Posts Tagged ‘closing’

illustration of a woman holding HELOC paper in front of a house

A Claims Tale: All Mortgages Are Not Created Equal – HELOC Mortgage Payoff

Dealing with mortgages and deeds of trusts in a transaction seems fairly easy to address at a closing, you would think. On occasion, we see a security instrument known as the Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) Mortgage or Deed of Trust – a revolving credit line secured by the home’s equity – that is not treated the same way as a traditional mortgage. HELOC instruments may require additional steps to shut down and release the lien from the property.

Let’s consider a scenario:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith are the previous owners of property located at 123 Main Street, Anywhere, USA.  The owner has two loans secured by the property: a $150,000 traditional mortgage and a $300,000 HELOC mortgage. Mr. and Mrs. Smith sell the property to the buyer, Tim Jones, for $475,000. As part of the closing process, the title company sends the payments to the lenders by wire transfer.

Two years later, Tim Jones receives a notice of foreclosure from the home equity line of credit lender. The lender asserts that Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s HELOC loan has a balance and was never closed. The HELOC loan once again has a balance of $300,000, and the loan is now in default. Tim Jones submits a claim.

The Lesson:

A HELOC loan typically includes a clause that gives the borrower the ability to “borrow, repay, and reborrow” from time to time, up to a maximum credit available, through a maturity date.  

In our scenario, the lender may have applied the payment on the HELOC loan as a “pay down” on the loan and did not close down the account and cancel the loan two years earlier. 

For a HELOC loan, the lender may require additional steps be taken to close out the loan and have the lien released from the property. In certain cases, the lender requires that the borrower execute a “Close out / Close Down” letter. Not only does the borrower(s) have to sign the letter authorizing the account to be closed, but the signed letter has to be delivered to the lender instructing the lender to do so. In some cases, a lender may even have a specific form to be used to effectuate the closing of the account.

Practice Points:

If you are planning to mail or wire payoff funds to a HELOC lender, as a best practice, if you see that the loan is a HELOC –

  • carefully review the lender’s instructions to close out the account; 
  • ask questions to ensure all requirements are met;
  • deliver the borrower’s signed close down the account letter concurrently with the payment; and
  • keep a copy of the letter along with evidence on how and when you sent the “close out / close down” letter to the lender. 

Even if there is a zero-dollar ($0) balance on the borrower’s account on the day of closing, you still want to ensure that the account is properly closed, and the lien released. 

When you come across a HELOC mortgage, be aware that only requesting a loan payoff statement from a lender may not be enough to obtain a cancellation and release of the HELOC mortgage. By recognizing that there is a difference between a traditional mortgage versus a HELOC mortgage when it is time to pay off the loan, you will be well on your way to having the lien properly cancelled from the property.

Cover of Alliant National's white paper, “Moving Money in a Real Estate Transaction.”

Your Guide To The Real Estate Payments Revolution

Progress is never easy or fast, but the rewards are well-worth the effort (and patience)! With the advent of new inventions, innovations and technology, we are continuously improving the quality of our lives and the freedoms we enjoy – both in our personal and business lives, which are inextricably intertwined.

Did you know that the audio-visual technology that makes it possible for families and friends to stay in touch across the globe, as well as the video-conferencing platforms that enable employees to work at home while remotely collaborating, took root from an idea to transmit images and audio over wire that was conceived by Bell Labs in the 1870s? Step by step, that idea became a reality over time, eventually giving rise to the smartphones and smartphone apps with video conferencing in the 2000’s, and then given a catalytic push in 2020 by the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for videoconferencing to allow workers to safely isolate while still conducting business remotely.

Similar to the evolution of videoconferencing, the development of the U.S. money rails has had a profound effect on the way we live and do business. I remember my mother saying how she thought the invention of the credit card was life-changing during her youth! In the U.S., the financial system has been relatively slow to evolve, but within the last 10 years it has picked up speed and there have been some amazing technological advances, such as Real Time Payments (RTP) and FedNow, the Federal Reserve’s version of RTP, which is on the cusp of being publicly rolled out. These newer payment rails, along with the convenience of modern payment methods – like PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay and others – hold great promise for transforming the real estate and title insurance industries, and we want to share some special insights with you.

If you’d like to see where we’ve come from, and get a good idea of where we may be headed, then be sure to read the white paper, “Moving Money in a Real Estate Transaction.”

stick man figure chased by 5 threatening stick figures

Claims Prevention: Five Types Of Claims That Cost The Most … And How To Avoid Them

The relationship between an independent title agency and its title insurer is a unique one; we rely on each other for our mutual success. So when a claim occurs, it’s no fun for anyone. Claims are a fact of life for any insurer, but thankfully, some of the costliest claims are entirely preventable if time is taken to appropriately review and analyze information that is part of the transaction.

What are these costly and preventable claims? Based on our experience at Alliant National, the top five categories for claim files over the last three years have been in the following areas:  

  1. Missing or erroneous legal descriptions,
  2. Lack of capacity or authority to convey title or release a lien,
  3. Unreleased mortgages or deed of trust,
  4. All other unreleased liens and judgments, and
  5. Unpaid taxes and assessments. 

To take this a step further, when we compared all of our closed claim files against closed claim files classified as “agent error,” we found that claims involving “agent error” tend to be more costly, particularly when it comes to the top five claims categories.

You ask, what can I do to reduce these preventable claims and thereby reduce the costs and other impacts of claims? Based on our experience, here are a few items to consider in every transaction:

  • Carefully read documents. Real estate transactions involve a lot of detail, and all those details are important. Take time to carefully read what the prepared instruments and documents say. This includes those that may have been delivered to you by a party to the transaction, a third-party or within a lender’s package. Do not assume anything. Here’s one example. Let’s say the lender does not include a spouse or a co-titleholder’s name on the mortgage or deed of trust. In several states, if the borrower is married, the spouse must join on the mortgage or deed of trust. Just because their name was not originally included, the lender may fall back on what the closing instructions required. In this case, it would be important to take a minute to contact the lender and make the necessary adjustments.
  • Do not be afraid to communicate. We’re all in a hurry, but it’s important to take the time to ask questions and be willing to ask for clarification when something is not clear. Then, of course, we need to listen to what is being said. In some cases, there may be disclosures of matters – not known until that moment – which can alter the transaction. Also, it’s helpful to consider whether everyone is using the same terminology to describe the same thing. We use a lot of jargon in this industry, so be careful not to think that “everyone uses this term” or that they understand things the same way you do. 
  • Avoid being solely persuaded by the seller or borrower not to collect funds required at the closing. We oftentimes hear that the seller or borrower told the closer that the delinquent taxes, mortgage, or homeowner assessment was already paid outside of closing and to just disregard any payoff or estoppel letter that was previously collected. Experience tells us that you should not just take the person’s word but instead contact the creditor, lienor, or lender that is owed the funds, at a properly verified number, and confirm whether a payment has resolved or made current an amount owed. If appropriate, it may be good practice to hold back those collected funds until a certain time has passed, and it is confirmed that the account is current and/or the lien has been satisfied or released.
  • Spend time in understanding the subject of the closing. This includes the parties in the transaction and the property. Understanding the intricacies can help you spot types of fraud involving the conveyance of title or unpaid liens and taxes. With a critical eye, review the person’s ID and other documents that are presented since a number of fraudsters and imposters are impersonating others in transactions.
  • Promptly discuss concerns and matters with the underwriting and claim teams. We at Alliant National are always ready to review and discuss issues and matters of concern with our agents. Please don’t hesitate to call us. Waiting until the last minute or after closing to discuss a known issue may cause problems. In some cases, it may be too late to deal with an issue brought to the title underwriting team after the closing, as a claim may now exist.

Everyone is excited when a closing occurs and funds are disbursed, but this enthusiasm can quickly change to concern when a title matter is submitted involving that transaction. Thankfully, taking time to review, understand and analyze transaction information can reduce the possibility of errors and help avoid those top-five pesky and preventable title claims.

If you have questions, please contact the Alliant National claims team.

Businessman with Magnifying Glass

IT’S THE SMALL STUFF

I’m sure at some point in life, each of us has thrown up our hands and said, “I’m not worrying about the details, this is good enough.” Of course, when you deal with real property transactions, you quickly learn that the small stuff matters.

The claims team has seen several areas that can be typically resolved in the transaction or post-closing without ever rising to the level of a claim. Let’s look at three of those areas – Release of Liens, Release of Revolving Line of Credit / Home Equity Line of Credit, and Property Taxes which all require attention to detail.

  1. Release of Liens

Let’s say you’ve obtained the payoff letter from the correctly identified and verified lienor, closed the transaction, sent the funds to the lienor, and now you are moving on to the transaction. But wait! The lien is recorded in the county land records, so how are others to know it has been paid? Several lienors will handle recording a release in the proper county land records, but there are few lienors who fail to do so. Either the lienor sends an unrecorded release to their borrower, to the title company, or does not prepare one at all. In a few states, there are statutes that provide a timeframe in which a lienor must record the release after receipt of payment. In other cases, the instrument may have a clause that discusses the obligation of the lienor when the debt is paid. In all cases, as part of a post-closing, best practice process, a release or satisfaction should be promptly filed in the property’s county land records before the file is classified as completed. This may require a few follow-up communications with the lienor to satisfy this requirement, but it will be worth it in the long run.

  • Release of Revolving Line of Credit / Home Equity Line of Credit

The Revolving Line of Credit or Home Equity Line of Credit loans allow a borrower to draw funds, when needed, and the borrower can use the line of credit over and over while being secured with the property. Many closers may take the same steps as a typical payoff of a mortgage or deed of trust, but there are a few additional steps required to properly close down and have the loan released from the property. Just sending the payoff funds is not enough. 

To properly address these types of loans, a written request from the borrower to close the account upon receipt of the full payoff is typically required. Many lenders request a signed letter from the borrower requesting to close the account. So, if you are wiring the funds, the seller’s written request to close the account will still need to be delivered to the lender. To provide evidence that the borrower’s written request was sent to the lender, a best practice would be to track the delivery of the request to the lender, either by facsimile, mail or email. Once you receive confirmation that it has been delivered and received, keep a copy of this information in the file along with a copy of the written request. Similar to the Release of Lien section above, a release or satisfaction should be properly filed in the property’s county land records before the file is classified as completed.

  • Property Taxes

Whether you are using a tax company to provide a report on the outstanding property taxes or doing the research yourself, if not handled accurately, unpaid property taxes may result in a homeowner being subjected to additional taxes and penalties or losing the property. In a few states, just looking at the county’s tax collector site is not enough as there are other entities required to be paid that are situated outside of the tax collector’s office. If you are doing business in such a state, identify all the tax entities to which taxes are due and payable when a property is conveyed or refinanced.  

Another tax example involves states that are reviewing prior owner exemptions. If an exemption was deemed to have expired in an earlier conveyance, the tax collector’s office is sending letters to the current homeowner seeking payment for the difference caused by the changed exemption for the prior years. As an example, if there is a homestead exemption reflected but a company has held title to the property for several years, this may require a discussion with the tax collector’s office as to the proper calculation of taxes owed if the exemption is no longer valid. With this information, the proper amount of taxes can be collected at closing.

Our final tax example involves prior year’s unpaid taxes or issued tax certificates. In these cases, make certain the proper payment amount is collected and timely delivered to stop a tax lien sale or, if sold, any certificate holder from obtaining a tax deed. Depending on the state, the expiration of the redemption period after a tax deed is issued may result in a loss. As a best practice, the title company should confirm with the tax collector’s office or its designated entity that it has received payment and that the payment is being applied to the correct account(s).

Conclusion

Attending to the details in these three areas will provide assurance to all those involved in the transaction. Having properly addressed these matters, a seller or buyer will not have to worry about being contacted in a few months, or possibly years from now, to address these issues. If you have questions, please contact the Alliant National claims team.

Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization logo

Are You “e” Ready? Broadcast Your Capability Through the New MISMO® Exchange

After years of incrementally slow progress on the e-mortgage front, the pandemic succeeded in catapulting the mortgage and settlement services industry into the digital mortgage and closing age in short order. As state legislatures quickly rushed through a variety of pending remote online notarization (RON) laws, more agents jumped at the chance to add this capability to their tool belt.

In an April 12 release, ALTA reported that the number of title professionals offering digital closings more than tripled over the past two years, from 14% participation prior to 2019, to more than 46% in its most recent survey.

The question for agents is, do your partners and potential customers know about your new digital closing capability? And how can you get the word out?

MISMO has provided a national solution that you can capitalize on immediately to ensure potential customers who are looking for a service provider with RON capability can check on your status.

The MISMO e-Eligibility Exchange was created to accelerate industry-wide adoption of digital closings. According to a recent release from MISMO, the e-Eligibility Exchange provides centralized access to acceptance criteria that enables lenders and other industry participants to easily determine the right type of digital mortgage closing for each loan, including the use of electronic promissory notes (eNotes) or RON.

How Can Agents Get Into the e-Eligibility Exchange?

The only way to get into the exchange is by first getting registered in the ALTA Title and Settlement Agency Registry. ALTA announced that it will be the sole provider of title and settlement data to MISMO through the registry, which currently includes more than 9,000 locations, with more than 2,000 of them indicating they have RON capability.

The registry is free and ALTA membership is not required. After you register, your underwriter will confirm your information. According to MISMO, this verification, along with the uniqueness of the ALTA ID, ensures the accuracy of the data in the e-Eligibility Exchange for users.

If you are not yet signed up with the ALTA registry, here’s what you need to know:

  • Visit alta.org/registry to learn more about the ALTA Title & Settlement Agency Registry.
  • Download materials to register on the ALTA resources site to begin the registration process.
  • ALTA will provide you with a unique 7-digit identifier, called the ALTA ID, which is automatically assigned to each new database record as a permanent ID number.
  • ALTA ID numbers are available for free to title agents and to real estate attorneys.
  • Once you are registered, your underwriters will be contacted to confirm your status.

Recent legislation has helped grow adoption of e-recording and e-notarization, but the lack of uniformity still makes it difficult for lenders to universally adopt electronic practices, forcing lenders to make a loan-by-loan decision about what documents can be electronically signed.

MISMO’s e-Eligibility Exchange helps address this challenge by allowing lenders to quickly assess requirements for individual loans.

More importantly for you, it allows lenders to identify the availability of title and settlement agents with electronic capabilities. Hop on the digital train in 2022. With the advent of the e-Eligibility Exchange, you now have the perfect opportunity to put yourself front and center for digital closing opportunities in the coming years.

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