RESPA

Mortgage Lender Wins Stunning Ruling Challenging $103 Million Fine

Characterizing Director Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as the “single most powerful official in the entire U.S. Government, other than the President,” a federal appeals court ruled yesterday in the case of PHH Corporation v. CFPB, that the CFPB’s organizational structure and authority to impose fines violates the due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The surprising 101-page ruling called into question the Director’s authority to impose certain fines and the agency’s authority to enact rules and regulations, although future appeals are likely. The agency, the pet project of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has long been criticized by the banking industry and congressional Republicans as wielding too much power.

PHH, a mortgage lender, made national headlines when it challenged Director Cordray’s decision to tack on a $103 million increase to a $6 million fine initially levied against PHH for allegedly illegally referring consumers to mortgage insurers in exchange for kickbacks in violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. The case was one of the first times that a company fought back against the CFPB, the governmental agency championed by Elizabeth Warren and congressional liberals after the Bush era financial crisis and the Dodd-Frank Act.

In a unanimous decision, a three judge panel of the federal appeals court governing Washington D.C. ruled that the CFPB’s current structure allows the director to wield far too much power, more than any other agency in the entire U.S government. “Because the Director alone heads the agency without Presidential supervision, and in light of the CFPB’s broad authority over the U.S. economy, the Director enjoys significantly more unilateral power than any single member of any other independent agency,” the judges reasoned.

The fallout remains unclear, but certainly this ruling gives opponents of the CFPB heavy ammunition to challenge the agency on its decisions and rule-making authority. The Mortgage Bankers Association welcomed the decision and the clarification the decision presents for RESPA. “MBA is gratified that the court has issued an extremely thoughtful opinion.  It addresses all of the key issues raised by the PHH case, including the proper interpretation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, the need for due process including reasonable statutes of limitations and the very constitutionality of the CFPB itself,” MBA President and CEO David Stevens said.

The National Association of Realtors also welcomed the decision’s clarity surrounding marketing service agreements, which are clearly a target of the CFPB. “Today’s decision offers much-needed clarity on the legality of marketing service agreements, and makes clear that MSAs are compliant with RESPA provided that payment for goods and services actually furnished or performed are made at fair market,” said NAR President Tom Salomone. “We’re hopeful this will address any uncertainty moving forward and offer a clear road ahead for any of our members who have entered into MSAs with settlement service providers,” Salomone continued. “We will continue to monitor this case and the further appeals that are likely, and continue to communicate to Realtors on what this means for them and their business.”

I have been a vocal critic of the CFPB’s massive revision to the closing and settlement disclosure statements which went into effect last year. While there is no indication that the new Closing Disclosure and Loan Estimate will go away, this ruling will hopefully make the agency think twice about going over the top with future rules and regulations.

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The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets are claiming that lenders’ use of loan cost worksheets and estimates are a “sidestep” of the new RESPA mandated Good Faith Estimate which went into effect on January 1. HUD officials say they plan to conduct a review of the growing use of “worksheets” and “fee estimate” forms by mortgage lenders providing quotes to home buyers and refinancers. Lenders vehemently deny that they are doing anything wrong; in fact, they argue, cost worksheets are necessary because of several glaring deficiencies with the new Good Faith Estimate. This is all part of the shake-out during the first 30 days of the new RESPA reform which went into effect on January 1.

The new closing cost rules under the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) significantly changed the manner in which lenders are required to estimate loan and closing costs. Many charges cannot deviate at all, or at most by a 10%, from the Good Faith Estimate to the closing. That’s in stark contrast to earlier rules, which essentially allowed some lenders to quote low estimates of total costs, with no responsibility for the final dollar charges at closing, HUD contended.

Lenders — many of whom are feel the new GFE is the single worst government form ever to hit the real estate industry — respond that since the new GFE has a number of major deficiencies, such as not providing a total monthly cost payment, seller paid items and most importantly cash-to-close, it justifies the worksheets/estimates. (And if you can believe this, there’s no place on the GFE for the borrower to sign!).

Lenders, what are your complaints with the new GFE? (Try to keep them under 10!). Do you think providing these worksheets will ultimately help consumers? Are the criticisms about the worksheets unfair? Did HUD get it wrong with the new GFE? (I think I know the answer to that!). What can HUD do to improve it?

There is nothing explicit in the new RESPA rules prohibiting the use of these cost worksheets/estimate. Since this practice is on HUD’s radar, my recommendation to lenders is to explain clearly to the customer, preferably with a written disclosure right on the estimate, that this is not binding and not a substitute for the new GFE. That way, if HUD comes knocking on the door, you’ve covered yourself.

My goal with this post is to get the conversation going on the new GFE, not to rail against the mortgage industry. I’m on your side! As Jerry Maguire said, “Help me, help you…help me, help you!”

On a related note, as buyer’s counsel I now insert a rider provision into the P&S providing that the seller agrees to an extension (up to 7 days) of the closing date due to any RESPA/GFE related delays.

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New, sweeping changes regulating how lenders, closing attorneys and title companies disclose loan and closing costs are set to go into effect January 1, 2010. The new regulations are part of a long awaited reform to the 30 year old Real Estate Settlement Practices Act known as RESPA aimed at providing greater transparency and fostering better consumer choice in loan and closing costs. The changes are so significant that HUD recently took the unusual step of giving lenders a 120 day reprieve in enforcing the new regulations.

The major components of the new RESPA reform are the new and substantially revised Good Faith Estimate (GFE), in which lenders disclose loan and closing costs to borrowers, and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, which is a detailed financial breakdown of the entire real estate transaction signed at closing.

Highlights of the new changes include:

  • Borrowers must receive a standard GFE disclosing key loan terms, including the loan’s terms; whether the interest rate is fixed or otherwise; any prepayment penalties and/or balloon payments; and total closing costs.
  • Lenders must provide borrowers with a standard origination charge for the loan which must include all points, appraisal, credit, and application fees, administrative, lender inspection, wire, and document preparation fees
  • Lenders have the option of providing borrowers with a list of approved service providers such as closing attorneys and title insurance companies.
  • A tolerance range has been specified for various categories of loan/closing costs to prevent unnecessary escalation of promised vs. actual charges.
    • Fees quoted for lender origination charge cannot change.
    • Fees for title and closing costs where the lender selects the provider or where the borrower selects the provider from the lender’s approved list cannot change by more than 10%.
    • Fees that borrowers can shop for themselves can increase (or decrease) by any amount.
  • The final page of the GFE contains worksheet-like charges to compare different loans and terms that the borrower can use to shop pricing.
  • Controversial lender payments to mortgage brokers, known as yield-spread premiums, must be disclosed in a standard manner.
  • The charges quoted on the GFE are then carried over to the HUD-1 Settlement Statement to ensure that the prescribed tolerances are met.

Here is a link to the new Good Faith Estimate (GFE) form and a link to the new HUD-1 Settlement Statement form.  The most recent FAQ from HUD (last updated 1.28.10) can be found here.

I think that overall the changes will provide consumers with greater disclosure and transparency of the myriad loan closing fees and costs in a typical real estate purchase.  It also creates an incentive for lenders to assemble a competitively priced team of preferred settlement service providers, so it can guarantee to its customers that the price of the preferred vendors’ settlement services will never increase by more than 10% at closing.  If borrowers aren’t happy with that, they are free to shop and find a better deal themselves.

I plan to do a series of upcoming posts on this important RESPA reform, highlighting the salient sections of the new GFE and HUD-1. As always, contact Richard Vetstein with any questions.

Please read my second post in this series, New RESPA Rules 2010: Disclosure of Settlement Services, Attorneys Fees and Title Insurance.

For all the posts in the RESPA series, click here.

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For my entire series on the new 2010 RESPA rules, look to the right under “Spotlight On: RESPA Reform” or click here.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on Friday that it will not enforce for a 120 day period new, sweeping regulatory changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) set to go into effect January 1, 2010. The new regulations will still go into effect on January 1, 2010, but the board overseeing enforcement of these new rules will “exercise restraint in enforcing” them. HUD wants all lenders to make a good faith effort to comply with the new regulations beginning on January 1.

The major components of the new RESPA reform are the new and substantially revised HUD-1 Settlement Statement and Good Faith Estimate (GFE) of closing costs issued by lenders, settlement agents, and closing attorneys. HUD will require that lenders and mortgage brokers provide consumers with a newly revised Good Faith Estimate (GFE) that clearly discloses key loan terms and closing costs. Closing agents will also be required to provide borrowers a new HUD-1 Settlement Statement that clearly compares consumers’ final and estimated costs.

The new RESPA rule became effective on January 16, 2009, but provided a one-year transition period for the mortgage industry to incorporate these changes. HUD will continue to work with the mortgage industry during this period, including providing a comprehensive set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on its website.

This is very good news for lenders and closing attorneys so they can take advantage of some well needed additional time to digest the new forms and procedures. I recently attended a seminar on the new RESPA changes, and they are quite a substantial change to the current GFE and HUD-1. Lenders must provide borrowers with a firm “origination charge” which must include all the various loan origination fees now separately itemized on the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, including points, appraisal, credit, and application fees, administrative, lender inspection, wire, and document preparation fees. This origination fee cannot increase. Lenders also have to provide borrowers with a “firm” quote for typical closings costs, including attorneys’ fees, title insurance and recording fees, and select up to 1 preferred provider for such services. The firm quote cannot increase by more than 10% at closing. If the lender allows, borrowers can use their own providers who will not be subject at all to the firm quote requirement. The new changes will require quite a bit of coordination between lenders and closing attorneys.

Most lenders who I have spoken to are not ready for these changes. The likely impact is that for the first 4 months of 2010, borrowers could see either the current or the revised GFE and HUD-1 form, depending on whether the lender/closing attorney has implemented the changes.

For a more comprehensive review of the new GFE and HUD-1, please read my posts, Are You Ready For Some RESPA Reform?  Part I, An Overview of the New Regulations, and New RESPA Rules 2010: Disclosure of Settlement Services, Attorneys Fees and Title Insurance.

As always, contact me, Richard Vetstein with any questions.

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