Ask About Closing Fees

ask about closing fees
Home Buying Process (infographic from

To help home buyers understand the costs of buying a home, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ( 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. 

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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.

RESPA empowers home buyers and consumers


Although the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) is one of those laws that you don’t hear much about, it’s a consumer protection statue that has been around for while.  Enacted in 1974, RESPA was intended to help home buyers be better shoppers by requiring the disclosures regarding the nature and costs related to the real estate settlement process.  Keeping RESPA relevant, there have been modifications and clarifications through the years, most notably the change of administration and enforcement in 2011 from HUD to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).

RESPA is generally known for empowering consumers in the real estate process by allowing consumers (in most cases) to choose service providers, and prohibiting kickbacks (e.g., unearned fees) for referrals.  Section 8 of RESPA prohibits real estate service providers from giving or accepting a fee, kickback or anything of value in exchange for referrals of settlement service business involving a federally related mortgage. While Section 9 prohibits a home seller from requiring the home buyer to use a particular title insurance company, either directly or indirectly, as a condition of sale.

RESPA also requires the disclosure of affiliated business arrangements associated with a real estate closing.  An affiliated business relationship is considered to exist when there is a direct or indirect referral from a service provider to another provider of settlement services when there is an affiliate relationship or when there is a direct or beneficial ownership interest of more than one percent.  The disclosure of such a relationship must specify the following: the nature of the relationship (explaining the ownership and financial interest) between the provider and the loan originator; and the estimated charge or range of charges generally made by such provider. This disclosure must be provided on a separate form at the time of the referral (or at the time of loan application or with the Good Faith Estimate if referred from a mortgage lender).  In most cases, you’re not required to use the referred affiliated businesses.

RESPA violations are serious, and penalties can be severe.  For example, HUD ( lists the penalties for violations of Section 8 “… anti-kickback, referral fees and unearned fees provisions of RESPA are subject to criminal and civil penalties. In a criminal case a person who violates Section 8 may be fined up to $10,000 and imprisoned up to one year. In a private law suit a person who violates Section 8 may be liable to the person charged for the settlement service an amount equal to three times the amount of the charge paid for the service.

The real estate industry takes RESPA very seriously; the industry educates service providers about empowering consumers, as well as regulation compliance.  And although modifications of RESPA are to keep up with the real estate industry; some still claim that there are sections of RESPA that remain vague, as demonstrated by the Supreme Court opinion of Freeman v. Quicken Loans, and further clarifications (such as the RESPA Home Warranty Clarification Act of 2011).

In the past, RESPA violations were pursued vigorously by HUD; resulting in settlements as well as criminal investigations.  Today, the CFPB ( has taken over the reins, and continues the pursuit of RESPA violations with the same if not increased vigor.  More information and guidance about RESPA can be obtained from the CFBP (

by Dan Krell
© 2014

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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.

Making the right decisions starts with choosing your agent

By Dan Krell &copy 2009

For a smooth transaction, choose the right providers

If you are a first time home buyer, you may feel a bit confused and certainly overwhelmed by the huge amount of information that suddenly seems to cascade over you. Let’s face it, the real estate industry has changed significantly such that if even if you’re an experienced home buyer you may feel a bit confused and overwhelmed too. Choosing your service providers before you begin searching for a home can assist you through the different phases of the process as well as build a foundation for a smooth transaction.

Taking the time to interview and choose a Realtor, lender, home inspector and title agent before you begin searching for a home will create a team of professionals to guide you through the major aspects of home buying. It may sound a bit much, but when you are embarking on (probably) the most expensive purchase of your life, it’s important to know you are well represented.

Although the Realtor is generally known to assist in home searching and negotiating sales contracts, the agent you choose should be by your side throughout the transaction to help when the road gets bumpy. Besides asking how long the agent has been licensed, you should also ask if the agent is full-time so they may be accessible throughout the day. Additionally, calling an agent’s list of references of recent clients can shed light on the agent’s strengths and weaknesses.

Consulting with a lender prior to making an offer on a home is important; narrowing your choices by interviewing loan officers can help you learn more about their attention to detail as well as focus on customer service. The loan officer will help you through the mortgage process and should be available to assist you from application to closing. Comparing mortgage costs is more than comparing interest rates, asking for and comparing lender fees and points can help you differentiate total lender costs.

After you enter into a contract, you will most likely want to conduct a home inspection to determine the condition of the home. Many home buyers don’t consider choosing a home inspector and rely on the real estate agent to arrange the inspection; however, experience and scope of inspections can vary significantly! Choosing the right home inspector can help you not only accurately determine a home’s condition, but also put you understand age related problems of a home (such as settling) and prepare you for future maintenance. Make sure that the inspector you choose is available by phone and willing to return to the home if you have questions about the inspection.

Like the home inspection, choice of a title agent is often left to the real estate agent. However, choosing a title attorney early in the process may provide you a strong and useful advisor- a title attorney. The title attorney will not only help you understand the closing process, some title attorneys will make themselves available to answer legal questions that may arise from your home purchase.

Taking the time to interview and choose the providers whom you feel comfortable with is important to help guide you through the ups and downs of the home buying process. For more information on the home buying process, please visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development (

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 the week of August 3, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Dan Krell.