By Dan Krell
One of the biggest controversies in the real estate industry has been disputed since 2001, yet many realtors and most consumers are unaware it exists. What is it? The controversy is allowing banks to participate in real estate brokerage.
The controversy has root in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act of 1999, also known as the Financial Modernization Act of 1999, which generally gave banks more freedom in affiliating with other financial institutions, such as securities and insurance brokers. In 2001, the Federal Reserve Bank and the U.S. Treasury Department felt that buying and selling a home was also primarily a financial endeavor, so they pushed for legislation to allow banks to become real estate brokers.
Banking proponents assert that allowing banks to participate in real estate brokerage is good for consumers. They state that it would increase competition and allow consumers the true “one stop shop” for financial services, and allow the reduction of costs and fees associated with the purchase of a home.
The proposed legislation was defeated consistently for several years. It remains to be seen if this will reappear in the next congress.
The opponents to the legislation have declared that the purchase of a home is not finance but commerce. The National Association of Realtors’ position was and is that finance and commerce should remain separate. Additionally, this type of legislation would be anti-competition as it would increase the general power of the financial institution which would decrease the availability of consumer choice (Realtor.org).
Additionally, there is concern over conflicts of interest. Besides that banks might push their listings just as they push to sell their proprietary mutual funds, loan officers and underwriters might be influenced to make poor loans on homes that are in the bank’s inventory. Can you imagine being turned down for a mortgage by your local bank, finding out later that your friend, who has a similar credit history, was approved because he was buying one of the bank’s listings?
Reducing costs and fees in the real estate transaction is always a great idea. The position that allowing banks to become real estate brokers would drive the cost of purchasing a home is questionable. Banks have a history of increasing fees as well as adding charges to services. A recent BankRate.com survey (December 1, 2005) confirms the view that banks have found ways to increase fees as well as hide service charges. ATM fees, returned check fees, and account maintenance fees are examples of the current focus of increases.
For a first time home buyer, the purchase of a home can be overwhelming and confusing. It is difficult enough for an average home buyer to understand the complexities of the transaction yet be able to see if the settlement sheet is padded with extra charges. Hopefully, the home buyer’s Realtor is able to spot any charges which are excessive or fake. However, if the Realtor is taken out of the process, the home buyer might not be able to spot any sham or excessive charges.
The issue of banks becoming real estate brokers is not just an issue of competition, but it may ultimately become an issue of privacy as well. Although the controversy is dormant for now, it is yet to be decided. As banks continue to push for more freedom, the debate could turn into a nasty battle.
This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel 12/26/2006. Copyright © 2006 Dan Krell.