Predatory Short Sale Negotiators

I received a call the other day from a consumer who was in the process of purchasing a short sale home.  The homeowner has defaulted on her mortgage and the trustee sale auction has been postponed a few times now that this buyer’s firm offer has finally reached the lender’s loss mitigation decision-maker.  Once the offer was accepted by the seller, the homebuyer was surprised to learn that there’s a third party involved, a “Short Sale Negotiator” who is charging an additional $9,000 fee on top of the real estate commissions paid to both the agent for the seller and the agent for the buyer. The Short Sale Negotiator is demanding that the homebuyer sign an agreement that the homebuyer will be responsible for paying the $9,000 fee.  The homebuyer emailed me asking what I thought of this additional fee and could I offer some advice. 

The first thing I did was to find out the name of the Short Sale Negotiator company, the owner of the company, and the person who is doing the short sale negotiating. I discovered that the negotiation company is owned by the same person who also owns the real estate firm where the listing agent works.  I also ran the name of the short sale negotiator and discovered that this person IS a licensed real estate agent. 

Readers please note that WA State’s regulators recently changed the real estate licensing laws and there’s a great FAQ section here that answers the question: Does a Short Sale Negotiator have to be a licensed real estate agent? The answer is yes, or a licensed loan originator or otherwise exempt from licensing such as an attorney. (Clicking through from the link, scroll down to “doing business” and see the second question.)

So we have a licensed real estate agent who is earning money as a short sale negotiator who works for a company owned by the same person who owns the listing agent’s real estate company.

There are a couple of things that come to mind here. First of all, isn’t there a bit of a conflict of interest for the real estate broker/owner of that company?  Where are your duties? To the home seller, whose listing you’re charged with overseeing, or are your duties to the buyer, a client who signs the agreement to pay your other company $9K?  What are the duties of disclosure to BOTH the seller and the buyer?

For example, if I’m the seller in this transaction, charging a buyer an extra $9,000 out of pocket might preclude a number of qualified buyers to make an offer….unless I hold back this information until after the buyer has emotionally fallen in love with the home and is already arranging the furniture in his/her mind.  That seems manipulative.  Why not tell all possible prospects up front what the short sale negotiator’s fee is: Make it mandatory to display this extra fee in the PUBLIC comment section of the multiple listing service. 

You might be thinking: “Yes we could disclose this god-awful fee to the public this but that’s not in the best interest of the home seller.”  Well, okay but what happens if you end up attracting a lot of buyers but they all walk when told of this high third party fee? Now the listing agent has wasted everyone’s time.  It’s like if someone asks me out on a date and then later he tells me he’s married.  Come on! Hey, some women might say yes and it’s nice to know up front how big of an a-hole a guy is.   I say the listing agent would actually be attracting the right kind of buyer if they disclosed that their Short Sale Listing comes with baggage.  It seems to work fine for the married guys who post personal ads on craigslist day after day.

More: If there is an affiliated business arrangement going on between the two companies that are owned by the same person/people, then a RESPA-required Affiliated Business Arrangement disclosure form should ALSO be required so that the home seller and home buyer are aware of the dual company ownership. Part of that AFBA disclosure form should state that the homebuyer understands that buying this home means he/she does NOT have to use this particular short sale negotiation firm and is free to select another short sale negotiation company to do the same or similar work.  However, since a ‘short sale negotiator fee’ might not necessarily be classified as a “settlement service” then this rule might not apply. HUD are you listening? It’s highly possible that the next time a federal regulator makes it out to Washington State, the Seahawks will have won the Superbowl. Knowig this, we should look to the state regulators for assistance.

For a home buyer, a big red flag would be if the listing agent demands that you use this affiliated short sale negotiator. Demanding that a buyer use a real estate broker’s affiliated company is a licensing law violation as well as a violation of federal law when those companies are a title, escrow, appraisal company, and so forth. So why not a short sale negotiations company also?

Even more: Is the listing agent receiving part of that $9,000 fee? One way of structuring this is for the owner of both companies to promise the listing agent something like this: “if the lender cuts your commission, don’t worry, I’ll give you a portion of that $9,000 negotiator fee.”  Unearned fees are not allowed under RESPA.

Even worse: Is the short sale negotiator splitting the $9,000 with the home seller?  How fast can you say “Mortgage Fraud is now a Class B Felony in Washington State?”

The other logical problem that comes up for me when I see an additional fee of $9,000 is this: what work is being done for NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS?  That’s an awful lot of money. I could install all new vinyl windows in my 1959 house with that kind of money. I could put this in my teenager’s college fund. I could accomplish a lot with $9,000 so why would I want to pay that kind of money to a short sale negotiator?  Is this like extortion/payola in order to get that particular house for that price? 

Maybe not.  What is this third party negotiations company doing for their $9,000?  Wait, let me go find out. I’ll read their website.  Gee, there’s nothing on the website telling a consumer what their company actually does for that fee but the pictures of their team tell me they’re all good looking guys under 30. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing business with good looking guys under 30 but it should make us wonder how much experience the negotiator has at short sale negotiating.  In 2009 I believe we added ten million “short sale experts” in the real estate industry.

My advice to the consumer: Negotiate that fee down to somewhere around $1,000 to $2,000.  If the home is that close to the auction date, tell your real estate agent that you’re going to buy the home at the auction if the lender won’t approve the short sale and if the negotiators won’t go for a reduced fee.  Most of the third party short sale negotiators out there are paid much less than $9,000. 

Here’s some help with the math:  I asked the consumer to ask the short sale negotiator how many hours he’s spending on this file v. how many hours he’s working on those biceps. Consumer says the SSN said he’s spent 10 hours so far on this transation! !! !!! Wow! Well! Okay then, let’s divide $9,000 by 10 hours.  That’s a going rate of $900 per hour. That’s probably close to the hourly rate charged by the Johnnie Cochran law firm for litigation cases and I’m fairly certain that this licensed real estate agent negotiator doesn’t have as much experience or education as the JC legal team.  Counter back with $100/hour and settle around $200/hour max.

I am betting they’ll take the $2k.

Ask for the negotiator’s $2K to be put on the HUD I Settlement Statement as a seller’s closing cost.  There’s a chance the lender will pay it.  If not, the buyer needs to as himself: Is this house worth $2k out of pocket at closing?  It’s also important for the buyer’s new lender to know about this additional fee. Insist that it’s paid out through escrow and shows on the buyer’s side of the HUD I Settlement Statement if the lender refuses to pay it as a seller’s cost.

Buyers: do not agree to pay any money after closing, on the side, without disclosing this additional amount to all parties including the lender. 

Predatory Short Sale Negotiators: The world is watching you.  I wonder if your dreams are haunted the way I was haunted after watching The Hurt Locker.  Soon your predatory fees are going to explode in your face. Oh, and loan mod salesmen thinking that being a short sale negotiator is the next big way to “make six figures with no experience,” please go back to the used car lots. I’m sure there are some openings at the Toyota dealerships.

Loan Originators: Stop Your Crying…Let’s Love the Good Faith Estimate

Okay, I admit…I’ve been groaning, sniveling and bitching along with many other mortgage originators about HUD’s 2010 Good Faith Estimate.   The document has it’s faults and was created pretty much because of the faults of loan originators who used the GFE as a tool for bait and switch.   We’ve had a month to mourn the loss of the old good faith estimate, which was an asset in how I explained scenarios to my clients…it’s gone.  Get over it.

I’m hearing from consumers that many mortgage originators are refusing to issue Good Faith Estimates — even if they have provided the “six points of information” which HUD uses to define a loan application.   A mortgage originator has three business days to provide you with a good faith estimate or deny your “application” if you have provided the following:

  • the borrower(s) name
  • monthly income
  • social security number to obtain a credit report
  • property address
  • estimated value of the property
  • loan amount

HUD has added an additional item (which can be vague):  any other information deemed necessary by the loan originator.

Per HUD’s most recent RESPA FAQs that were updated on January 28, 2010, a mortgage originator cannot refuse to issue a good faith estimate if they do not have supporting documentation (such as income or assets documentation) or verification disclosures signed by the borrower.   If after providing a GFE to a borrower, it is discovered that their income they provided is not how an underwriter would view it, this may constitute a “changed circumstance” allowing a revised good faith estimate to be issued.    If you read the FAQs, you can tell that HUD is well aware that consumers have been having a real challenging time getting their hands on the 2010 GFE.

Update from HUD’s RESPA FAQs (page 11, #33)

“In order to prevent over burdensome documentation demands on mortgage applicants, and to facilitate shopping by borrowers, the final rule specifically prohibits the loan originator from requiring an applicant, as a condition for providing a GFE, to submit supplemental documentation to verify information provided by the applicant on the application…

Similarly HUD has long supported a public policy goal of creating a circumstance where consumers can shop for a mortgage loan among loan originators without paying significant upfront fees that impede shopping”.  (Only a credit report can be charged to a borrower at this point).

So dry your eyes, my fellow mortgage professionals, the Good Faith Estimate IS a tool for consumers to use for shopping…whether we like it or not.  It’s time to open our arms wide and embrace it.valentinescandy 

PS LO’s:  This post (and any of my articles) are not a replacement to your employer’s compliance department or legal advice.

Happy Valentines Day

Will Banks Cash In on the New Good Faith Estimate

The new Good Faith Estimate will be required to be used on all new loan applications effective January 1, 2010.   Part of HUD’s GFE may include a service provider list which consists of title and escrow/settlement providers (boxes 4, 5 and 6; section b on page 2 of the GFE).  This list (if permitted by the lender) is important to the consumer as it will determine what the cost difference can be between the good faith estimate and the settlement statement at closing.  


If a borrower relies on a service provider (title and escrow/settlement services) on the list given to them by their mortgage originator with the good faith estimate, there is a 10% tolerance.  This means that if the cost at closing comes in more than 10% higher of the sum of those fees than what was provided on the good faith estimate, the lender will pay the difference (or credit the borrower) over the 10% sum of those fees.   However if the lender permits and the borrower to shop for their own title and/or escrow vendor, the loan originator is “off the hook” should the fees come in higher at closing.

Per HUD “if no service providers are listed, then it is assumed the customer could not shop and fees will be bound by the tolerances” and that “lenders are responsible for fee requirements listed by their loan officers or the broker”.     

If the lender “permits” the borrower to shop for title and escrow services, they must provide this written list which must include at least one service provider on a separate sheet of paper and then the lender is subject to the 10% tolerance (based on the aggregate of those fees).

I see this as a huge opportunity for the banks similar to what we’ve witnessed with HVCC.   This is their big chance to control where escrow and title go–to them!    Banks will state that they do not want to risk being off on their quotes with new binding good faith estimates and it’s my belief they will do their best to keep escrow and/or title “in house” or affiliated providers.    Some mortgage brokers may find that they will have to use the banks preferred title and escrow vendors just as they do the banks appraisal management companies.     Should this happen, we may see banks use low cost centralized services, similar to many bank processing centers (some are even located out of state).

How will borrowers know how to select or shop for a title and/or escrow company?   Can they rely on their bank loan originator to help them select a title or escrow provider when the MLO (Mortgage Loan Originator) is directed to only have the bank’s providers on the list?    The new RESPA laws will not allow MLOs to recommend anyone who is not on the service provider list.    Should the consumer rely on their real estate agent to recommend the title and escrow provider (many brokerages have joint venture relationships)?

With a purchase, if the title and/or escrow service providers are other than those designated on the written service provider list, then it is presumed that the buyer/borrower selected those providers (even if it was directed by the real estate agents or seller) since the buyer agreed to the contract.   With this scenario, the lender is not subject to the 10% tolerance in fees for those costs.    Buyers may find a surprise comparing the good faith estimate at signing to the HUD Settlement Statment if the title and/or escrow company are different from what was designated on the purchase and sales agreement.

The new Good Faith Estimate may wind up being a huge set back for independent escrow companies and smaller independent title agencies who will most likely lose any relationships they have forged with loan originators who happen to work for one of the big banks.

By the way, if you are planning on selecting your escrow and/or title provider.  You may want to start researching prior to your prequalification process with the mortgage originator.   You may find that effective January 1, 2010 most mortgage originators will not want to provide a good faith estimate until you have committed to working with them as the new GFE’s are binding for the loan originator unless certain “changed circumstances” permit the MLO to issue a revised estimate.  Per HUD:

“If a GFE is given during prequalification, the receipt of one of the six required pieces of documentation will not constitute a “changed circumstance.”

The loan originator is presumed by HUD to have the “six required pieces of documentation” if they issue a good faith estimate.

…I’ll be writing more about this on a future post.

Mortgage Disclosure Improvement Act: New Waiting Periods on Mortgage Transactions

In an early post, Ardell wrote about the significance of a buyer being able to close quickly…new regulations may put a damper on that.   With mortgage applications taken after July 30, 2009, waiting periods will go into effect with regards to when and how disclosure forms are provided to the consumer.   The Mortgage Disclosure Improvement Act (MDIA), which modifies the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), was originally going to become effective on October 1, 2009, however the effective date was moved up two months which may catch some real estate professionals by surprise.

Here are some of the details:

Good Faith Estimate and Truth in Lending Disclosures….required waiting periods.

Under MDIA, early disclosures are required for “any extension of credit secured by the dwelling of the consumer.”    Three business days from application, the consumer must receive an initial Good Faith Estimate and Truth in Lending (unless the borrower is denied at application).   

The earliest a transaction can possibly close is seven days after the initial disclosures have been issued by the lender (delivered in person, mailed, emailed, etc.).    This is assuming no re-disclosure is required.

Re-disclosure (waiting periods after the early disclosure and corrected disclosures) of the GFE/TIL are triggered if the fees and charges are more than 10%; if the APR is more than 0.125% or a change in loan terms.   Three business days must pass in the event of re-disclosure.   Re-disclosing is nothing new, it typically happened at closing–this will no longer be acceptable.    Mortgage originators “should compare the APR at consummation with the APR in the most recently provided corrected disclosures (not the first set of disclosures provided) to determine whether the creditor must provide another set of corrected disclosures”.   Double check those APRs prior to doc!


“The Commentary added by the MDIA Rule expressly provides that both the seven-business-day and three-business-day waiting periods must expire for consummation to occur.  The seven-business-day waiting  period begins when the early disclosures are delivered to the consumer or placed in the mail, and not when the consumer receives the disclosures.  The three-business-day waiting periods begin when the consumer actually receives or is deemed to receive the corrected disclosures.  If corrected disclosures are mailed, the consumer is deemed to receive the disclosures three business days after mailing.  If a creditor delivers corrected disclosures via email or by a courier other than the postal service, the creditor may rely on either proof of actual receipt or the mailing rule for purposes of determining when the three-business-day waiting period begins to run.”

Consumers have the right to waive or shorten the MDIA if “a consumer determines that an extension of credit is needed to meet a bona fide perosnal financial emergency”.  

No monies may be collected from the borrower with exception to a “bona fide and reasonable” credit report fee until they receive the initial disclosures.   This may cause a delay of when an appraisal is ordered.  Most lenders require an upfront deposit to cover the cost of the appraisal.    The collection of fees rule may also cause potential issues if a borrower is doing a certain type of lock (some with float down or extended lock periods require an upfront deposit).   NOTE:  HVCC requires the borrower receive a copy of the appraisal at least three days prior to closing.

Tim Kane can attest that there is nothing worse than a borrower learning at signing their final loan papers that the fees are significantly higher than what was originally disclosed.  I’d like to think that all mortgage originators redisclosed WHEN modifications to the transaction/fees take place…obviously, this has not been the case.  

DFI covers MDIA here

Re-disclosures could become a “holy hand grenade” to quick closings.

Will the New National Loan Originator Exam be Too Easy?

I just took a look at the sample questions provided by the National Mortgage Licensing System for the new national loan originator exam and I must say these are so easy why even bother with a test?  Let’s take a look:

If an applicant works 40 hours every week and is paid $13.52 per hour, what is the applicant’s
monthly income?
(A) $2,163.20
(B) $2,343.47
(C) $2,379.52
(D) $2,487.68

The requirement for private mortgage insurance is generally discounted when the loan-to-value ratio falls below:
(A) 20%
(B) 50%
(C) 80%
(D) 90%

Which of the following documents itemizes all settlement costs including lender charges?
(A) Agreement of sale
(B) HUD-1 form
(C) Form 1003
(D) Forbearance agreement

A discount point is BEST described as a charge the borrower pays to:
(A) a lender to decrease the interest rate on the mortgage loan
(B) a mortgage broker at the time of application to obtain a favorable rate
(C) the seller as part of the closing costs of a loan
(D) a lender to ensure against foreclosure

Which of the following methods of disclosure does NOT meet the requirements of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)?
(A) E-mail
(B) Mailed letter
(C) Telephone
(D) Faxed letter

What does a loan originator use to determine the estimated value of a property based on an analytical comparison of similar property sales?
(A) An appraisal
(B) A market survey
(C) An area survey
(D) A cost-benefit analysis

But perhaps I’m being to harsh. We have a vast number of unlicensed loan originators who are working for companies licensed under the Consumer Loan Act. We call these folks “consumer loan lenders,” or “non-depository lenders.”  Rhonda Porter sometimes refers to these folks as “correspondent lenders.”  They differ from a mortgage broker because by definition, a lender is an entity that has the ability to make the loan (fund the loan) and a broker is a middleman who does not make or fund loans, but FINDS the lender for a fee.  Mortgage broker LOs are licensed in WA State but consumer loan company LOs are not.  Yet. 

Consumer loan company LOs can start to take their new national exam beginning July 31, 2009. Their real deadline is July 1, 2010 so it looks like I need to block off May and June 2010 for exam prep classes next year as predict the majority will put it off until the last possible days.

Anyone who has been originating for any length of time need not be afraid if the test questions are going to be this easy.  Once the test launches I will go take it and let you know. 

Perhaps for folks who are brand new to mortgage lending, these test questions might seem a little more challenging. That is the whole purpose of national testing and licensing: To create a minimum barrier to entry.  The regulators at the federal level have put a lot of time and care into the education portion of the new law.  Let’s hope that their chosen test vendor, Pearson Vue (who absorbed Promissor) doesn’t use the same old tired bank of test questions that’s been around for a decade.

Update: Prometric is also a test vendor for the new NMLS exam.  Here’s a link to their website.

A Small Window of Opportunity for Washington State Unlicensed Loan Originators (Correspondent Lenders aka CLAs)

June 1, 2009 Update:  I just got off the phone with someone in the licensing department at DFI.   They hope to have more information available soon for mortgage originator licensing.  Some details are still being worked out.   From what I could gather from my conversation this morning, the main advantage for licensing now vs. later is that you will have more time to complete the clock hours, take the exams and to be able to spread out the costs for said classes and exams.  I sincerely apologize for misinterpreting DFI’s site on the requirements for LO licensing…I wish I could line out my title of this post!

In April, SHB 1621was signed by Governor Gregoire requiring loan originators employed by correspondent lenders/consumer loan companies to obtain a Washington Loan Originator License  by July 1, 2010.   The State passed SB6471  last summer which had “unintended consequences” causing some loan originators who were regulated by the Mortgage Brokers Practices Act (and therefore licensed) to become defined under the Consumer Loan Act–allowing those LO’s to be “unlicensed”.    With the passage of the SAFE Act, the State is stepping up to National laws which include CLA loan originators.

So my fellow mortgage professionals who are employed at correspondent lenders, here is an opportunity for you:  if you submit your application to become licensed by July 30, 2009; you’ll reduce your education requirements by 12 hours and pass one less exam. 

Here are the requirements to apply for a Washington Loan Originator Licenese from DFI.

All applicants (regardless of when you decide to sumbit your license) must complete Form  MU4 via the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry (NMLSR) and submit one fingerprint card, pay $155 licensing fee and…

LO Applications Submitted by July 30, 2009 (in addition the above):

  • Pass the PearsonVue Loan Originator test
  • Complete 8 hours of approved continuing education by December 31, 2009.

Or you can wait until after July 30, 2009 to submit your LO Application and in addition to the above requirements:

  • Pass the State and National exams.
  • Complete 20 hours of approved continuing education by December 31, 2009.

Do you really like to procrastinate?  Opt to delay this process until January 1, 2010 and you still get to pass both exams and complete the 2o hours of CE prior to submitting your license prior to the July 1, 2010 deadline.   (DFI ask that you submit license no later than April 1, 2010 to allow processing time).

Deb Bortner of DFI will be speaking about the SAFE Act and Washington State Loan Originator Licensing at two upcoming events:

  • June 4, 2009 from 4:00 – 8:00pm at The Venue on South Union in Tacoma.   $50 includes dinner and wine from The Three Chicks.  
  • June 19, 2009 from 12:30 – 5:00pm at Safeco Field – Ellis Pavilion in Seattle.  $50 includes a ticket to the Mariner’s Game and lunch.

Both events include presentations on social media for mortgage professionals.  I’ll be one of the speakers at Safeco Field along with David Gibbons from Zillow.   🙂    If you’re interested, you can get more info or register for either event with the Washington Association of Mortgage Professionals (membership to WAMP is not required).

As someone who’s gone through licensing, I can tell you it’s (an important) chore.  Classes will fill up as the deadlines approach and I had the pleasure of being fingerprinted three times before I had a print that was acceptable.   If you fail your exam three times (I wonder how often this happens); you’ll have to wait six months before you can try your luck at the exam again which means no loan originating for you until you have successfully passed your exams.

If you are originating mortgages in Washington State, I would not delay getting your Loan Originator License.

WA Loan Originator Licensees Drops to 5335

At the end of 2007, Washington State had 13,722 loan originators licensed under a mortgage broker.  At the end of 2008, that number fell to 8739.  As of May 5, 2009, we’re at 5335.  This number also includes inactive licensees. Based on the number of LO students who tell me that they already have a full time job elsewhere and are just keeping their license active “just in case” they want to originate a deal for a friend or family member, I’d say the number of active licensees is below 5335. 

In 2008, many mortgage brokers were forced to re-license as consumer loan companies due to changes in state law. Subsequently, many of those LOs let their license go in 2008. LOs who work for a consumer loan company will start their licensing process in August and we will be able to better track the number of consumer loan company LOs licensed in WA State.  As more lenders begin using the National Mortgage Licensing System to verify if the person who originated the loan is licensed in that state, perhaps some of the unlicensed, out of state shadow LOs will start being counted.

Let’s discover what “Lending with Expertise” means to Paramount Equity

Paramount Equity has settled their case with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions. Read the Consent Order here.  The Statement of Charges outlined many, many violations of state and federal law:

  • Using the term “mortgage bank

DFI Releases Guidelines on Loan Mods and Sets Limits on Fees

Washington State Department of Financial Institutions has released an updated interpretive statement on loan modifications late this afternoon. People who perform loan modification services for Washington State homeowners must be licesed as a loan originator and under the supervision of a broker, or be working under a licensed consumer loan company.  Attorney have a limited exemption and non-profit housing counseling agencies are also exempt.  Real estate agents are not exempt.

 Licensees that charge a fee for loan modification services in advance of the services being provided must obtain a signed fee agreement for loan modification services from the borrower. Any fees paid in advance of services provided must go into the company’s trust account prior to disbursement, or be submitted to an independent escrow or title company to be held until disbursed at the instruction of the parties consistent with the fee agreement. Licensees are prohibited from collecting fees via direct access to a borrower’s bank account or via use of the borrower’s credit card.

A loan modification normally begins with a hardship analysis which is an examination of the borrower’s current mortgage, income, expenses, and ability to repay. The hardship analysis includes meetings or conversations with the borrower(s) and a determination of the borrower’s eligibility for a modification based on the particular lender’s eligibility requirements or the eligibility requirements of a federal modification program. The hardship analysis, sometimes referred to as “Phase I services,

Homebuyer Credit – Simplified

Pretty simple stuff. For most people it’s just A,B,C + 1,2,3
A. Address of New Home
B. Date you bought it
C. IF claiming 2009 purchase on this 2008 form, check here
1. Enter $7,500 or $8,000 unless married filing separately
2. Enter modified adjusted gross income
3. If 2 is not more than $75,000 ($150,000 if filing jointly), skip to line 6 and put amount on line 1 on line 6.  Ta-dah!
You can get Form 5405 and Instructions here:
and it looks like this:

Form 5405 First-Time Homebuyer Credit