provide coverage for such encroachments, and also cover adverse possession–which occurs when an encroachment exists for 20 or more uninterrupted years. For more info on Massachusetts adverse possession, please read our post “Good Fences May Make For Upset Neighbors”.
  • Zoning/Subdivision/Building permit violations. Enhanced coverage policies now provide coverage if the property is not zoned for residential 1-4 family use, in violation of subdivision regulations, or if there is a defect or lack of a building permit. This is a tremendous benefit for commonly arising situations.
  • Easements. Enhanced policies offer coverage for easement encroachment situations such as deeded driveways, drainage easements, utility easements, beach paths, walking paths, etc.
  • Expanded Insured. Enhanced policies will now transfer to a spouse who gets property in a divorce, inheriting heirs, related family trusts and their beneficiaries.
  • Expanded Access Coverage. Enhanced policies now guarantee that your home as adequate vehicular and foot access over adequate streets or roads if there’s a title defect rendering your lot “land-locked.”

Do I Really Need Title Insurance?

The decision to get an owner’s title insurance policy is one of the most important choices you make in connection with your real estate transaction.

As part of every real estate transaction, the borrower/buyer is offered the opportunity to get an owner’s title insurance policy. (For refinances and purchases, your lender will require you to purchase a “lender’s” title insurance policy.) An owner’s title insurance provides the most comprehensive protection available for most every known type of title problem which could affect your property rights. I’m proud to say that every single one of my buyer clients have benefited from an owner’s title insurance policy at their closings, at my strong recommendation.

One needs only to look at the recent controversies over “robo-signing” and the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez defective foreclosure sales, which has stripped thousands of Massachusetts property owners of their property ownership rights, to see why an owner’s title insurance policy could be the best decision a home buyer ever makes. The unfortunate souls who declined owner’s title insurance are now left without legal title to their homes and looking at the prospect of spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to resolve their title issues with no guarantee of success. With a title insurance policy, the title insurance company will hire expert title attorneys to solve title issues at no cost to you, defend against any adverse claims, reimburse you for covered damages, and most valuable, issue affirmative coverage to enable a pending closing to move forward.

When you find out you have a major title problem that prevents you from selling or refinancing your home, have fun explaining to your spouse that for a fraction of the cost of your home you could’ve prevented it by buying title insurance.

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One of the most important jobs of the closing attorney during a Massachusetts refinance or purchase transaction is to fully explain the numerous closing costs that a borrower (and seller) must pay at closing. The best way to explain Massachusetts real estate closing costs in a blog post is the same way we would explain it at the closing–by reviewing the HUD-1 Settlement Statement line by line.

Prior to the closing, you should have received a Good Faith Estimate of closing costs from your lender. A good mortgage professional will always explain closing costs before you arrive at the closing table. The Good Faith Estimate or GFE will be a precursor of what you’ll be charged at closing, and certain closing costs cannot vary by more than 10% from the GFE. Bring your GFE to the closing to compare it with the HUD Settlement Statement.

HUD First Page, Borrower’s Column

We’ll use an actual HUD from a recent transaction, deleting the parties and property of course. This is a purchase for $250,000, reflected in line 101. The buyer is taking out a loan of $243,662.00 (line 202) to finance the sale. This is a FHA low down payment loan where the borrower must pay FHA mortgage insurance.

The total settlement charges, which are fully broken down on page 2 of the HUD (get to that down below), paid for by the borrower are $7,758.09, line 103. Because the closing took place on Jan. 31, in the middle of the tax fiscal quarter, real estate taxes on line 106 must be adjusted and paid for by the borrower through the end of the quarter, 3/31. As is customary in Mass., the borrower is also paying for home heating oil paid for by the seller and left in the tank (line 109–$241.20).

Line 120 tallies up the total amount due from the borrower at closing. Deducted from that number is the buyer’s deposit of $2,500 (line 201), and the buyer’s new loan of $243,662.00 (line 202). This borrower also fortunately received a seller closing cost credit of $5,708.93 (line 204) and a lender closing cost credit of $609.16 (line 205). Those credits really helped this borrower defray the closing costs.

In this transaction, there is a difference of $6,250.00 between the gross amount due from the borrower less the amounts paid by or for the borrower, which must be paid at at the closing (line 303). The borrower must bring a certified or bank check payable to himself (for fraud protection) for that amount to the closing.

Page 2 of the HUD

Page 2 of the HUD Settlement Statement itemizes all of the various closing costs, both from the borrower’s and seller sides.

Line 700 Series–Broker Commissions

In Massachusetts, the seller pays the real estate broker commission. Here, the seller is paying a total of 5% of the purchase price, or $12,500.

Line 800 Series–Lender Closing Costs

In this transaction, the lender is charging an “origination fee” of $1,735.00. This is the fee for procuring the loan. The lender has also charged the borrower for an appraisal for $425.00 but the initials “POCB” means it was paid for outside closing by the borrower. There are also small charges for a credit report and flood certification.

Line 900–Daily Interest and Mortgage insurance

The borrower is responsible for paying interest on the new mortgage loan from the closing date to the first day of the following month. That’s why most closings take place at the end of the month. The borrower is charged one day of interest of $32.54 (line 901). As this borrower is not putting 20% down, this particular loan requires mortgage insurance of $2,412.50 paid at closing by the borrower (line 902).

Line 1000–Escrow Reserves

The vast majority of mortgage lenders require borrowers to fund a real estate tax and homeowner’s insurance escrow account. Occasionally, a lender will waive the escrow for a fee or small interest rate increase. This is an aspect of closing costs that many borrowers have difficulty understanding.

The escrow account helps you and the lender anticipate and manage payment of property expenses by including these expenses as a portion of your monthly mortgage payment. Think of the escrow account as a small savings account for these expenses. An incremental amount of these expenses is added to your monthly mortgage payment, in order to cover these expenses when they are due. The lender will pay, on your behalf, the real estate taxes due on a quarterly basis, as well as the homeowner’s insurance for the following year.

Each year, your escrow account is reviewed to determine if the amount being escrowed each month is sufficient to pay for any change in your real estate taxes or homeowner’s insurance premiums. At closing, the closing attorney will collect sufficient funds to start your escrow account, typically 2-3 months worth of real estate taxes and up to a 12 months of homeowner’s insurance. In this case, the borrower must fund the escrow account with $817.12 (line 1001), which consists of 3 months of homeowner’s insurance and 2 months of real estate taxes. Remember, when you sell your home (or refinance) you will recoup your escrow account monies.

Line 1100–Title Charges

The line 1100 series shows the fees associated with the title examination, closing attorney fees and title insurance. In all transactions the lender requires the borrower to pay for lender’s title insurance and the settlement or closing fee to the closing attorney. In this transaction, the borrower has opted to purchase his own owner’s title insurance policy which protects the owner’s property and is highly recommended for many reasons. Read our post on title insurance here. So the borrower is charged $1,799.00 plus $477.50 for all the title work, closing attorney and both lender’s and owner’s title insurance premiums. The fee for reviewing and drafting the purchase and sale agreement is also included in the settlement fee on line 1102.

Line 1200–Gov’t Fees

The county registry of deeds imposes fees for the recording of the deed ($125) and mortgage ($175) which the borrower pays. The borrower also paid recording fees for an “MLC” which is a municipal lien certificate and a declaration of homestead. The seller pays the fee for the release ($75). The seller also pays a state transfer tax of $2.28 per $500.00 of value.

In Closing…

That’s basically it. Remember that closing costs differ widely between lenders, loan products, loan amounts, and closing attorneys. Make sure you ask to review the HUD Settlement Statement prior to the closing. It should be ready the day before or that day. Again, you should always speak to your mortgage professional about closing costs before you arrive at the closing table.

If you would like to speak with our office about handling your purchase or refinance transaction, please contact us at info@titlehub.com and check out our website at www.titlehub.com. Thanks!

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“[W]hat is surprising about these cases is … the utter carelessness with which the plaintiff banks documented the titles to their assets.” –Justice Robert Cordy, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Foreclosure2-300x225.jpgToday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled against foreclosing lenders and those who purchased foreclosed properties in Massachusetts in the controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case. Here is the link for the decision. I’ve posted the decision below, and I’ve done a video blog embedded below.

Background

For those new to the case, the problem the Court dealt with in this case is the validity of foreclosures when the mortgages are part of securitized mortgage lending pools. When mortgages were bundled and packaged to Wall Street investors, the ownership of mortgage loans were divided and freely transferred numerous times on the lenders’ books. But the mortgage loan documentation actually on file at the Registry of Deeds often lagged far behind.

In the Ibanez case, the mortgage assignment, which was executed in blank, was not recorded until over a year after the foreclosure process had started. This was a fairly common practice in Massachusetts, and I suspect across the U.S. Mr. Ibanez, the distressed homeowner, challenged the validity of the foreclosure, arguing that U.S. Bank had no standing to foreclose because it lacked any evidence of ownership of the mortgage and the loan at the time it started the foreclosure.

Mr. Ibanez won his case in the lower court in 2009, and due to the importance of the issue, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court took the case on direct appeal.

The SJC Ruling: Lenders Must Prove Ownership When They Foreclose

The SJC’s ruling can be summed up by Justice Cordy’s concurring opinion:

“The type of sophisticated transactions leading up to the accumulation of the notes and mortgages in question in these cases and their securitization, and, ultimately the sale of mortgaged-backed securities, are not barred nor even burdened by the requirements of Massachusetts law. The plaintiff banks, who brought these cases to clear the titles that they acquired at their own foreclosure sales, have simply failed to prove that the underlying assignments of the mortgages that they allege (and would have) entitled them to foreclose ever existed in any legally cognizable form before they exercised the power of sale that accompanies those assignments. The court’s opinion clearly states that such assignments do not need to be in recordable form or recorded before the foreclosure, but they do have to have been effectuated.”

The Court’s ruling appears rather elementary: you need to own the mortgage before you can foreclose. But it’s become much more complicated with the proliferation of mortgage backed securities (MBS’s) –which constitute 60% or more of the entire U.S. mortgage market. The Court has held unequivocally that the common industry practice of assigning a mortgage “in blank” — meaning without specifying to whom the mortgage would be assigned until after the fact — does not constitute a proper assignment, at least in Massachusetts.

My Analysis

  • Winners: Distressed homeowners facing foreclosure
  • Losers: Foreclosing lenders, people who purchased foreclosed homes with this type of title defect, foreclosure attorneys, and title insurance companies.
  • Despite pleas from innocent buyers of foreclosed properties and my own predictions, the decision was applied retroactively, so this will hurt Massachusetts homeowners who bought defective foreclosure properties.
  • If you own a foreclosed home with an “Ibanez” title issue, I’m afraid to say that you do not own your home anymore. The previous owner who was foreclosed upon owns it again. This is a mess.
  • The opinion is a scathing indictment of the securitized mortgage lending system and its non-compliance with Massachusetts foreclosure law. Justice Cordy, a former big firm corporate lawyer, chastised lenders and their Wall Street lawyers for “the utter carelessness with which the plaintiff banks documented the titles to their assets.”
  • If you purchased a foreclosure property with an “Ibanez” title defect, and you do not have title insurance, you are in trouble. You may not be able to sell or refinance your home for quite a long time, if ever. Recourse would be against the foreclosing banks, the foreclosing attorneys. Or you could attempt to get a deed from the previous owner. Re-doing the original foreclosure is also an option but with complications.
  • If you purchased a foreclosure property and you have an owner’s title insurance policy, contact the title company right away.
  • The decision carved out some room so that mortgages with compliant securitization documents may be able to survive the ruling. This will shake out in the months to come. A major problem with this case was that the lenders weren’t able to produce the schedules of the securitization documents showing that the two mortgages in question were part of the securitization pool. Why, I have no idea.
  • The decision opens the door for foreclosing lenders to prove ownership with proper securitized documents. There will be further litigation on this. Furthermore, since the Land Court’s decision in 2009, many lenders have already re-done foreclosures and title insurance companies have taken other steps to cure the title defects.
  • We don’t know how other state court’s will react to this ruling. The SJC is one of the most well respected state supreme courts in the country. This decision was well-reasoned and I believe correct given that the lenders couldn’t even produce any admissible evidence they held the mortgages. The ruling will certainly be followed in states (such as California) operating under a non-judicial foreclosure system such as Massachusetts.
  • Watch for class actions against foreclosing lenders, the attorneys who drafted the securitization loan documents and foreclosing attorneys. Investors of mortgage backed securities (MBS) will also be exploring their legal options against the trusts and servicers of the mortgage pools.
  • The banking sector has already dropped some 5% today (1.7.11), showing that this ruling has sufficiently spooked investors.

More more extensive analysis, please read my new post: Apocalypse Now? Will The Massachusetts Ibanez Case Unravel Widespread Irregularities In The Residential Securitized Mortgage Market?

Additional Press Coverage

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Two good questions came from my Boston.com real estate blog readers about the recent foreclosure mess.

“Are title insurance companies still insuring foreclosure properties?”— James In Cambridge

Answer: Yes, they are. Initially, the press reported that some major title insurers had temporarily stopped insuring foreclosure titles from JP Morgan Chase, Ally Financial, and Bank of America. However, my understanding is that all title insurers have resumed insuring all foreclosure properties in the wake of several major agreements between national title insurance companies and lenders. These warranty and indemnification agreements would essentially shift the risk of loss from irregular/defective foreclosures back onto the foreclosing lenders.

From the conveyancing side, I can definitely tell you that title insurers have advised their attorney agents to go through foreclosure titles with a fine tooth comb and to be especially diligent in examining and certifying foreclosure titles. Buyers of foreclosure properties should be prepared for delays in getting their transactions closed.

“How is robo-signing different from the Ibanez case situation”?–Scott

Answer:  “Robo-signing” and the Massachusetts Ibanez foreclosure case are two different situations, but the root of the problem — the complexity of the securitized mortgage industry and the sheer volume of foreclosure paperwork to be processed — remains a contributing cause of both problems.

“Robo-signing,” as one of the leading foreclosure defense attorneys has claimed to the Huffington Post, refers to how financial institutions and their mortgage servicing departments hired hair stylists, Walmart floor workers and people who had worked on assembly lines and installed them in “foreclosure expert” jobs with no formal training to sign sworn documents submitted to courts. According to depositions released in Florida and the Post, many of those workers testified that they barely knew what a mortgage was. Some couldn’t define the word “affidavit.” Others didn’t know what a complaint was, or even what was meant by personal property. Most troubling, several said they knew they were lying when they signed the foreclosure affidavits, and that they agreed with the defense lawyers’ accusations about document fraud.

This is obviously a major problem in states such as Florida which require a judge’s approval of a foreclosure based on sworn documents. However, Massachusetts is not such a state. Other than verifying the borrower is not in the military, Massachusetts state law doesn’t require any sworn verification that the foreclosure is kosher (if you will). That may change after lawmakers and the Attorney General’s office react this foreclosure mess. In fact, the AG announced this week she is investigating on of the largest “foreclosure mills” in the state for alleged non-compliance with the new tenant foreclosure law.

The Ibanez problem occurs when mortgage loan documentation recorded with the Registry of Deeds lagged far behind the actual ownership of the loan, due to complex mortgage securitization agreements and sloppy follow up. Land Court Judge Keith Long’s ruling effectively invalidated thousands of foreclosures which suffered from this newly recognized “defect.” The Ibanez situation is not a product of fraud, like robo-signing, in my opinion. In fact, the practice of recording mortgage assignments “late” was long accepted by the title examination community prior to the Ibanez ruling. So it caught a lot of folks off-guard.Getting title insurance on an Ibanez-afflicted property is near impossible these days, and the robo-signing controversy certainly doesn’t help alleviate  the risk tolerance of anxious title insurance underwriters.

To be sure, both Ibanez and the robo-signing controversy have reverberated through the real estate community, and have impacted foreclosure sales on a number of levels. If you are considering purchasing a foreclosed property, please contact us so we can guide you through the complicated process and protect your interests.

If you need assistance with foreclosure defense, I recommend Liss Law–Massachusetts foreclosure defense (www.lisslawboston.com) based in Brookline, MA

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Essential-Paul-Simon-395x298-staffpicks_0She said it’s really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued
But I’ll repeat myself, at the risk of being crude
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Fifty ways to leave your lover

“50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” (c) Paul Simon

50 Ways To Lose Your Home

As Massachusetts real estate closing attorneys, we are often asked by buyers-borrowers, “Why should we get an owner’s title insurance policy if you are already doing a title examination?” This is a really good question, and the perfect lead in to a conversation about of the coverages and cost of a Massachusetts owner’s title insurance policy. Do you know the Paul Simon tune, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”? Well, there are more than 50 ways to lose your home without an owner’s title policy. Simply put, don’t take the risk of foregoing title insurance. It’s not worth it.

Title Insurance Basics

Title insurance protects homeowners from financial loss in the event that certain covered problems develop regarding the rights to ownership of their property. While all borrowers of conventional mortgages will receive a certification of title by a Massachusetts real estate closing attorney that their title is “good, clear and marketable,” there can be a host of hidden, off-record title defects that even the most careful title search will not reveal. In addition to protection from financial loss, title insurance pays the cost of defending against any covered claim.

50 Ways to Lose Your Home

Like the Paul Simon song, there are at least 50 ways you can lose title to your home if you don’t get an owner’s title insurance policy. The vast majority of these situations will not be ascertained in a typical title examination.

  1. Forged deeds, mortgages, mortgage discharges/satisfactions
  2. Deeds executed by a mentally incompetent or insane person
  3. Deed from a minor subject to avoidance
  4. Unauthorized deed from partnership or trustee
  5. Deed by foreign person vulnerable to challenge
  6. Deed from a corporation unauthorized by by-laws or resolution
  7. Undisclosed divorce of person who conveys as sole heir of a deceased former spouse
  8. Deed signed by mistake or under financial duress
  9. Deed signed under defective power of attorney
  10. Foreclosure deed where underlying foreclosure was defective
  11. Ineffective release/discharge of prior mortgage
  12. Deed of deceased not joining all heirs
  13. Missing heirs claiming interest in property
  14. Transfer void under contract law
  15. Deed includes protected public trust wetlands
  16. Ineffective release of mortgage subject to bankruptcy avoidance powers
  17. Ineffective mortgage subordination
  18. Mistakenly indexed deed/release
  19. Undisclosed federal/state tax lien
  20. Undisclosed spousal/child support lien
  21. Undisclosed lawsuit affecting property
  22. Undisclosed restrictions/covenants
  23. Incorrect legal description
  24. Errors in tax records
  25. Erroneous tax release
  26. Misinterpretation of wills
  27. Deed without right of access to public way
  28. Access eliminated by foreclosure
  29. Defective notarization
  30. Forged notarization
  31. Improperly recorded or indexed deed/mortgage
  32. Deed acquired through creditor fraud
  33. Mechanic’s lien claims
  34. Incorrect property boundaries
  35. Encroachments of buildings
  36. Federal or state estate tax liens
  37. Preexisting violation of subdivision laws
  38. Preexisting violation of zoning laws
  39. Deed from joint owner without joint tenant joining
  40. Undisclosed right of first refusal
  41. Undisclosed easement affecting property
  42. Undisclosed party wall agreement
  43. Special assessment liens
  44. Adverse claim of vendor’s lien
  45. Discovery of un-probated will
  46. Claims for prescriptive rights, not of record
  47. Easement does not conform to recorded instrument
  48. Incorrect survey
  49. Deed following lawsuit where all parties of interest not joined
  50. Deed executed under falsified power of attorney

Getting an owner’s title insurance policy is simply a “no brainer.” I did the title to my own home in Sudbury, and I got an owner’s policy. It’s a one time premium paid at closing, and stays in effect as long as you own your home, through refinances and even the death of a spouse. Please contact us about carriers, rates and coverages.

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Overview: Lis Pendens, Latin for “A Suit Pending”

A lis pendens is Latin for “a suit pending.” Under the Massachusetts lis pendens law, a lis pendens is a notice endorsed by a judge certifying that there is litigation pending involving the title or occupancy rights to a property. Where real estate deals go sour, a court will often issue a lis pendens where a buyer seeks “specific performance” of a real estate contract in order to force a seller to go through with a transaction. Lis pendens are also common in other real estate cases such as boundary, title, zoning, and ownership disputes. The lis pendens is recorded at the registry of deeds against the property and its owner(s), creating a serious cloud on the title to the affected property. A lis pendens will, in many cases, effectively prevent the owner from selling the property until the claim is resolved–thus, earning its well-deserved reputation as dangerous arrow in a real estate litigator’s quiver.

Heavy Ammunition For Buyers

Since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in 1998 that the standard Greater Boston Real Estate form Offer To Purchase is a binding contract, buyers have used the lis pendens with great success against sellers who unjustifiably try to back out of Offers to Purchase and Purchase and Sale Agreements. Aggressive buyer attorneys would often obtain a lis pendens without prior notice to the seller (called ex parte relief), and this would give buyers a huge advantage and effectively derail any pending sale of the property until the judge resolved the claim.

Recent Changes To The Law

In response to complaints that litigants were abusing the law with frivolous claims for lis pendens’, lawmakers amended the law in 2003. Now, claimants seeking ex parte relief must show there is a clear danger that the seller, if notified in advance, will convey, encumber, damage or destroy the property. Sellers also have a new remedy to stop frivolous claims: a “special motion to dismiss” which carries with it an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. The playing field is a bit more leveled now, yet the lis pendens remains a powerful tool for real estate attorneys.

Dealing With A Lis Pendens

Dealing with a meritorious lis pendens remains very difficult. Standard owner’s title insurance policies do not insure against them. Further, most title companies hesitate to affirmatively insure a lis pendens as they would effectively be underwriting the ultimate success of the lawsuit. Sometimes, however, coverage can be obtained for an additional premium and/or with some form of indemnification or security. In the absence of insurance, a lis pendens will remain a cloud on title until the claim is ultimately resolved in the courts, which these days can take many years. Given the high cost of litigation, a financial settlement is often the only way to resolve the matter in a cost-effective manner.

As an experienced real estate litigator who has obtained and defended scores of lis pendens’, please contact me with any questions about a Massachusetts lis pendens.

______________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced and creative Massachusetts real estate litigator who loves to help property owners defend their contract or property rights in court. Please contact him at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352 for a no-obligation consultation.

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Update (3/24/10): SJC Accepts Ibanez Case
For those of you following the controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case, which invalidated potentially thousands of foreclosures across the state, both sides last week asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to take the case — as I originally predicted. The SJC’s acceptance of the case would cut months to years off the normal appellate process. This would be great news for everyone eagerly awaiting a final decision.

Click here for Ibanez’s petition to the SJC. Click here for my post on the first ruling and here for my post on the second ruling in the Ibanez case.

The SJC should decide whether to take the case within 30 days or so, and I predict they will take it on. However, I still think the SJC will ultimately affirm Judge Long’s ruling against foreclosing lenders, a bad decision from a title and conveyancing standpoint in my view.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Ibanez, some lenders are re-doing foreclosures and some are just waiting it out. Most title insurance companies are unwilling to touch an Ibanez afflicted property with a ten foot pole.

I recently assisted a buyer of a foreclosed property who was initially rejected by two title insurers. We fortunately convinced one title company to insure over an Ibanez issue, so the client could close. But I have another client who is stuck, and we’re trying to track down the original owner of the property to obtain a deed. It’s a tough situation all around.

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David Gaffin, Greenpark Mortgage

I’m pleased to welcome another guest blogger, David M. Gaffin, a licensed Loan Officer with Greenpark Mortgage Corp. of Needham MA. Dave is licensed to originate in MA, NH and FL. You can visit him at Greenpark Mortgage or through his LinkedIn profile.

The new 2010 RESPA rules are all the rage right now. So I’m especially pleased to have a mortgage industry veteran like Dave to offer his views on the new rules, especially the new Good Faith Estimate (GFE).

So, you thought getting a home loan for purchase or refinance before was confusing? Well, I’ve got GREAT NEWS for you. Your government has heard you and has come to help! (Insert Sarcastic Mental Voice.)  The federal Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD) has dismantled the previous 1 page Good Faith Estimate that itemized most of the settlement charges for your loan and created a new 3 page “simplified” GFE to “help borrowers understand and compare the costs associated with obtaining a mortgage.”

In my opinion, HUD is trying to do at least 2 things for consumers:

1. Protect the consumer from dealing with shady mortgage companies that will disclose certain fees on the GFE, and then charge higher or additional fees at the closing table and

2. Encourage consumers to use the GFE as a shopping tool to ensure a fair deal.

An informed consumer will typically make better choices than an ill-informed one, so the premise behind the changes to the new GFE is a worthwhile one. However, there are several areas where a consumer may not be able to compare the costs of loan programs on an equal basis and thus make the most appropriate loan choice.

Page 1 of the new GFE groups together all of the “Adjusted Origination Charges” (e.g. processing and underwriting fees, points, doc prep, etc.) as one figure and the Charges for All Other Settlement Services (e.g. closing attorney fees, title insurance, recording fees, etc.) associated with closing your loan as another figure and adds them together to come up with the Total Estimate Settlement Charges.

The new GFE also spells out your loan amount, loan term, interest rate and the initial monthly payment for principal interest and any mortgage insurance.

However the new GFE does not include expected expenses for monthly real estate taxes, homeowners insurance, or home owner’s association dues. Nor does it inform the borrower about expected funds needed to close the loan. Because all the origination charges are lumped together, the new GFE is not specific in disclosing the number of points required to close the loan. It also does not include the Annual Percentage Rate, or APR.

Escrow funding for reserves of real estate taxes, home owner’s insurance and mortgage insurance are included on page 1.

However, despite the fact that this total sum should be uniform across lenders, the new GFE allows the lender to quote whatever number of months of reserves they choose, resulting in a variance of hundreds or thousands of dollars when comparing GFEs. This is not a borrower savings from lender to lender. At settlement these charges will be the same for all lenders.  This could result in the borrower unexpectedly bringing additional funds to the closing.  Some mortgage companies will try to gain a competitive advantage by initially disclosing lower escrow totals.  This would be an unfair and deceptive trade practice to the consumer.

Page 2 breaks into sections the charges for All Other Settlement Services which will include such newly disclosed charges as Owner’s Title Insurance, (which is an optional, but recommended purchase) and Transfer Taxes.  In many states, the Transfer Taxes are disclosed as a borrower–related cost, even though the borrower may not be responsible for this cost, thereby inflating the Total Charge Estimate.

Page 3 gives the consumer information about which expense items on the GFE cannot increase at settlement, which one’s can have a total increase of a 10% increase and which ones can change without limit. The origination charges cannot change at settlement.

Lenders who allow borrowers to choose settlement service providers will receive a Page 4 to the new GFE which will list those providers.

Analysis:  Does the new GFE Help Consumers Or Is It Just Another Complicated Form?

I have been in the mortgage industry for many years and have advanced educational degrees. I have passed my required national and state licensing exams and even I find this form to be confusing and not very helpful when comparing loans. My job as a loan consultant is to inform and educate my clients so that we arrive at the best loan program for them with the least costs based on their needs. I use different tools to compare programs, including cost/benefit analysis, total interest paid comparisons, length of loan term reviews, etc., but, with the new GFE rules, I must disclose 1 loan program within 3 business days of collecting 6 points of entry for an application. If I fail to do so, even if the borrower and I have not determined the best program for them yet, I am in violation of the law. I do not see how this helps the borrower determine the best loan program.

I will give HUD credit for trying, and as this is now the law of the land it is what we must all work with, however, given the vast departure from the look and feel of the previous form, it is going to take a lot of education on the part of loan officers, realtors and attorneys to establish a comfort level with the borrower’s understanding of the form.

When a borrower chooses a lender, they should be referred by someone they trust, should check out the lender’s and loan officer’s reputation by reviewing its website or other public information and feel comfortable that the loan officer is knowledgeable, understands their needs and has the borrower’s best interests in mind.  Then a GFE received from that company can be viewed as a Good Faith Accurate, and not just a Good Faith Estimate.

Dave, thanks so much for your insightful analysis! This is a great post and a boon for our readers. This underscores why borrowers must have an experienced and knowledgeable loan officer such as David Gaffin on their team.

I have certainly spend a fair amount of time digesting the new changes, but perhaps that is because I am so used to the old forms. The irony may well be that many consumers will be seeing the new GFE for the first time and may not be as confused as some of us industry veterans. Adjusting to major changes to long standing practices is always difficult.

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In this post, I’ll discuss a very important issue to lenders, closing attorneys and borrowers alike: how the new RESPA rules handle the disclosure of closing attorney fees/costs and title insurance.

The new RESPA rules significantly change the way lenders must disclose settlement services, in particular closing attorneys’ fees, and title insurance. Generally, under the new rules, closing costs are divided into one of three “buckets”:

(1) those that cannot change from initial Good Faith Estimate (GFE) disclosure

(2) those subject to a 10% tolerance–that is, those which cannot increase by more than 10% from the GFE to the closing, and

(3) those that can change, i.e., increase without limitation.

Here is how the GFE (page 3) shows the 3 buckets:

For closing attorney fees (which HUD now calls “title services”) and title insurance, bucket #1 does not apply, and whether the cost belongs in bucket #2 or #3 will depend on whether the lender recommended the service provider on a written list of preferred providers. If the borrower selects a provider from the list, such as a closing attorney, their charges cannot increase by more than 10% from the GFE to the closing.

Thus, lenders have an incentive to recommend trusted providers whose charges are standard and predictable. If the borrower wants a particular attorney or title insurance provider not on the preferred list, he/she is free to select one, but their charges are not subject to the 10% tolerance and can go up (or down) by any amount.

Also remember that lender’s title insurance is universally required by every public mortgage lender, and in Massachusetts the borrower pays that premium at closing (except for no closing cost loans). A lender’s title insurance policy, however, does not protect the homeowner. As HUD and I always advise, borrowers should always get their own owner’s title insurance policy. (See HUD’s Shopping For Your Home Loan Booklet and my post, Title Insurance Demystified for some horror stories about what happens when you don’t purchase an owner’s title insurance policy).

Here is how the new GFE (page 2) discloses closing attorney fees/title services and title insurance:

Note that lines 3 and 4 represent a huge change from prior practice for closing attorneys. Now closing attorney fees must be disclosed as a single, lump sum charge, plus the cost of the required lender’s title insurance policy. The old GFE itemized such closing costs as courier fees, discharge tracking fees, and the like, but the new GFE is intended to simplify the disclosure of attorney closing costs in favor of one standard charge that consumers can compare across the board.

From the GFE, these fees and costs are ultimately carried over on the new HUD-1 Settlement Statement, with reference to the new GFE lines:

At the closing, the borrower can now simply compare the GFE with the new HUD to ensure that the quoted charges have carried over to the closing table. Remember though that selected costs from a “preferred provider” may deviate up to 10% under the tolerance rules. Also, for the first time the new HUD mandates disclosure of the closing attorney’s share, or split, of the title insurance premium.

This is my second post in a series on the new Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) rules which went into effect on January 1. My first post was Are You Ready For Some RESPA Reform? An Overview Of The New Regulations. Click here for a listing of the entire RESPA series.

As always, please contact Attorney Richard Vetstein with any questions.

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Update (2/25/10)Mass. High Court May Take Ibanez Case

I’ve been asked several times recently for an update on the status of Land Court judge Keith Long’s controversial ruling in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez, which invalidated thousands of foreclosures across Massachusetts. Click here for my prior post on the case.

Unfortunately for those affected by the decision, not much is going on. Lenders have reportedly appealed the decision. Word has it that the lenders have hired mega-firm K&L Gates to handle the appeal. (Interestingly, K&L Gates is the same firm which secured a major ruling against the Massachusetts Real Estate Bar Association over non-attorneys handling real estate closings in Massachusetts).

The record in the Land Court is currently being assembled. The Massachusetts Appellate Court database doesn’t even list the case as yet up on appeal. Accordingly, this appeal is many, many months away from being decided.

Also, watch for the lenders to ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to take the case on direct appeal. While this will delay the appeal some in the short term, the SJC is the final stop on the appellate railway, and its decision is the final word on the matter. Given the pro-consumer decisions recently issued by the high court and its current makeup of somewhat liberal justices, my money is still on an unfavorable decision for lenders in this case.

In the meantime, I’m hearing that lenders are simply re-doing their foreclosures with the correct loan paperwork (i.e., the mortgage assignments) brought up to date. For buyers who had an agreement to purchase a foreclosed home, this most likely means you will have to wait in line again and re-bid on the second foreclosure.

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