Real Estate Transparency

real estate transparency
10 Steps to Home Buying

Ten years ago, I reported on the growing demand of transparency in real estate.  As you can imagine, mistrust of real estate agents was at an all-time high after the housing market crash.  At that time, home buyers and sellers felt betrayed by an industry that was perceived as keeping their cards close to their chest.  However, times were changing and consumers demanded real estate transparency, especially from their agents.  Home buyers and sellers not only want their agents to act in good faith, but also want more information and communication during the transaction. 

Since then, the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) has been trying to mend their reputation.  The 2015 DANGER Report was intended to identify issues affecting the industry as well as provide a roadmap to the future.  One of the major issues identified was agent competency and ethics.  However, it was obvious that ethical Realtor behavior didn’t guarantee competency. And vice-versa.  The upshot of the Report was that many of the identified concerns were already known.  Ironically, the identified issues and answers only prompted more questions.  It was not known if and how the industry would provide real estate transparency.

Fast forward to 2019, when the real estate industry is at a crossroads.  Earlier this year a class-action law suit was filed that challenges how agent commissions are paid.  Also, earlier this year, the Consumer Federation of America (consumerfed.org) published the first in a series of reports focused on “the lack of real estate agent transparency on representation, compensation, and service.”  The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is described as an association of non-profit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.

The class-action suit filed in March, if successful, has the potential to force a major change to the industry.  Besides having the potential to change how agents are paid, it may force increased real estate transparency in agent compensation.  Nevertheless, similar past challenges to the NAR and the real estate industry resulted in minimal (if any) change to how business is conducted. 

Serendipitously (or not), Stephen Brobeck’s most recent CFA series report, “Hidden Real Estate Commissions: Consumer Costs and Improved Transparency”was published this month (consumerfed.org).  The report confirms consumers’ “lack of understanding” of commissions.  It also points out how “concealment of commissions” does harm to consumers.  The report indicated that 70 percent of the agents surveyed charge six-percent commission.  Commissions are mostly uniform, more so for buyer agent commissions.  The report also indicates that there was a general rationale that buyer agents would not show property if the buyer agent compensation was below the average for the area.  Of the agents surveyed, 73 percent indicated they won’t negotiate their commission.  It also calls attention to administrative fees of several hundred dollars, which is typically charged in addition to commission. 

The report concludes that the real estate industry must change its attitude about agent compensation, or risk eroding consumer trust.  Home buyers and sellers are savvy, and are increasingly sensitive to the role that commissions play in housing costs.  Home seller costs could be reduced if consumers compare commission rates and ask if they are negotiable.  Home buyers can also be helped if they are aware how their agent is paid, as well as knowing the offered buyer agent compensation on homes listed in the MLS. 

Original article is published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/11/23/real-estate-transparency/

By Dan Krell
Copyright© 2019

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Real estate scammers emailing you

real estate scammers
Business email scams (infographic from fbi.gov)

The warnings of real estate closing scams were rapidly broadcasted in 2015 .  And by 2016, there was awareness that criminals were wholeheartedly targeting all parties involved in real estate transactions through phishing emails.  The phishing emails that were sent seemed legit, and in many cases appeared to have come from your agent or title company, but were actually sent by criminals intent on having you wire money to them.  No one was immune from receiving these emails. Real estate scammers targeted home buyers and sellers, real estate agents, title companies and attorneys.

The FBI (fbi.gov) categorizes this type of crime as Business E-mail Compromise (BEC)/E-mail Account Compromise (EAC).  The scam didn’t begin in 2015, but the FBI began tracking this type of crime in 2013.  But it wasn’t until 2015 that it seemed as if the real estate scammers used BEC/EAC to target the real estate industry, and it spread ike a plague.  And despite efforts by the real estate industry to prevent such crime, BEC/EAC is on the rise.  Real estate scammers have adapted and have become increasingly sophisticated.  Many of the phishing emails (calls) are not distinguishable from the real thing.

Statistics compiled by the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov) indicate that there were 78,617 incidents of BEC/EAC worldwide between October 2013 and May 2018.  Over half of these victims (41,058) were in the U.S.  Total global losses during this time period is calculated to be $12,536,948,299 (U.S. losses were $2,935,161,457). 

Unfortunately, the real estate industry has been a target of interest since 2015.  According to FBI statistics, the number of BEC/EAC real estate related victims increased 1100% between 2015 and 2017.  So far, the highest number of BEC/EAC real estate victims were reported in May 2018, while the highest dollar loss from real estate victims was reported in September 2017.  The number of complaints and losses is likely correlated to real estate market activity (notwithstanding efforts to thwart such crimes).

How do criminals know about your real estate transaction?  The internet.  Real estate scammers use information available on real estate portals to identify homes that are pending (under contract) along with agent contact information.  The information is used to infiltrate agents’ emails to compile client names and closing information to target everyone involved in the real estate transaction with phishing emails.  The emails typically request changes in settlement funding.  The changes can request wire in lieu of check, and/or changes in the wire instructions (which would send funds directly to the criminals). 

The FBI has also described BEC/EAC spilling over into phone calls!  In addition to sending spoofed emails, the criminals are also calling you asking for personal information for “verification purposes.”  Experts suggest you be cautious about calls asking for changes in payment types and/or wire instructions.  The fake calls are so real such that victims have reported not being able to tell the difference. Security experts recommended that you create code phrases to verify phone calls with your agent and title company. 

Experts also warn of any communication that is exclusively email and/or asks you to call for verification purposes.  It is likely that any contact information listed in the phishing email is fake.  If the email sender claims to be from the title company or your agent, call them directly to verify the authenticity of the email.  If you receive any email requesting personal information and/or changes in payment/wire instructions, verify the email is legitimate by calling the sender directly (and use your code phrase).

Original article is published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/11/19/real-estate-scammers-emailing-you/

By Dan Krell
Copyright© 2019

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Ask About Closing Fees

ask about closing fees
Home Buying Process (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

To help home buyers understand the costs of buying a home, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) rolled out the Know Before You Owe initiative in 2015.  The intention was to help home buyers understand and ask about closing fees. The project actually has deeper roots in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  Dodd-Frank created the CFPB and mandated that the Bureau “shall publish a single, integrated disclosure for mortgage loan transactions” in a “readily understandable language” so borrowers can understand the financial aspects of their loan. 

Prior to Know Before You Owe the home buyer would receive a Good Faith Estimate from the lender and a proposed settlement statement (which was on the HUD-1 form) from the title company.  The pre-HUD, gave a fairly close estimate of the amount they needed at closing but could change depending on final lender charges.  If the amount was a little short, the buyer would write a check to cover the difference.  Sometimes the buyer would get money back at closing because the amount they needed was less than the amount the title company actually collected.  Regulations dictated when the buyer received a lender’s Good Faith Estimate and settlement costs.  If the HUD-1 was delayed, home buyers didn’t have much time to ask about closing fees.

But in the aftermath of the financial and foreclosure crises, there was concern that home buyers didn’t get accurate and fair closing costs disclosure.  Know Before You Owe changed the process of disclosing closing cost estimates to provide more accurate closing cost figures.  A new Closing Disclosure (CD) was devised to be consumer friendly.  The process of closing cost disclosure changed such that the lender is now responsible for providing the buyer the CD (in lieu of title company’s HUD-1).  However, the role of the title company (or closing agent) is still to conduct the settlement.  The standardization of the closing form allowed time to ask about closing fees.

Unfortunately, title insurance and other title related fees (such as water escrows and the property survey) are still often misunderstood and disputed.  Although the CD does a good job breaking down closing costs to help you understand what you’re getting, it falls short in explaining title fees and options.  For example, in Maryland, the cost for title insurance that is disclosed on the CD is the more expensive enhanced policy.  And it’s not just happenstance, Maryland Realtor purchase contracts require that the lender disclose an enhanced title insurance policy on the CD so you know how much the most expensive title insurance will cost.  But unless you know to ask, you may by default be purchasing the more expensive enhanced policy.  The survey is another title charge that may be charged by default.  Although many feel it’s not worth the expense, it may be relevant to your title policy.

Fortunately, your loan officer will review and help you understand your lender fees.  On the other hand, the title company will be communicating with you throughout the home buying process.  Make sure you read and understand all emails, as they will likely describe your title charges and options.

Life is hectic and it seems as if time is at a premium.  And although buying a home can be exciting, it can significantly add to your daily stressors.  But if you want to avoid surprises down the line, take the time to understand the process.  Ask as many questions as it takes to know what to expect at closing.  Have your real estate agent explain to you your purchase contract.  And, don’t wait until settlement to communicate with the title company, or ask about your CD. 

Original article is published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/11/08/ask-about-closing-fees/

By Dan Krell
Copyright© 2019

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Protecting Home Buyers

protecting home buyers
Home Buying Steps (infographic from nar.realtor)

Of the handful of new Maryland real estate related laws that go into effect this week, two are highly important for you to know.  These are passed for the purpose of protecting home buyers and sellers. One protects your confidential information, and the other concerns your earnest money deposit on a Maryland home sale.

Protecting home buyers and sellers’ confidentiality is HB1228/SB807, which was effective October 1st.  Besides cleaning up the definition of a brokerage relationship, the bill addresses client confidentiality.  Unless a client consents in writing, Maryland licensed real estate brokers and agents may not disclose confidential information received from or about a client to any other party and/or their representative (including their real estate agent).  The non-disclosure of confidential information protects past and present clients, and now is extended to potential clients as well. 

Confidential information is defined as: a seller/landlord willing to accept less than the listing price; a buyer/tenant willing to pay more than their offer; motivation of a client; the need or urgency to buy, sell, or rent; any facts that led the client to sell, buy, or rent; and also relates to the client’s negotiating strategy.  However, the duty to maintain confidentiality doesn’t apply to the disclosure of material facts about a property (which a home seller is also required to disclose).

Protecting home buyers deposits is effective October 1st. HB222 requires a written agreement between the buyer, seller and the escrow agent holding the earnest money deposit (EMD).  The EMD is described as “consideration” for a seller to accept an offer.  An escrow agent is the entity who accepts and holds the earnest money.  The EMD is credited to the buyer at the time of settlement.  However, if sale does not settle, the disbursement of the EMD can become contentious.  Under certain circumstances, the contract of sale is clear about when the buyer may receive their EMD.  However, real estate is not always black and white, and there are occasions when a dispute arises about whom is entitled to receive the EMD.

It used to be common practice for a real estate broker to accept and hold the EMD.  Real estate brokers are bound by law as to how to handle and care for the EMD.  However, brokers are increasingly reluctant in accepting EMDs for a number of reasons.  Instead, brokers are directing their agents to have title companies to hold these deposits.  But home buyers (and sometimes their agents) don’t realize that a title company is regulated differently than a real estate broker, and the EMD may not be handled as expected.

HB222 is important because it fills the gap for escrow agents who do not already have specific guidelines for handling EMDs. (HB222 doesn’t apply to Maryland real estate brokers and agents, and Maryland registered home builders selling new homes, as they are already regulated).  The bill provides transparency so both the buyer and seller understand the terms for holding the EMD.

The bill requires an escrow agent to enter into a written agreement with the buyer and seller when the escrow agent agrees to hold an EMD for a Maryland home sale. The written agreement must contain the amount of the EMD; the date the EMD was given to the escrow agent; the responsibility of the escrow agent to notify the buyer and seller if the EMD funds are “dishonored” (e.g., bounced check); the conditions under which the escrow agent may release the EMD; and the process to address disputes over the release of the EMD.

Original article is published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/10/28/protecting-home-buyers/

By Dan Krell
Copyright© 2019

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Home Buyer Beware

home buyer beware
Home buyer tips

Whether you admit it or not, buying a home is a stressful endeavor.  Even if you’ve purchased a home before, the process can be somewhat nerve-wracking and overwhelming.  Taking time out of your already busy schedule to search and visit homes, as well as applying for a mortgage can make life hectic.  So, who needs the added worry that that the home seller and/or listing agent is trying to hide something from you?  Home buyer beware.

Maryland requires the home seller to disclose any known latent defects, regardless if they are choosing the disclosure or disclaimer option. To be clear, the Maryland Real Estate Commission’s Residential Property Disclosure and Disclaimer Statement states that a seller must disclose “Material defects in real property or an improvement to real property that: (1) A purchaser would not reasonably be expected to ascertain or observe by a careful visual inspection of the real property; and (2) Would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of (purchaser and/or occupant).”  Regardless, there is still a “home buyer beware” atmosphere. 

How can you proceed confidently with your home purchase if there is a sense of distrust?  To counteract the home buyer beware phenomenon, focus on “trust and verify.”  The concept of trust and verify is about taking disclosures at face value and exercising due diligence.  To the best of your ability, confirm the accuracy of what is disclosed, as well as investigate any areas of concern.  Many items can be verified online, or by calling the locality where the house is located. 

Home buyer beware

Of course, you should always conduct a home inspection.  However, prior to hiring your home inspector, ask about their scope and limitations of the inspection.  Home inspectors are considered generalists, such that they are not typically an expert in any aspect of home construction, or the home’s structure and systems.  However, they are trained to identify potential common problems.  They will also recommend that you consult an expert for further information on anything that is outside the scope of the inspection.  And although home inspector licensing laws prescribes minimum inspection standards, there is no guarantee that everything will be inspected thoroughly beyond a visual inspection (e.g., chimney or pool).  Make sure your inspector meets your expectations so as to thoroughly inspect all systems of the home. 

If the home was expanded, verify that additions and/or modifications to the home were permitted by the local jurisdiction.  Unpermitted additions can create a number of issues, including having your lender deny your mortgage.  It’s not uncommon for additions/modified items (such as a deck, and even electrical improvements) in a home to go unpermitted.  This is usually because the home owner did it themselves, or hired a contractor who cut the corner of getting a permit.  The permitting process certifies that repairs/renovations comply with local building and zoning codes.  Making sure any addition or home expansion was permitted and passed final inspection gives peace of mind that the completed project meets local building health and safety standards.

Keeping home buyer beware in mind, due your due diligence. There are many other aspects of the home which can be verified, including (but not limited to) schools and zoning.  If you’re buying a home to go to a specific public school, verify that the house is within the school’s boundaries and if there are plans to redistrict.  If you plan to have an air-b&b in your home, make sure the house is appropriately zoned. You should also check zoning and the local planning office to make sure your potential building/addition plans are not restricted.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2019

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2019/09/04/home-buyer-beware/

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.