When you bought your home recently did your Realtor or lender tell you that you had to use a specific lender or title company? Did the seller require you to use the mortgage and title companies of their choosing? If so, you may have been denied your right to choose the lender and title company to conduct the settlement for your home purchase just for a kickback.
To help home buyers become educated consumers about settlement services a law was passed in 1974 called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act also known as RESPA. RESPA has many caveats associated with it however there are several common provisions associated with a home buyer’s choice of settlement companies and lenders.
First, RESPA requires that home buyers receive disclosures that disclose costs related to settlement, as well as outlining lender servicing and escrow account procedures, and disclosing relationships between settlement professionals and other real estate professionals. This protects the home buyer by allowing them to know what they are to expect with regard to fees, affiliated business relationships, etc.
Second, RESPA is widely known for prohibiting giving or receiving anything of value, including money, for settlement service referrals, also known as kickbacks. RESPA also prohibits fee splitting and receiving compensation for services that were not provided. This is done because kick backs typically increase fees charged to the home buyer, sometimes excessively, so as to “take care” of the referring party.
Third, RESPA prohibits a home seller from requiring a home buyer to use a specific title company or lender.
Penalties for violating RESPA are stiff. Violations of RESPA include civil and criminal penalties. The penalties vary depending on the infraction. For example, if someone is found guilty in criminal court of giving or receiving a kickback, they may be subject to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. The civil penalty for kickbacks is the repayment of three times the fee in question.
Although kickbacks are not as common today as they were in years past, they still exist. In response, the U. S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) has taken a firm stance on kickbacks in the last several years. There have been many out of court settlements in the last few years, and there may be some serious criminal charges pending as investigations continue.
It is not uncommon for home buyers, especially first time home buyers, to ask their Realtor for lender and title company recommendations. After all, most people do not buy homes very often. As a practice, many Realtors provide a list of several names of lenders or title companies for the home buyer to interview. The list is usually comprised of professionals with whom the Realtor has worked with in the past and (hopefully) had a good experience. As a home buyer, you can always start with whomever you bank with. It makes sense that since you have already developed a banking relationship with your bank, why not start there?
If you find yourself in the situation where you are “forced” to use a specific lender or title company, or you think this may have occurred in the past, you can contact HUD (HUD.gov) or contact the state attorney general’s office of consumer protection for additional information.
By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2006