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The NJLTA is pleased to present Title News from the American Land Title Association:

 

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Pros and Cons of Bypassing an Appraisal

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What Does the Next Generation of Homebuyers Want?

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Bank of America enlists AI to pay your mortgage

Erica introduced to bank’s mobile clients

Bank of America announced Friday the release of its artificial intelligence-driven virtual assistant to assist mobile customers with their financial services.

The virtual assistant, Erica, is still learning and becomes smarter the more she is used. She can perform tasks such as tell customers when their mortgage is due, or even pay their mortgage for them.

This comes on the heels of the bank’s new digital mortgage platform, which it launched back in April and allows customers to complete the mortgage application process via their mobile device or on Bank of America’s website.

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HUD Secretary Ben Carson doubles down on dismantling Obama-era fair-housing policies

The Trump administration is doubling down on its efforts to undo Obama-era fair-housing policies in the wake of a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had wrongfully suspended a requirement that communities address barriers to racial integration.

HUD on Friday evening announced that it is withdrawing a computer assessment tool that provides communities with data and maps to help them gauge neighborhood segregation.

The tool, developed during the Obama administration, was meant to help communities comply with a little-enforced provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act that compelled local governments to use federal dollars to end residential segregation.

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Protect Your Company by Knowing How to Identify Valid and Suspicious Email

Protect Your Company by Knowing How to Identify Valid and Suspicious Email 

While companies may have spam filters and antivirus software, spam and phishing emails can still slip through employee inboxes. Email recipients are the most critical element in preventing an attack. Here are some tips on how to identify the authenticity of a questionable email. In addition, the ALTA Registry can serve as a resource to help prevent wire transfer fraud. 

Incorrect Grammar/Spelling/Text Body

Many phishing emails contain misspellings. Some of these messages have been poorly translated from other languages. Additionally, you will want to pay attention if the time or date appears in the message body of an email. If the email contains the date format of DD/MM/YY, 24-hour time or coordinated universal time (UTC,) it’s likely that the email’s point of origin generated outside of the United States.  

Email Format/Absence of Logos/Plain Text Email

Most legitimate messages will be written with HTML. It should be a mix of text and images. A poorly constructed phishing email may show an absence of images. This includes the lack of the company’s logo. If the body of an email is only an image as text, it’s possible that it is illegitimate. Outlook blocks showing images by default. If the email is all plain text and looks different than what you’re used to seeing from a frequent sender, you may want to contact the sender directly in a new email or phone call.

Urgent Request for Personal Information

One tactic that is commonly used by hackers is to alert you that you must provide and/or update your personal information about an account (e.g., Social Security number, bank account details, account password). Phishers will use this tactic to drive urgency for someone to click on a malicious URL or download an attachment aiming to infect the user’s computer or steal their information.

Suspicious Attachments

High-risk attachments file types include: .exe, .scr, .zip, .com and .bat.  Spam filters will generally do a good job of quarantining those formats. Most companies commonly send and receive .zip, .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, .pptx and .pdf. However, a malicious sender can implant devious code in those formats as well. Once the attachment is opened, the computer is already compromised. Take caution if you have sent an email that has an attachment and the sender is questionable. You will want to verify the legitimacy of the email first. Next, you will want to examine the context of why the attachment is being sent.

Links in the Email

A common practice is to avoid blindly clicking on links in an emails. Outlook allows you to hover over a link before clicking on it. If the link in the body of the email is different than what Outlook hovered preview reports, it is not legitimate. Even if it seems legitimate, open a new browser window and type the URL directly into the address bar. If you've clicked on a link, a phishing website will look identical to the original. However, your system may already be compromised.  If you’re work email is connected to your phone, you will want to take extra precaution. 

Use Work Email for Work Purposes Only 

Employees should avoid using their work email address for personal signups. These include social media websites or customer loyalty/ reward programs.    

ALTA Registry

Whether scammers try to hook their prey by phone call or email, they always seem very convincing. For example, what would happen if a loan processor received an urgent email asking to change funding details on the day of closing? The request appears to be from the title or settlement agent closing the loan. The email looks legitimate: The logo, the agent’s name and contact details, the loan number and the borrower name are all correct. Even a phone number is provided to confirm the last-minute change. However, the email is actually a scam! Even though every other detail looks correct, the phone number routes to the scammer. 

By using the ALTA Registry—a single source of truth—a lender simply could look up the agent’s actual underwriter-confirmed contact details. Comparing the phone number in the email with the contact details listed in the ALTA Registry immediately would set off a red flag that something was wrong. In this scenario, the scammer could not have broken through the lender’s line of defense.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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US housing starts total 1.287 million in April, vs 1.310 million starts expected

  • U.S. homebuilding tumbled in April and permits fell.
  • The data suggested the housing market continued to tread water amid shortages of land and skilled labor.
  • Housing starts dropped 3.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.287 million units in April, the Commerce Department said.

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Reverse Mortgage Market Takes a Fall

After a rough March for home equity conversion mortgage originations, April’s numbers became even more dire, according to the latest statistics from Reverse Market Insight. Just how bad did the home equity conversion mortgage (HECM) market get in April 2018? RMI reports a 22.2 percent month-over-month drop in HECM originations in April.

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Off the chain: how blockchain and cryptocurrency are changing commercial real estate

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin, are fundamentally changing how money changes hands. As their potential goes mainstream, it’s possible that commercial real estate may be among the top industries disrupted—in both the way we transact, and in the usage of surplus space. Picture an all-digital transaction closing, from deeds to funds and title filings. Picture a world without old-school tax stamps, and where wire transfers become the dinosaurs of electronic fund transfers.

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Home sales strong despite headwinds

Strong economy, consumer confidence overcome decline in affordability, says Freddie Mac economist

It’s a testament to the strength of the U.S. economy—and consumer confidence in that strength—that the housing market has remained strong, despite inventory and affordability issues and increasing interest rates.

In an interview regarding Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey results, Chief Economist Sam Khater says that unlike other periods, such as 2013, when rising rates led to a decline in demand, “that’s just not happening this time, because the...

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White House looks to extend Mulvaney's CFPB tenure

The White House is dragging out the nomination of a permanent director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to ensure that acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney calls the shots at the agency until the end of the year or longer, according to sources.

President Trump is expected to name J. Mark McWatters, the chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, as his CFPB nominee close to June 22, according to sources familiar with the situation.

McWatters' nomination has long been rumored, but waiting until late June would also maximize the tenure of Mulvaney, who has moved aggressively to reshape the agency. 

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Failing to File a Satisfaction of Mortgage – The Afterthought That Can Haunt Your Property…

Following the acquisition or financing of a property, most parties to the transaction are happy to circulate the “Congratulations!” missives as soon as the closing has occurred – the seller has their proceeds, the buyer/borrower has their property and/or the loan funds, and the prior financing(s) have been paid off… but the champagne corks shouldn’t be popped quite yet. There is one crucial post-closing item that too often gets overlooked and, if not addressed, can cause headaches rivaling a hangover down the line – recording the satisfaction or discharge of mortgage.

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Fannie Mae reports comprehensive income of $3.9 billion

Returns just $938 million to Treasury

Fannie Mae reported an increase in its net income in the first quarter of 2018, rising from the loss last quarter that was driven by a remeasurement in the company's deferred tax assets, according to the company’s earnings release.

Fannie Mae reported a net income of $4.3 billion and a comprehensive income of $3.9 billion in the first quarter of 2018. This is up significantly from the loss of $6.5 billion posted in the fourth quarter.

However, last quarter’s losses were also due to changes made from tax reform. In anticipation of the coming changes, both GSEs were even allowed to regain their capital reserves and withhold $3 billion from the Department of the Treasury.

But even that wasn’t enough to cover the loss, and both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were forced to draw from the Treasury after announcing their fourth-quarter earnings.

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Mortgage rates tick down, giving buyers a break 

Rates for home loans pulled back after hitting a four-and-a-half-year high, in a springtime reprieve for home buyers.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.55% during the May 3 week, according to Freddie Mac’s survey, released Thursday. That was down from 4.58% in the prior week. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.03% during the week, up one basis point during the week. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.69%, down from 3.74%. 

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PHH gives up challenge to CFPB constitutionality

Will not pursue case to Supreme Court

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s stunning decision to reverse its earlier ruling and uphold the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will stand as the law of the land after PHH Corp. elected not to pursue the case to the Supreme Court.

According to multiple outlets, the deadline to appeal the case to the Supreme Court came and went this week without PHH filing an appeal.

PHH confirmed to HousingWire that it chose to let the May 1 deadline pass and did not file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court was left as PHH’s only outlet to its challenge to the constitutionality of the CFPB after the full Court of Appeals reversed its previous decision and ruled the CFPB’s leadership structure constitutional.

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What Drives Mortgage App Defect Risks?

The level of loan application defect, fraud, and misrepresentation risks vary based on local conditions, according to the latest data from First American’s Loan Application Defect Index.

While the overall Loan Application Defect Index at First American indicated a decrease in the frequency of defects, fraud, and misrepresentation in mortgage loan applications by 1.2 percent from the previous month, the defect index for refinance transactions... 

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Despite Buyer Demand, Contract Signings Flat

 

Pending home sales picked up the pace in March, but ongoing issues related to low inventory kept contract activity below year-ago levels, the National Association of REALTORS® reported Monday. NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, inched up 0.4 percent to a reading of 107.6 in March. Despite the uptick, overall activity was down on an annualized basis for the third consecutive month. 

“Healthy economic conditions are creating considerable demand for purchasing a home, but not all buyers are able to sign contracts because of the lack of choices in inventory,” says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Steady price growth and..

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New Federal Rule Exempts Nearly One-Third of Commercial Property Sales from Appraisals

Doubling of Loan Price Threshold to $500,000 Removes Appraisal Requirement from More Than $65 Billion in U.S. Commercial Properties

A new federal rule doubling the threshold for commercial real estate deals requiring an independent appraisal will reduce the time, cost and regulatory burden associated with processing smaller real estate deals, banking and real estate analysts say.

The Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency adopted new rules exempting commercial property sales of $500,000 or less from the appraisal requirement. Regulators originally proposed raising the minimum from the current $250,000 to $400,000 but bumped it up to $500,000 after determining the higher threshold posed "no material loss risk to financial institutions." 

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The Docket: D.C. Court of Appeals Rules on Condo Association Super-lien Priority

May 1, 2018

The Docket is a monthly TitleNews Online feature provided by ALTA’s Title Counsel Committee, which reviews significant court rulings and other legal developments, and explains the relevance to the title insurance industry.

David Cox of the law firm Jackson & Campbell PC provided today’s review of a ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals, which held a condo association’s foreclosure would wipe out the first mortgage even if the association expressly stated that it intended for the foreclosure to be held subject to that mortgage. Cox can be reached at dcox@jackscamp.com.

Citation: Andrea Liu v. U.S. Bank National Association, Case No. 16-CV-262 in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (Decided March 1, 2018)

Facts: The D.C. condominium owner obtained a $589,750 purchase money loan in 2007; the secured loan was later assigned to U.S. Bank. The owner defaulted on both his loan and condo assessments.  U.S. Bank chose not to foreclose. The D.C. condominium association foreclosed on its statutory six-month super-priority lien, but the notice and advertisement expressly noted that the sale was “subject to the first mortgage” held by U.S. Bank. It should be noted that the lender attempted to pay the arrearage ($11,503.67) but was one day late in tendering its check. The property was sold to a third-party bidder for $17,000. 

Holding: The D.C. condominium association enforcing its super priority lien may not condition its foreclosure upon protecting any interest in favor of the first mortgage. There is a specific anti-waiver provision in the D.C. Code preventing the condominium from conditioning any such sale.  None of the equitable defenses asserted by the Lender persuaded the appellate court to grant the Lender any relief. 

Importance to the title industry: As in several other jurisdictions, the D.C. courts are favorably disposed to the full exercise of a condominium’s statutory six-month “super priority lien” and have evidenced little or no concern of the impact on purchase money lenders whose interest will be wiped out even when the arrearage may only be a few thousand dollars. The Liu decision, coupled with similar decisions in Nevada and Massachusetts, strongly suggest that super priority liens will be honored in every respect regardless of the impact on other prior recorded and seemingly secured interests.

NOTE: Several key questions were left open by this decision. Some of those were addressed by the D.C. Court of Appeals in the U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Green Parks, LLC, et al., Case No. 2016-CV-842 in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (decided March 13, 2018). In addition, amendments to the relevant section of the D.C. Code in 2017 may limit the long-term impact of the Liu decision. 

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Why Aren’t More People Selling Their Homes?

Inventory shortages have become one of the defining trends of the housing market in recent months. Demand for homes is skyrocketing, but lack of sufficient supply is driving high home prices ever higher, forcing some homeowners to stay in their current homes, thus exacerbating the problem even further. With the latest installment of its proprietary Potential Home Sales Model, First American Financial...

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Weekly mortgage applications stall as rates make sharp move higher

  • Mortgage interest rates last week didn't start to climb until the end of the week, but even a few days were enough to dampen demand.
  • Total mortgage application volume fell 0.2 percent for the week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  • That was 0.8 percent lower than a year ago.

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Tech Disruption In Title Insurance Is A New Frontier -- Or Is It?

Blockchain, cryptocurrency and digitized records are the ubiquitous terms being used to discuss the future of the largest asset class in the world. The supposed experts are calling for a major disruption in both the land records and title insurance space, citing the fact that the real estate industry has not seen changes in forever.

However, the notion that there have not been major technological advancements to the business of real estate in the past two decades is somewhat 

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US long-term mortgage rates flat to higher; 30-year 4.42 pct 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates were flat to slightly higher this week with the spring home buying season well underway.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages edged up to 4.42 percent from 4.40 percent last week. The benchmark stood at an average 4.08 percent a year ago.

Long-term rates fell last week, following a stretch of increases in January, February and early March as interest rates generally rose.

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Millennials Using Low-Down Payment Mortgages To Buy Homes

New data from the Freddie Mac shows that 50 percent of renters in their mid-20s and 30s plan to buy a home when it’s time to move.New data from the Freddie Mac shows that 50 percent of renters in their mid-20s and 30s plan to buy a home when it’s time to move.

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Mortgage refinances fall to the lowest level in a decade amid lean and expensive spring housing market

  • Mortgage application volume was 5.5 percent lower last week, from a year ago.
  • Refinancing activity continues to drop, even as interest rates fell slightly.
  • The average interest rate on the 30-year fixed fell to 4.66 percent.

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PwC: The digital mortgage is our new normal

What are borrowers looking for?

In the constantly evolving and digitally-focused environment, even the definition of what a digital mortgage is, is changing, according to a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In its latest Home Lending Experience Radar report, published this week at the LendIt Fintech USA conference in San Francisco, PwC proclaimed that digital is now our new normal and explained how consumer expectations are shifting and what these new trends mean for lenders.   

In PwC’s study, there are three trends they observed:

  1. There’s a continual rise of digital adoption
  2. “Digital” is being redefined
  3. New opportunities are presenting themselves for lenders to provide additional value to borrowers.

Roberto Hernandez, a partner with PwC’s consumer finance division, sat down with HousingWire at LendIt Fintech to discuss how lenders...

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How Blockchain is Changing the Mortgage Game   

Despite the major buzz blockchain is causing across several industries, and especially within the financial services sector, it seems that mortgages have surprisingly been insulated from the disruption. However, this is quickly changing. The appeal of blockchain to financial institutions is quite clear—the ability to disintermediate and reduce the friction inherent in interactions between consumers and banks such as loans is hard to resist.

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How Did Refis Impact the 2008 Financial Crisis?

 

While there is still debate about the various factors that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, a new paper by the Urban Institute suggests that the poor performance of cash-out refinances, and refinances in general, were important contributing factors.

“What Fueled the Financial Crisis? An Analysis of the Performance of Purchase and Refinance Loans,” authored by the Urban Institute’s Laurie S. Goodman and Jun Zhu, opens with a recap of two competing theories about what caused the 2008 financial crisis. On one side, there is the narrative that government policies aimed at building homeownership backfired by encouraging the private sector to offer mortgages to borrowers with poor credit and without the financial stability to afford them. On the other side of the debate places more of the onus on the lenders themselves for lending to subprime borrowers. The Urban Institute report, however, suggests that refinances may have played more of a role in the crisis than has been acknowledged before.

According to the report, recent research suggests first-time homebuyers were not the largest contributors to poor credit performance. Instead, the report points to established borrowers seeking cash-out refinances or second liens on their mortgages. “These borrowers often used non-traditional instruments such...

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Exclusive: U.S. watchdog seeks record fine against Wells Fargo for abuses - sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. watchdog for consumer finance is seeking a record fine against Wells Fargo & Co that could exceed several hundred million dollars for auto insurance and mortgage lending abuses, according to three sources with knowledge of the plans. 

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Mortgage Payments Up 13% This Year

 

Monthly mortgage payments have risen an average of nearly 13 percent nationwide over the last year—or an extra $168—as buyers grapple with both higher home prices and increasing mortgage rates, according to a realtor.com® analysis. Luxury buyers are feeling the worst sticker shock, paying double the rate. In the top 10 percent of the market, owners are now paying an average $241 more per month. 

Mortgage interest rates are about a half of a percentage point higher than they were at the beginning of the year, and the Federal Reserve has signaled there are more hikes to come. “There is an urgency in the market,” says Pete Boomer, executive vice president at PNC Bank... 

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Fannie Mae now allowing lenders to contribute to borrower closing costs

Funds must be a gift and cannot be used toward down payme

While it’s not quite the same as the down payment assistance that the government-sponsored enterprises used to allow, lenders now have a new way to help borrowers buy a home – closing cost assistance.

Fannie Mae announced this week that it will now allow lenders to contribute to borrowers’ closing costs, as long as the money is a gift and is not used towards a borrower’s down payment.

Over the last few years, Freddie Mac on a larger scale, and Fannie Mae on a smaller scale, allowed lenders to gift money to borrowers that could be used on their down payment on a 3% down mortgage.

These programs fell out of favor after some lenders... 

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Mortgage rates ease for second consecutive week, third time since January

Mortgages rates dropped for the second week in a row and just the third time this year.

According to data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average slid to 4.40 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.44 percent a week ago and 4.10 percent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average slipped to 3.87 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.90 percent a week ago and 3.36 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable-rate average fell to...

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J.D. Power: Time to prepare for upcoming HELOC boom

Number of Americans taking out HELOCs projected to double

As home prices, and therefore homeowner equity rises, consumers who wish to take out a home equity line of credit are expected to double over the next five years, according to a new report from J.D. Power, and lenders need to be ready.

HELOCs are projected to double to 10 million in the next five years, and in order to prepare for this and capitalize on the trend, the report explained lenders will need to increase their digital offerings.

In fact, the digital experience is becoming increasingly critical to customer satisfaction, according to the new J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Home Equity Line of Credit Satisfaction Study.

“Lenders need to recognize that the HELOC customer experience is a journey that begins with initial consideration and evaluation and extends through 

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More U.S. real estate deals can go ahead without appraisal: regulators

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. bank regulators on Monday agreed to relax commercial real estate lending rules and allow more deals to go ahead without an independent appraisal of the property’s value...

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FHFA: Here are 10 things the GSEs did to improve access to credit in 2017

Agency releases annual scorecard on Fannie, Freddie

The Federal Housing Finance Agency released its annual progress report summarizing the activities of the GSEs in 2017.

As part of the 2014 Strategic Plan for the Conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the companies have three requirements they must meet each year.

1. Maintain, in a safe and sound manner, foreclosure prevention activities and credit availability for new and refinanced mortgages to foster liquid, efficient, competitive, and resilient national housing finance markets.

 

2. Reduce taxpayer risk through increasing the role of private capital in the mortgage market.

3. Build a new single-family securitization infrastructure for use by the Enterprises and adaptable for use by other participants in the secondary market in the future.

“This is the fifth annual report detailing the significant steps taken by FHFA, in collaboration with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Common Securitization Solutions, to... 

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Mortgage rates move lower for just the second time this year

ortgage rates dipped for the second time in three weeks as investors began selling off stocks and buying bonds.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average slipped to 4.44 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.45 percent a week ago and 4.14 percent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average slid to 3.9 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.91 percent a week ago and 3.39 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average fell to 3.66 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.68 percent a week ago and 3.18 percent a year ago.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury sank more than 10 basis points in the past week, tumbling to its lowest level since early February. Jittery investors, worried about a trade war with China, have been scooping up bonds, sending prices higher and yields lower.

The movement of long-term bonds tends to be one of the best indicators of where mortgage rates are headed. But home loan rates haven't fallen as quickly as bond yields. Instead, the 30-year fixed rate has been stuck... 

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2017 Title Premium Volume Up 3.3 Percent from Prior Year

March 27, 2018

ALTA reported title insurance premium volume increased 3.3 percent during 2016 when compared to the same period a year ago.

The title insurance industry generated $14.8 billion in title insurance premiums during 2017 compared to $14.3 billion during 2016, according to ALTA’s Market Share Analysis.

Family Market Share (85.3%)

  • Fidelity, 33.3%
  • First American, 26.2%
  • Old Republic Family, 15.0%
  • Stewart Family, 10.8%

Independent Companies (14.7%)

  • Westcor Land Title Insurance Co., 3.4%
  • WFG National Title Insurance Co., 2.5%
  • Title Resources Guaranty Co., 2.2%
  • North American Title Insurance Co., 1.7%
  • Alliant National Title Insurance Co., 0.8%

Top States

  • Texas, $2,034,179,096 (+0.3%)
  • California, $1,726,378,753 (-0.6%)
  • Florida, $1,431,846,828 (+5.0%)
  • New York, $1,086,287,413 (-1.5%)
  • Pennsylvania, $618,397,748 (+7.5%)

Click here for more market share data. ALTA expects to release Q1 2018 market data around June 1.

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Commercial mortgage sector gained $200 billion in 2018

The amount of commercial/multifamily mortgage debt outstanding in 2017 was $3.18 trillion.

The Mortgage Bankers Association says that more than $200 billion of debt was added to the total during the year, a rise of 6.7% from the end of 2016.

In the fourth quarter, $73.6 billion (2.4%) was added to the total as all four major investor groups increased their holdings.

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Mortgage refinances fall even further despite first rate drop of 2018

  • For the first time this year, mortgage rates dropped, but not enough to spur refinances — which took a sharp dive.
  • Total mortgage application volume fell 1.1 percent last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  • Refinances were behind the fall entirely. Volume fell 5 percent for the week and was nearly 19 percent lower than a year ago.

For the first time this year, mortgage rates dropped, but not enough to spur refinances — which took a sharp dive.

Total mortgage application volume fell 1.1 percent last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's...

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10 mortgage reforms in the Senate reg relief bill

Among the many provisions in the Senate's extensive regulatory relief bill are a number of changes that will directly affect mortgage lenders and servicers.

The Senate is racing toward a final vote on S.2155, which includes several items that address the mortgage industry's calls for regulatory relief, as well as other calls for relief from post-crisis Dodd-Frank Act restrictions in adjacent financial-services businesses, like credit scoring.

Some of the proposed changes in the legislation sponsored by Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, target rules that drew broad-based complaints 

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Senate passes rollback of banking rules enacted after financial crisis

The Senate on Wednesday passed the biggest loosening of financial regulations since the economic crisis a decade ago, delivering wide bipartisan support for weakening banking rules despite bitter divisions among Democrats.

The bill, which passed 67 votes to 31, would free more than two dozen banks from the toughest regulatory scrutiny put in place after the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite President Trump’s promise to do a “big number” on the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010...

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10 origination abbreviations every mortgage pro must know 

Mortgage originators use jargon as shorthand to help speed their internal processes. These terms will be recited by managers, loan officers, underwriters, processors and closers. But this short hand is a key to getting a loan through the process in the most efficient way possible.

But as anyone who deals with consumers knows, the user has to be able to explain what a term means using common words that the client is able to understand. Especially because the customers lack that mental "English-to-mortgage-jargon" dictionary that industry participants have in their heads.

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Mortgage refinances fall to decade low

  • Interest rates for home loans have risen each week this year, so each week homeowners have had less incentive refinance their mortgages.
  • Another drop in refinances last week kept mortgage application volume basically unchanged from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  • The refinance share of all mortgage applications fell to 40 percent, the lowest since 2008.

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More Mortgage LOs Leave Banks for Non-Banks

NMLS count increases in 2017

As the number of residential loan originators grew last year, a bigger share of the group found themselves working at non-bank lenders for the second year in a row.

When 2017 concluded, there were 574,326 mortgage loan originators who were licensed or registered through the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System.

Headcount for the nation's loan officers expanded compared to the end of 2016, when the number of loan officers in the database was 562,837.

In fact, the count has increased each year since 2014, when the number finished the year at 524,734, according to historical data from the Conference of State Bank Supervisors which presented the latest figures in the NMLS Mortgage Industry Report 2017 Q4 Update.

Included in the most-recent count were 158,199 state-licensed originators who maintained 562,760 licenses and 421,743 federally registered originators who worked at banks. There were 5,616 originators who maintained both a state license and a federal registration.

That left state-licensed originators with a 27 percent share, up from 26 percent a year earlier. It was the second consecutive year that state-licensed originators increased their share.

Bank originator share fell to 73 percent from 74 percent in the fourth-quarter 2016.

Originators employed by banks regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency made up 219,085 of the latest registered total. Another 90,215 worked at institutions supervised by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., 49,444 were on the payroll of banks regulated by the Federal...

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Credit standards tighten in February

Credit standards tightened in February from January, according to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

The Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI) declined 1.2% to 180.7 during the month. The index analyzes data from Ellie Mae’s AllRegs Market Clarity tool. An increase in the index would indicate loosening lending standards.

"Credit availability fell in February by 1.2%, led downwards by a decline in conventional offerings,” MBA Vice President of Research and Economics Lynn Fisher said. “A change in program offerings from a single large investor... 

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J.D. Power: Will mortgage lending go fully digital in 2018?

Trend grows toward heavy tech development

J.D. Power conducted a new study, the 2017 J.D. Power U.S. Primary Mortgage Origination Study, which shows, for the first time, refinance and purchase customers cited online/website as the most frequent method of submitting a mortgage application.

A total of 43% of mortgage customers reported applying digitally in 2017, up from 28% in 2016, the study showed. J.D. Power explained that while the mortgage industry is lagging significantly behind other fields in technology, this year could begin to change the trend.

“Drawing on recent J.D. Power studies from both the mortgage industry and broader financial services sector, along with our conversations with industry leaders, we are seeing a clear trend toward heavy tech development 

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The Building Blocks of Title

In the search for records surrounding a property, anyone who has visited one of the 3,000-plus counties across the United States in search of a document has learned that the storage of legacy records can be an inefficient, inexact, and cumbersome process. However, these annoyances may be a thing of the past as “blockchain technology” becomes mainstream in the lexicon of business.

ComputerWorld recently wrote that “[B]lockchain creates an unchangeable record of ... transactions, each one time-stamped and linked to the previous one. Each digital record or transaction in the thread is called a block (hence the name), and it allows either an open or controlled set of users to participate in the electronic ledger. Each block is linked to a specific participant ...”

From this description, it’s easy to imagine how this tool could make the lives of real estate professionals easier. Though blockchain’s integration with...

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Carson: Rumors HUD’s Mission Statement is Changing ‘Patently False’

On Thursday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson fired back against accusations that proposed changes to the HUD mission statement represented a rolling back of the agency's commitment to fair housing practices.

Carson was responding to reports earlier in the week that HUD was considering removing the words "free from discrimination" from its official mission statement. Various outlets reported that the proposed new mission statement's wording...

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Real Estate Company Sues Firm After Falling Victim to Scam

WAUKESHA — Does a title firm have the responsibility to protect its customers from potential scammers?

A Milwaukee company is arguing that is indeed the case, filing a lawsuit after sending a $162,000 check to a scammer instead of the Brookfield title firm it had been working with on a real estate deal.

Geils Home Wisconsin LLC filed suit in Waukesha County Circuit Court on Tuesday, alleging that Merit Title of Brookfield breached its contract and was negligent in failing to protect Geils from a real estate scam.

Messages left at Merit Title and for Geils attorney Joe Abruzzo seeking comment were not returned Wednesday.

According to the suit, Geils offered to buy a home from a resident on East Wilson Street in Milwaukee last fall, and selected Merit Title to be the closing agent. But, prior to the closing, Geils alleges Merit “had knowledge or should have had knowledge of a cybercriminal... 

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Mortgage rates continue their upward march

Mortgage rates moved higher again this week, their ninth consecutive increase.

According to the latest data, released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average rose to its highest level since January 2014, climbing to 4.46 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.43 percent a week ago and 4.21 percent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average rose to 3.94 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.90 percent a week ago and 3.42 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable-rate average inched up to 3.63 percent with an average... 

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Home flipping fuels boom in short-term lending

Investors in the business of buying and selling homes fast have faced stiff competition in finding viable properties, but these home flippers have had fewer challenges in one traditionally tough area of the business: lining up financing.

Lenders have been competing fiercely to fund their deals. 

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Senate Debates Dodd-Frank Modifications on Way to Full Vote

On Wednesday, the Senate entered its second day of debate over the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. The bill enacts modifications to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signed into law in 2010 by President Obama. A full Senate vote is expected to happen this week, after which the bill will have to then return to the House of Representatives and pass there as well. This follows the House passing its own regulatory reform bill last week, which the Senate passed over in favor of crafting its own version.

The bill enacts numerous reforms and changes regulations pertaining to lenders. One of the primary changes is increasing the threshold for enhanced regulatory standards from $50 billion to $250 billion, a change designed to exempt some smaller and mid-sized banks from regulations that would still apply to the larger banking entities. The affected regulations pertain to capital and liquidity rules, risk management standards, and stress testing requirements, among other things. The bill...

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Banks Need New Approaches In Complying With Financial Crimes Regulations

Despite significant investments in structure and technology to improve their Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance programs, banks still face rising costs and complexities in complying with financial crimes regulations. A WealthInsight report estimates that global AML spending will exceed $8 billion in 2017, up 36 percent from 2013. Such growth is being driven by the need to address the regulatory requirements effectively, increased transaction volumes, poor quality data and processes, often resulting in high false-positive rates resulting in significant remediation efforts.

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113 congressional Republicans declare support for Mick Mulvaney as CFPB director

File amicus brief in legal battle over bureau’s interim director

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When to Report a Cyberattack? For Companies, That’s Still a Dilemma

It has been seven years since the Securities and Exchange Commission first advised public companies to tell investors if they had suffered a cyberattack deemed to be material. But even with the rising number of severe hacks, only a few companies report incidents each year to the S.E.C.

Now the S.E.C. has issued updated cybersecurity guidance. Again, it warned public companies to make “timely” disclosure, recognizing the “grave threat” that cybercrime poses to investors and the capital markets.

Yet, the S.E.C.’s new guidance doesn’t confront the practical quandary facing public companies victimized by a cyberattack: Going public with news of a cyberattack isn’t always... 

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Dodd-Frank relief bill moves to the Senate floor

President Donald Trump has called for a near-total repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but the regulatory relief bill that has the best shot of landing on his desk this year purposely attempts to be a “skinny” reform measure designed to gain traction in Congress, according to industry analysts.

Senate Bill 2155, known as the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, appears to have enough support from moderate Senate Democrats to pass with a filibuster-proof 60 votes. The bill's sponsors include 12 Democrats and one independent. Although progressive Democrats and consumer-advocacy groups oppose the legislation, the mortgage lobby says it has a good chance of passing.

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Freddie Mac still predicts new home sales to drive 2018 growth

Home price increases to moderate

At the beginning of 2018, new home sales gave the year an unexpectedly low start, however Freddie Mac still believes they will push the housing market forward in 2018.

In January, new home sales dropped 7.8% from December’s annual rate of 643,000 to 593,000, a move that the housing market wasn’t expecting.

Now, the mortgage giant claims it is changing its forecast little from previous predictions, when it said new home sales are set to take over the housing market in 2018.

“While existing home sales may struggle to top their best-in-over-a-decade 2017 performance, new home sales should provide enough growth to push total home sales... 

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Homeownership's Price Tag Rising as Rents Moderate

Taken together, two recent posts in the CoreLogic Insights blog may indicate that, after several years of being a close trade-off or even more affordable than renting, buying a home might be losing any advantage.    

Shu Chen writes that the growth in rents nationwide seems to be slowing after seven years of steady increases.  CoreLogic's Single-Family Rent Index (SFRI) shows that year-over-year rents, were increasing on an annual basis when the rate topped out at 4.3 percent in February 2016.  The growth has been decelerating slowing since then.  In November 2017 the year over year increase was 2.7 percent. 

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U.S. pending home sales slide 4.7 percent in January

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Contracts to buy previously owned homes unexpectedly declined in January to their lowest level in more than three years, another sign that the housing market appears to be losing some momentum.

The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday its pending home sales index dropped to a reading of 104.6, down 4.7 percent from the prior month. December’s index was also downwardly revised to 109.8.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast... 

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Mortgage applications rise 2.7 percent as rates take a brief breather from surge

  • After rising sharply for weeks, mortgage interest rates steadied last week, and homebuyers responded, the Mortgage Bankers Association says.
  • Total mortgage application volume increased 2.7 percent, seasonally adjusted, from the previous week.
  • The increase was driven by homebuyers, who have been sidelined significantly... 

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US new home sales drop for second straight month

  • Sales of new U.S. single-family homes fell for a second straight month in January.
  • A survey of Reuters economists expected sales of new U.S. single-family residences to rise in January.
  • The economic measure was weighed down by steep declines in the Northeast and South

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House Passes TRID Bill Again in Effort to Spur Senate Action

February 27, 2018

By a voice vote on Feb. 27, the U.S. House of Representatives for a second time passed the TRID Improvement Act of 2017.

Introduced by U.S. Rep. French Hill, the TRID Improvement Act amends the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) to require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to allow the accurate disclosure of title insurance premiums and discounts to homebuyers. Under the current regulation, the CFPB does not allow title insurance companies to disclose available discounts for lenders title insurance on the government mandated disclosures. This results in the inaccurate disclosure of title insurance premiums in about half of the states.

This time, the TRID Improvement Act is packaged with a bill sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), which will allow the use of utility and cell-phone payment histories as part of the credit scoring process.

The new bill, HR 5078, was sent to the House floor this week under a suspension of the rules. This procedure is used to pass non-controversial bills and requires approval of three-fourths of the House.

This maneuver is meant to make the TRID Improvement Act more attractive for inclusion in the Senate, where a bipartisan regulatory reform bill is picking up steam. The hope is that this vote will show its bipartisan appeal more than the vote two weeks ago.

On Feb. 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3978 by a vote of 269-143.

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IRS Requires Personal Information When Verifying Taxpayer Identity

February 27, 2018

On Jan. 3, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) instituted a new identity verification process requiring third parties calling on behalf of a taxpayer to verify their identity by providing personal information such as their Social Security Number and date of birth.

Changes made to the Internal Revenue Manual Section (IRM) 21.1.3.3, titled “Third Party (POA/TIA/F706) Authentication, also require anyone who calls the IRS to provide their name, company's taxpayers identification number (TIN) and their Centralized Authorization File (CAF) number. Previously, callers only had to provide their name and company TIN.

According to reports, the addition additional information is being requested to fight fraud and mitigate risk. The change came without warning and the IRS has not yet provided an update to the IRM on its website. It’s been reported the IRS plans to detail changes in the near future.

To eliminate multiple employees from submitting their personal information, some title companies have appointed a point person to call the IRS. ALTA and several state land title associations are considering submitting a letter to the IRS.

Some alternative solutions that don’t require as much information from the caller include providing certain digits of their SSN, inputting the SSN on a phone keypad rather than verbally stating the number or answering a series of security questions.

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The Mortgage Market Is Moving Into the Shadows

Regulators should pay closer attention to the boom in non-bank lending. 

The last financial crisis occurred in part because unregulated lending in the mortgage market got out of hand. Believe it or not, it’s starting to happen again, and could ultimately precipitate another disaster unless regulators get their act together.

Make no mistake, regulators have done plenty to rein in the mortgage business since the 2000s. New rules require that lenders carefully assess borrowers’ ability to pay, and that mortgage servicers -- which process payments and manage other relations with borrowers -- give troubled customers plenty of opportunity 

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Long-term mortgage rates climb to 4.40 percentBy josh boak, ap economics writer

Long-term U.S. mortgage rates crept higher this week, upping the costs of borrowing to purchase a home just as more of the millennial generation is entering the real estate market.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose to 4.40 percent this week, a slight gain from 4.38 percent last week. That average is the highest since April 2014 and the seventh straight weekly increase.

The rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans rose to 3.85 percent from 3.84 percent last week.

Mortgage rates closely track the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes, which have climbed to 2.92 percent from 2.46 percent at the start of the...

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IMF data validates: Quicken passes Wells Fargo as No. 1 mortgage lender

But there’s one catch

Quicken Loans announced, just before the Super Bowl, that it officially passed up Wells Fargo as the No. 1 lender in the U.S.

The lender then announced its new position through its Super Bowl ad campaign, along with promoting its product Rocket Mortgage...

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Spring May Not Be Pretty for First-Time Buyers

 

A shortage of homes and surging prices are hitting first-time buyers particularly hard heading into the spring season. The share of first-time homeowners dropped to 29 percent of all existing-home sales in January, down from 33 percent a year ago, according to the latest housing report from the National Association of REALTORS®.

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Tight supply, rising prices weigh on US home sales

  • U.S. home sales unexpectedly fell for a second straight month in January.
  • Existing home sales last month were weighed down by a persistent shortage of houses that is pushing up prices and keeping first-time buyers out of the market.

U.S. home sales unexpectedly fell in January, leading to the biggest year-on-year decline in more than three years, as a persistent shortage of houses pushed up prices and kept first-time buyers out of the market.

The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday that existing home sales dropped 3.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million units last month. It was the second straight monthly decline and reflected decreases in all four regions.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast existing home sales rising 0.9 percent to a rate of 5.60 million units in January.

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These metros saw the most homebuilding activity in 2017

Top metros building up, not out

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Is blockchain a runaway train? 

 

Slide 1 of 7
 
After a volatile 2017 for virtual currencies, one may expect a somewhat more cautious response to blockchain, the underlying distributed ledger technology that enables bitcoin. After all, the fervor of investment into bitcoin has predictably come back down to earth.

However, it would appear that momentum is continuing unabated for blockchain projects and initial coin offerings, as the potential for blockchain continues to be realized.

Following is a look at the landscape of the blockchain and ICOs to gauge where they are headed in 2018 and beyond.

 

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Technology that Makes Sense for the Digital Mortgage Closing Community

February 20, 2018

By Andy Crisenbery

Over the past several years, the mortgage industry has diligently worked toward the development and implementation of digital mortgage capabilities. Most lenders have made progress with these solutions are varying levels, and have been helped along by innovative partners and advancements in technology—while others are still looking for the right path. There’s little doubt that a fully digital mortgage process is in our future, delivering a better user experience to consumers, efficiencies across the mortgage continuum and quality improvements to the associated loan data.

Most mortgage lenders have some sort of road map to implement a fully digital mortgage process, but in some cases, they may have critical relationships with a variety of external companies and regulatory entities that are not ready. Getting to a place where a fully digital mortgage is possible ultimately means that all entities who touch a mortgage must be able to seamlessly interact—lenders, customers, settlement providers and the investors, as well as the technologies they rely upon.

A primary opportunity in creating the digital mortgage process is in the closing phase. There are certainly a variety of digital closing solutions on the market today, offering a range of capabilities, such as allowing customers to review documents electronically, and to e-sign documents when appropriate. The question is not whether an e-close can be done, but rather, what questions must be asked and answered for it to be deployed successfully across the industry.

The E-close

Today, e-close solutions electronically deliver loan documents to settlement services agents who then print the loan documents for borrowers to physically sign (wet signature), or when allowable and appropriate, enable the borrower to e-sign their loan on a computer. Of course, there are a fair number of hurdles that must be crossed to determine whether an e-closing is appropriate, and if so the type of e-close that should be used.

First, there are “Yes/No” questions that must be answered. Does the consumer want to do an e-closing transaction? Does the settlement agent want to do it electronically? Does the county allow e-recordation? Does the county support e-notarization? Will the title underwriter agree to this method of closing? Has the Investor approved the lender to sell them e-notes? Will the investor accept it? If the answer is yes to every question, a full e-closing is indeed possible.

The settlement management process must be compliant with all ESIGN (Electronic Signatures in Global Commerce and National Commerce Act) and UETA (Uniform Electronic Transaction Act) rules to make an e-closing...

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House Passes Bill to Fix TRID

 
On Wednesday, the House voted 271-145 to approve H.R. 3978, the TRID Improvement Act of 2017. The bipartisan bill corrects the inaccurate disclosure of title insurance premiums on the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures (TRID) and helps consumers understand the true cost of their real estate transaction.

Under the bill, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) would be amended to require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to allow the accurate disclosure of title insurance premiums and discounts to homebuyers. Current regulations do not allow title insurance companies to disclose available discounts for lender's title insurance on the government-mandated disclosures. Although the bill was passed as part of a larger legislative package, the genesis of the bill is about improving transparency and making sure consumers receive disclosures that accurately represent the cost of the one-time fee that protects their property rights.

Our focus now turns to the passage of a companion bill in the Senate so that this common-sense fix to TRID can go to the president for approval. If you have any questions please contact Rob Robilliard, ALTA's coordinator of government and regulatory affairs, at rrobilliard@alta.org.


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Know Your Traditional and E-closing Options

There’s been a lot of buzz about online notaries and digital closings over the past year. While many states will start to consider online notary legislation, the fact remains there are four main ways closings can occur. Here’s a summary of the options:

 

Traditional Wet Signing:  These closings are handled in-person and all of the documents are in paper format. The closing is handled with an in-office or mobile notary public signing with the buyers and sellers. They can also be conducted by what is called a mail-away, where the documents are mailed to the buyers and sellers, who must locate a public notary in their area and sign in their presence.

 

 

Hybrid E-closing: These closings are similar to the traditional closing in that they are handled in-person. Some of the documents are wet signed, while some are signed digitally with an e-signature. These are typically handed in-office or the mobile notary drives to meet the buyers and sellers.

In-person Digital E-closing: Terms for this type of closing have not been standardized yet in the industry. In this closing, the notary public is sitting face-to-face with the buyers and sellers, but 100 percent of the... 

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MBA: Mortgage applications drop at beginning of February

HousingWire | February 14, 2018 | Kelsey Ramírez

Mortgage applications decreased 4.1% from last week, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 9, 2018.

On an unadjusted basis, the index decreased 2% from last week. The Refinance Index decreased 2% from...

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Fannie Mae loses $6.5 billion in 4Q on tax change

The Associated Press: Feb. 14, 2018 

WASHINGTON — Sweeping changes to U.S. tax law led to a $6.53 billion loss at Fannie Mae last quarter, putting the government-controlled mortgage company in the position of seeking cash assistance from taxpayers for the first time since it emerged from the housing crisis six years ago.

Fannie Mae said Wednesday its net worth sank to a negative $3.7 billion after it had to "remeasure" its deferred tax assets to the tune of $9.9 billion as required by the Tax...

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House Passes ALTA-supported Bill to Fix TRID

February 15, 2018

By a vote of 269-143, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that corrects the inaccurate disclosure of title insurance premiums on the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures (TRID) and help consumers understand the true cost of their real estate transaction.

Introduced by U.S. Rep. French Hill, The TRID Improvement Act (H.R. 3978) amends the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) to require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to allow the accurate disclosure of title insurance premiums and discounts to homebuyers. Under the current regulation, the CFPB does not allow title insurance companies to disclose available discounts for lenders title insurance on the government mandated disclosures. This results in the inaccurate disclosure of title insurance premiums in about half of the states.

“Although the bill has been made part of a larger legislative package, the genesis of the bill is about improving transparency and making sure consumers receive disclosures that accurately show the cost of the one-time fee that protects their property rights,” said Michelle L. Korsmo, ALTA’s chief executive officer. “Our research shows that 40 percent of consumers feel confused by the CFPB’s requirement to provide inaccurate pricing on title insurance. We’re thankful for Representative French Hill championing a straightforward fix that benefits consumers across the country. This isn’t about limiting Dodd-Frank. We’re eager to get this bill introduced and passed in the Senate and eliminate the inconsistencies in mortgage documents that cause confusion for consumers.”

Five additional bills have been amended to the original TRID Improvement Act:

  • Require the Financial Stability Oversight Council to consider the appropriateness of imposing heightened prudential standards as opposed to other forms of regulation to mitigate identified risks to U.S. financial stability (drawn from H.R. 4061, the Financial Stability Oversight Council Improvement Act).
  • Require the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue a subpoena to obtain source code from high-frequency traders (drawn from H.R. 3948, the Protection of Source Code Act).
  • Extend a temporary auditing exemption for small businesses (drawn from H.R. 1645, the Fostering Innovation Act of 2017).
  • Exempt securities that qualify for trading in the national market system from state “blue sky” laws (drawn from H.R. 4546, the National Securities Exchange Regulatory Parity Act).
  • Give mortgage loan originators a grace period to obtain a new license when they switch jobs so that they can continue to originate loans (drawn from H.R. 2948, Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act).

If the bill passes the full House, it still must go through the Senate. A potential vehicle to get the bill passed in the Senate is to get it amended to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155).

A survey conducted by ALTA in 2016, found that 40 percent of the consumers polled found the disclosure rule for title insurance confusing and deceptive. Nearly two dozen other trade groups have joined ALTA urging Congress to pass legislation that would correct the inaccurate disclosure of title insurance premiums.

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Here’s a great explanation of what the blockchain is from the person tasked with explaining it to the world

 

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How Will Rising Mortgage Rates Impact a Buyer’s Willingness to Enter the Market?

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Will Bitcoin Revolutionize How Real Estate Is Bought and Sold?

| Feb 8, 2018

The past few months have been a crazy roller-coaster ride for bitcoin—and the folks who have the cryptocurrency. The value of the mysterious, paradigm-shifting bitcoin shot up nineteenfold from January to December of last year. It started 2017 at a valuation of $1,000 per unit, and ended it around $19,000. And then it all came crashing down, falling below $6,000 in early February. Feeling some motion sickness yet?

So what does this have to do with housing? Quite a bit, it turns out. Folks who began accumulating bitcoin before its meteoric rise have found themselves rolling in some newfound... 

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Four Proactive Tips to Improve Cybersecurity for Small Businesses

February 13, 2018

By Melissa Ellis

Although the media headlines often highlight major data breaches of large corporations and government agencies, the majority of businesses being hacked are small businesses. Why is this the case? Most small businesses do not have layers of security in place to protect them so attackers consider them low-hanging fruit. According to Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, 61 percent of data breaches in 2016 affected small businesses. As many of you are aware, the title industry is in the attackers’ direct line of fire. The good news is that effective IT security is not beyond reach. Here are a few cybersecurity tips that can benefit your business.

Network Security

Implementing a network firewall with intrusion detection and prevention capabilities (IDS/IPS) is crucial. A firewall protects your network from malicious traffic and an IDS/IPS system properly monitored can stop a attackers in their tracks. Unmanaged systems do not provide adequate security.

Attackers are working around the clock and so should your security. Performing regular network vulnerability testing, internally and externally, can identify risks and give you the opportunity to remediate before being hacked. Many of the common vulnerabilities that this process could identify include legacy or otherwise unsupported operating systems, poor patch management and exposed systems.

It is essential that workstations, servers and laptops are updated and patched on a regular basis. The WannaCry ransomware attack quickly infected 150 countries and targeted computers that were unpatched. It is important that not only Microsoft updates/patches are consistently applied but also third-party software such as Adobe, Java and antivirus programs need to be maintained. There are managed systems available to ease administration and ensure timely and consistent updating/patching occurs.

Back Up

Having a backup and understanding where your data is stored is critical. There are several backup scenarios available. Whichever scenario fits your business, the important factors remain the same: Make sure your data is in a secure location, is encrypted during transit and storage, and is regularly tested so that the data can be restored. You do not want to be in the position where your back up is needed and find that hardware is not available, the time to recover is days or weeks longer than expected, or the data won’t restore properly. Consider keeping redundant backups.

Security Policies and Procedures

With the ongoing concern about keeping business and client data safe, it is vital to have security policies and procedures in place. Employees need to understand what is expected of them and be given the proper tools and technology to safeguard business and client data. For many businesses, writing security policies and procedures can seem like a daunting task. There is no reason why you can’t start small and add to them.

One simple yet very important policy is a password policy. According to Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, 81 percent of hacking-related breaches leveraged either a stolen and/or weak password. Every password can be hacked. It is just a matter of how much time it takes. A basic seven-character password consisting of lower case letters can be cracked in seconds. The longer and more complex a password is the longer it takes to crack. Make it difficult for the hackers and they will move onto lower hanging fruit.

Security Awareness Training

Security awareness training, another required layer of security, is the missing link across many small businesses. But even if the previously mentioned safeguards are implemented, though, if your employees are not trained on how to recognize and handle everyday security threats your business is still at serious risk.

Employees are the number one target of attackers, who take advantage of workers who have not been given the necessary training and tools. One of the main problems the title industry is facing now is phishing emails. The FBI reported a 480 percent increase in wire fraud attacks in 2016. Many of these attacks involved phishing emails. Implementing a comprehensive and ongoing security awareness training program is your best line of defense against these attacks. Educate and empower your employees; everyone is part of the security team!

It is very important that small businesses take proactive approaches to IT security. Avoiding the necessary steps is only going to increase your chances of falling victim to an attack. Implementing and maintaining the proper layers of security can be complex, requiring knowledge of the everchanging landscape of the IT security world. When selecting a company to assist your business, it is important to choose a company with proven expertise in IT security. Cybersecurity threats are continuing to rise. Now is the time to take action to protect your business and client data.

Melissa Ellis is a co-owner of Systems Management Enterprises Inc. (SME), a Virginia-based information technology and security company providing data center services, managed security, compliance solutions and technical support to businesses nationwide for 17 years. Ellis can be reached at melissa.ellis@smeinc.net.

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CFPB Refocuses Mission in New Strategic Plan

February 13, 2018

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) released a five-year strategic plan that establishes its mission, strategic goals and strategic objectives.

"If there is one way to summarize the strategic changes occurring at the bureau, it is this: we have committed to fulfill the bureau’s statutory responsibilities, but go no further," said Acting Director Mick Mulvaney. "By hewing to the statute, this strategic plan provides the bureau a ready roadmap, a touchstone with a fixed meaning that should serve as a bulwark against the misuse of our unparalleled powers."

The plan draws directly from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and refocuses the bureau’s mission on regulating consumer financial products or services under existing federal consumer financial laws, enforcing those laws judiciously, and educating and empowering consumers to make better informed financial decisions.

Dodd-Frank Act authorizes the CFPB to exercise authority to ensure that, with respect to consumer financial products and services

  • Consumers are provided with timely and understandable information to make responsible decisions about financial transactions;
  • Consumers are protected from unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices and from discrimination;
  • Outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations are regularly identified and addressed in order to reduce unwarranted regulatory burdens;
  • Federal consumer financial law is enforced consistently in order to promote fair competition; and
  • Markets for consumer financial products and services operate transparently and efficiently to facilitate access and innovation

Among changes from the prior strategic plan, the bureau will now focus on equally protecting the legal rights of all, including those regulated by the bureau, and will engage in rulemaking where appropriate to address unwarranted regulatory burdens and to implement federal consumer financial law and will operate more efficiently, effectively, and transparently.

The bureau is required to prepare and publish a five-year strategic plan in accordance with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and GPRA Modernization Act. The prior strategic plan was published in April 2013. The new plan is a revision of the draft released in October 2017.

Additionally, the budget for fiscal year 2019 released by the Trump Administration would subject the CFPB to the congressional appropriations process. The budget proposes placing the agencies, all independently funded from other federal entities, under Congress’s control by 2020.

The CFPB’s 2019 budget would also be capped at its 2015 level, $485 million, compared with a projected $630 million this year.

According to a statement released by the White House, “The proposed reforms would impose financial discipline, reduce wasteful spending, and ensure appropriate congressional oversight. … To prevent actions that unduly burden the financial industry and limit consumer choice, the proposal restricts CFPB’s broad enforcement authority over Federal consumer law.”

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House Expected to Vote on ALTA-supported Bill to Fix TRID

February 13, 2018

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that would correct the inaccurate disclosure of title insurance premiums on the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures (TRID) and help consumers understand the true cost of their real estate transaction.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. French Hill, amends the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) to require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to allow the accurate disclosure of title insurance premiums and discounts to homebuyers. Under the current regulation, the CFPB does not allow title insurance companies to disclose available discounts for lenders title insurance on the government mandated disclosures.

Five additional bills have been amended to the original TRID Improvement Act (H.R. 3978):

  • Require the Financial Stability Oversight Council to consider the appropriateness of imposing heightened prudential standards as opposed to other forms of regulation to mitigate identified risks to U.S. financial stability (drawn from H.R. 4061, the Financial Stability Oversight Council Improvement Act).
  • Require the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue a subpoena to obtain source code from high-frequency traders (drawn from H.R. 3948, the Protection of Source Code Act).
  • Extend a temporary auditing exemption for small businesses (drawn from H.R. 1645, the Fostering Innovation Act of 2017).
  • Exempt securities that qualify for trading in the national market system from state “blue sky” laws (drawn from H.R. 4546, the National Securities Exchange Regulatory Parity Act).
  • Give mortgage loan originators a grace period to obtain a new license when they switch jobs so that they can continue to originate loans (drawn from H.R. 2948, Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act).

If the bill passes the full House, it still must go through the Senate. A potential vehicle to get the bill passed in the Senate is to get it amended to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155).

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The Equifax Hack Exposed More Data Than Previously Reported

Last year’s worst hack exposed even more information than previously believed, further highlighting vulnerabilities created by the credit-monitoring system.

Between May and July of last year, hackers stole 145 million Americans’ Social Security numbers, birthdays, driver’s license numbers, and addresses from Equifax, one of the three largest credit reporting agencies in the country. The Wall Street Journal, reviewing documents submitted to Congress, now reports that stolen data also included tax identification numbers and driver’s license states and issuance dates. Some email addresses were also acquired by hackers.

The additional data could make it even easier for hackers to open credit lines or otherwise exploit victim’s identities. The theft of tax ID numbers...

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Real estate victories in budget deal: extended flood insurance, tax credits

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) trumpeted several short-term benefits for the industry it lobbied to get into the compromise
Inman Connect San Francisco

 

 A bipartisan budget deal signed into law Friday morning following a six-hour
 government  shutdown will briefly extend the National Flood Insurance Program for a few weeks, while lawmakers race to reform the ailing, 49-year-old insurance plan through legislation currently  stalled in the Senate.  The extension until March 23 was among a  half-dozen small victories for the real...

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Mortgage title scam almost costs homebuyer tens of thousands of dollars

We’ve heard of scams that often cost victims hundreds or thousands of dollars, which is bad enough.

But a mortgage title scam that almost victimized an Akron-area man could have cost him what could have been a life savings for many — tens of thousands of dollars, in the high five figures.

Luckily, he and his credit union mortgage specialist realized what was happening before the money was wired.

This scam apparently has been around for a few years, but may just be hitting the Akron area.

The Akron man is no stranger to buying houses...

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House Passes Mortgage Choice Act

February 8, 2018

The U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 8 voted 280-131 to pass H.R. 1153, the Mortgage Choice Act of 2017, which would relax the restriction on fees paid to lender-affiliated title companies in Qualified Mortgage (QM) transactions.

The QM rule—established by the Dodd-Frank—set underwriting standards for mortgages that are generally considered to be more affordable. Mortgage lenders that meet certain criteria are presumed to satisfy requirements ensuring the consumer’s “ability to repay” and are afforded a safe harbor from associated liability.

One requirement is that upfront points and fees paid by the consumer can’t exceed 3 percent of the loan amount for mortgages of $105,158 or more.

The current QM rule excludes certain real estate-related fees from the points-and-fees calculation—such as fees for title services, deeds, appraisals and credit reports—if the charge is reasonable and paid to a third party unaffiliated with the lender, and if the lender doesn’t receive direct or indirect compensation.

The bill would exclude the following additional charges from the definition of points and fees:

  • Charges paid to an affiliate of the lender for title examination or title insurance services
  • Compensation paid to the lender for a real estate-related fee as part of an “affiliated business arrangement”
  • Insurance premiums held in escrow

According to a report on the bill from the House Financial Services Committee “many loans involving affiliated companies, particularly those made to low and moderate-income borrowers, would exceed the 3 percent cap, and not qualify as QMs, which could deprive consumers of the ability to take advantage of the convenience and market efficiencies offered by one-stop shopping,”.

The bill was introduced last year by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), chairman of the Capital Markets, Securities, and Investment Subcommittee. The CFPB would have to issue a final rule implementing the changes within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.

ALTA has not lobbied for or against the bill since it has members on both sides of the issue. For more information, contact Justin Ailes, ALTA’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs.

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Where Are Multifamily Developers Going Next?

Some are watching fast-growing secondary markets closely to see how they absorb the new apartments now under construction. 

Multifamily developers are finding it more challenging to find new project sites in the current market.

“Because the cycle has run so long, finding individual development deals that make financial sense gets harder and harder, even with favorable overall market influences,” says Greg Willett, chief economist for RealPage Inc., a provider of property management software and services.

Some continue to break through barriers to build in core, urban markets. Others are watching fast-growing secondary markets closely...

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Home prices climbed 6.6% in December: CoreLogic

Marks fifth straight month of year-over-year increases

CoreLogic today released its Home Price Index (HPI) and HPI Forecast data for December 2017, which boasted 6.6 percent year-over-year growth. December is the fifth consecutive month with year-over-year increases measuring more than 6 percent. Gains were modest month-over-month at 0.5 percent.

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Closing time: The process that turns a home seeker into a homeowner

You’re almost there. After months of shopping for the perfect home, answering invasive questions to borrow a not-so-small fortune and determining that your sweet abode is as solid as it looks, the end is in sight.

But before the movers can get to work, you need to go through closing. Closing or settlement is the final step to buying a house. It is when the ownership of the home is officially transferred to the buyer.

The first step to closing is picking a title insurance company. To find a good title company, home buyers shouldn’t rely solely on their real estate agent’s recommendation

Click here for more information

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Hit by Wire Transfer Fraud? Use the Kill Chain Process

January 30, 2018

Criminals launder billions of dollars overseas through financial fraud schemes like wire transfer fraud, corporate account takeovers, business e-mail compromise scams and other financially motivated crimes.

The FBI offers a Financial Fraud Kill Chain (FFKC) process to help recover large international wire transfers stolen from the United States.

The FFKC is intended to be utilized as another potential avenue for U.S. financial institutions to get victim funds returned. Normal bank procedures to recover fraudulent funds should also be conducted.

The FFKC can only be implemented if the fraudulent wire transfer meets the following criteria:

  • the wire transfer is $50,000 or above
  • the wire transfer is international
  • a SWIFT recall notice has been initiated
  • the wire transfer has occurred within the last 72 hours.

Any wire transfers that occur outside of these thresholds should still be reported to law enforcement but the FFKC cannot be utilized to return the fraudulent funds.

Use these resources to help raise awareness about wire fraud:

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Three Ways Blockchain Will Disrupt Traditional Business And Impact Marketing In 2018

Matt Anthes, Forbes Councils

Recently, cryptocurrencies have dominated the news with Bitcoin, Litecoin and other altcoins generating mainstream buzz. Companies are utilizing a myriad of marketing efforts, particularly social media, to drive interest within the sector.

The interest in cryptocurrencies has mainly been speculative as investors look to ride the wave. On November 27, CNBC reported that there were 13.3 million users for Coinbase, the leading U.S. platform for buying and selling Bitcoin. In contrast, Charles Schwab...

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2018's Housing Market Looks Good Unless You're A First-Time Millennial Buyer

Ellen Paris, Contributor:  Forbes

The nation’s housing market for 2018 continues to look good, according to two recently released reports. But first-time millennial buyers will continue to struggle with affordability, especially in high-priced areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York and Washington DC.

Listen to Ralph G. DeFranco, Ph.D, global chief economist, Mortgage Services, Arch Capital Services Inc.: “With interest rates and home prices both on the rise, first-time homebuyers...

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Mortgage rates jump to highest in 4 years, an ominous sign for spring housing

  • Mortgage rates are surging due to the jump in U.S. bond yields.
  • "Some lenders will be at 4.5 percent," says Matthew Graham of Mortgage News Daily.
  • Higher mortgage rates, combined with higher home prices, will make this spring housing market even more challenging.

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Adjustable-rate Mortgages Make a Comeback

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are back, especially in the higher price brackets around $453,000 and above. And as loan rates climb, as they are expected to do throughout the year, they probably will become more popular.

But wait: Weren’t ARMs responsible, at least in part, for the 2008 housing crash and subsequent mortgage market meltdown? Are homebuyers setting themselves up for another fall?

Well, no, ARMs weren’t responsible for the crash. Actually, the loan product itself is quite sound. After a set number of years, the rate you pay adjusts to market conditions... 

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DOJ investigating FHA lending practices of Lennar subsidiary Eagle Home Mortgage

Homebuilder discloses investigation in SEC filing

Eagle Home Mortgage, the mortgage lending subsidiary of Lennar, could find itself on a list that includes Wells Fargo, Walter Investment, United Shore Financial Services, PHH, and many other lenders that were sanctioned by the government for underwriting mortgages that did not meet Federal Housing Administration standards.

In recent years, the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama accused a number of lenders of violating the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting mortgages that did not meet with FHA standards.

But Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson recently told Congress, and later the Mortgage Bankers Association, that the Trump administration...

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Vermont Launches Blockchain Project 

George Leopold:  Enterprisetech
January 26, 2018

Early efforts to use blockchain technology for financial transactions are gathering momentum with the launch of a pilot project between a blockchain startup and a Vermont city to use the digital ledger to record real estate deals.

Propy Inc., which last fall used a blockchain framework called Ethereum to purchase an apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, said last week it is collaborating with... 

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U.S. regulators ready to ease check on property values: sources

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. bank regulators plan to relax commercial real estate lending rules by allowing more deals to go ahead without an independent appraisal of the property’s value, according to several sources familiar with the discussions.

The revised rules will be welcomed by banks that have long-argued that appraisals...

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New Tax Laws Likely to Increase HNW Investment in Real Estate

Legal and tax experts say the law bestows several benefits that make it more appealing for HNW investors to buy properties.

For high-net-worth (HNW) investors in commercial real estate, the federal tax overhaul is practically a financial home run. Legal and tax experts say the law bestows several benefits that make it more appealing for HNW investors to buy properties.

Broadly speaking, the tax law, enacted in December, represents a huge win for HNW real estate investors, says Jamie Byington,...

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Existing-Home Sales Fade in December; 2017 Sales Up 1.1 Percent 

National Association of Realtors
Adam DeSanctis

WASHINGTON (January 24, 2018) — Existing-home sales subsided in most of the country in December, but 2017 as a whole edged up 1.1 percent and ended up being the best year for sales in 11 years, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales1, https://www.nar.realtor/existing-home-sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 1.1 percent in 2017 to a 5.51 million sales pace and surpassed 2016 (5.45 million) as the highest since 2006 (6.48 million).

In December, existing-home sales slipped 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million from a downwardly revised 5.78 million in November. After last...

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Fannie Mae Tackles Affordable Housing and Sustainability

On Tuesday, to coincide with the launch of its Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge (The Challenge), Fannie Mae announced the formation of an Expert Advisory Panel. The panel will support The Challenge, two-year $10 million initiative by the GSE to advance the growth of sustainable communities while addressing the nation’s affordable housing shortage. The GSE recently launched the first phase of its 3 phase plan, which includes accepting contract proposals to be reviewed; the final round of review will be performed by the Expert advisory Panel.

“Affordable housing is not an isolated issue. It requires a broad set of solutions and dedicated individuals,” said Maria Evans, VP, Sustainable Communities...

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Mortgage applications jump 4.5% as buyers rush to beat higher rates

  • Mortgage applications rose 4.5 percent last week from the previous week, the Mortgage Bankers Association says.
  • Application volume was 6.1 percent higher than one year ago.

Spring has sprung early in this housing market. Buyers, seeing a new trend toward higher interest rates, are rushing in before the first buds appear.

Mortgage applications rose 4.5 percent last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted report. Application volume was 6.1 percent higher than the same week one year ago.

Applications to purchase a home led the charge, rising 6 percent for the week to the highest level since April 2010. These loan applications are now 7 percent higher than the same week one year ago.

"A combination of being left on the sideline last summer due to a lack of inventory for sale and the prospect of slowly rising interest rates...

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10 Technologies That Will Change Real Estate In 2018

Forbes Real Estate Council Forbes Real Estate Council

 

Technological developments in recent years have changed nearly every industry, and real estate is no exception. The process of listing, viewing, buying and selling properties has become much more streamlined with listing websites, e-signed documents and mobile apps.

As newer technologies like virtual reality and blockchain continue to break into the mainstream market, real estate professionals see a wide range of potential applications for the industry. We asked 10 members of Forbes Real Estate Council about the 

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A Tale of Two Decades

From a macroeconomic perspective, the mortgage market entering 2008 was in tatters. The collapse of the subprime and the Alt-A markets, as well as an extremely weak jobs market, made consumers skittish to borrow and lenders reluctant to make most loans. It was the worst of times.

“Entering 2008, we were dealing with all of the fallout from the liberal lending policies of the previous 10 years,” says Matt Clarke, CFO/COO of Churchill Mortgage. Those previous 10 years had included low and no-documentation loans that could easily be falsified, as well as mortgages with no principal payment requirement, meaning...

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Cheat sheet: Senate goes own way on housing finance reform 

WASHINGTON — Senate negotiators are breaking from an emerging consensus on housing finance reform, working on a bill that would place Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into receivership, repeal their charters and replace them with multiple mortgage guarantors.

As recently as Thursday afternoon, it appeared policymakers were lining up behind a plan put forward by the Federal Housing Finance Agency that would reconstitute Fannie...

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New housing construction plunges to lowest level in more than a year

Drop driven by sharp decline in single-family starts
 

 

Driven by a drop in single-family construction, U.S. housing starts plunged in December, marking the biggest decline in new residential construction in a little over a year, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released Thursday.

In a reversal from November, when the construction industry tallied a 10-year high with a revised seasonally adjusted rate of 948,000...

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How Social Engineering and Phishing Can Affect You and Your Business

January 18, 2018

The Basics:

Social engineering: An attempt to manipulate people into divulging confidential information

Phishing:  One of the most common forms of social engineering and a technique used to fraudulently obtain private information, typically in the form of emails directing the user to click on the link in the message. The link is often intended to steal user credentials (user ids & passwords) and is also used to deliver malicious software, such as viruses, to your computer.

Phishing emails appear to be coming from a legitimate business or recognized user (the real name of the sender/business is typically spoofed. Spoofing, in general, is a fraudulent or malicious practice in which communication is sent from an unknown source disguised as a source known to the receiver. Spear phishing is a more targeted email attack sent to a select number of users and a Whaling attack, also known as Business Email Compromise (BEC), is an even more targeted variation of spear phishing that targets high-profile executives or used in wire fraud attempts.

Real Life Impact:

  • You receive aphishing email fromPayPal. You click on the link and without realizing it, you give out your credentials to the hacker. Here is what the hacker can do with it:
    • Log in to your PayPal account and if you linked your checking account, the adversary can siphon all your savings to his bank
    • Use the same credentials at major bank websites and credit card companies. If they succeed, they can transfer your funds to their account
  • Use the same credentials at online mail sites (Google, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.). If they succeed, they can monitor your email activity and use your e-mail account without your knowledge and potentially use it to change wiring instructions and divert funds.
  • Use the same credentials at websites for major insurance carriers. If successful, they can potentially get your social security number
  • Use same credentials to potentially gain access to all your social media accounts. If they succeed, they can monitor your email activity and use your email account without your knowledge and potentially use it to change wiring instructions and divert funds

How to Protect Yourself:

  • If you receive an email that has a link in it, even if you’re expecting it and you trust the sender, never click on the link. Go to the website directly to log in. Then, delete the message
  • Vendors no longer send invoices through email as attachments and most reputable shopping sites expect you to view the invoice and status of shipping on their website, and will never send you attachments.
  • Use unique passwords for every website you visit. Use password managers to help you generate strong passwords and them. Password managers are inexpensive and are easy to use.
  • Change your passwords frequently. Many password managers will assist you with that. Even if your password is unique and hard to guess, you should still change it frequently. Many security breaches go unnoticed or unreported for a long time, and hackers may be using your old password without your knowledge.
  • Use reputable cloud mail services (i.e. Office365, Outlook.com, Google). They all have many security features enabled by default and more available as add-ons.
  • Check your email for signs of compromise. If you are suspect something is amiss, check your sent and deleted items for messages you didn’t send.
  • Watch for look-alikes in the sender’s address. Hackers and cyber criminals frequently use similar domains by replacing vowels with numbers or inserting one letter within a long domain name.
  • Keep your antivirus (AV) current and don’t forget your mobile devices. There are plenty of AV products for mobile devices.
  • Keep your systems patched.
  • Use multifactor authentication (e.g. tokens) in addition to your passwords, whenever possible. Even if your passwords are stolen, the second factor is much harder to circumvent. Two-factor authentication is available for many e-commerce retailers, most banks, social media, and e-mail platforms.

It’s important to note that social media is widely used by cyber criminals for social engineering attacks and credential theft. Protect yourself:

  • Educate yourself about the danger of social engineering attacks associated with social media
  • Keep your personal and business social lives separate.
  • Don’t accept social media invitations from people you don’t know. Just because someone is a member of the same group on the LinkedIn, does not mean you have something in common.
  • Avoid suspicious content. URL shorteners used on most social media platforms are convenient but dangerous. You never know where it will redirect you. Treat all URL shorteners as potential threats.
  • Don’t download third-party applications to just view or access the content. If someone sends you a picture and you need to install an application to view it, it is most likely malicious
  • Don’t trust, and always verify. Some larger social media providers have added “verified account” indicating their legitimacy. Otherwise, don’t trust everything you see on the social media.
  • Don’t underestimate the age of your mobile device. Apple makes security updates available for most of their platforms, where Google relies on OEM partners to deliver updates. Consequently, a 2015 study by the University of Cambridge found 87.7% android devices are exposed to at least one of 11 known critical vulnerabilities.

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Don't worry, homeowners: HELOCs will survive despite new tax law

It’s a big and confusing question for many homeowners in the wake of the December tax law changes: Are new interest-deductible home equity lines of credit, commonly called HELOCs, and second mortgages now totally out of reach going forward?

The new law eliminated a longstanding section of the tax code that allowed homeowners to borrow against their equity and use the proceeds for whatever purposes they chose, while deducting interest payments on their federal taxes. That provision of the new tax law took effect Jan. 1, so it’s logical to assume that popular tax-deductible HELOCs will no longer be available.

They’re dead. Right? Not quite! To borrow a phrase from Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride,” the traditional uses of HELOCs may be “mostly dead” — but not all dead.

A close reading of the final language rushed through Congress last month reveals that interest-deductible HELOCs and second mortgages should still be available to ...

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Homebuilders celebrate good times while fretting about tomorrow                

Homebuilders gathering in Florida this week have plenty of reason to party. 

U.S. home starts are at the highest level since the Great Recession. Public homebuilder stocks are trading almost 70 percent higher than they were just a year ago.

The 70,000 builders and other housing industry professionals at the International Builders Show in Orlando came from all over the country to see the latest home designs and hear forecasts for 2018. It was the biggest turnout for the builders show since before the housing crash.

"Attendance is up 10 to 15 percent," said Steve Moore with the... 

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Going, Going, Gone… Home Sales to Increase in 2018

Will the housing market smile on homebuyers or sellers in 2018? According to a report released by real estate portal We Buy Houses.com, 2018 will continue to be a seller’s market in more than 70 percent of suburban markets across the U.S.

The report, which was released on Thursday, indicated that nationally, home prices are expected to rise again...

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A New Approach to Mortgage Design

For decades, the principal motivation driving home mortgage design was to increase affordability. The logic was that homeownership was desirable, and the more affordable mortgages became, the higher would be the homeownership rate. As a result, the typical mortgage, which had a down payment of 40 percent and a term of 10 years in the 1920s, today has 5 percent down and a 30-year term.

But the winds are now blowing in a different direction. With people living longer and fewer covered by defined-benefit pension plans, entering retirement with a loan balance and a mandatory monthly payment is a prescription...

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The ‘Unintended’ Effect of New Tax Laws on Property Tax Servicing

In the property tax servicing industry, one of the trickiest parts of escrowing servicing is timing the payment of property taxes on behalf of a homeowner. Pay the property taxes too late, and a mortgage servicer incurs penalties and interest for late payment. Paying too early can result in unhappy borrowers who haven’t saved up enough money in their escrow account yet to pay the taxes. And very early payments can even be considered RESPA violations. So finding that sweet spot for the timing of payments is not easy.

The traditional wisdom is that if a tax is due on or before the 15th of the month, then the tax should be paid the preceding month. For example, in California, property taxes are due by Dec. 10 for the first installment and April 10 for the...

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IRS scrambles to clear ‘clogged drain’ slowing mortgage applications

WASHINGTON — Top officials at the Internal Revenue Service met with mortgage industry groups this week to discuss possible fixes to the agency’s verification system, which lenders rely on to process mortgage loans.

During a conference call late Monday, IRS officials told anxious industry group executives that they were working to address the problem, which many fear will significantly delay mortgage closings.

“We are hearing that time frames have increased by two to four days longer than the time frames prior” to a recent change...

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US existing home sales jump to 11-year high

  • U.S. home sales increase 5.6 percent in November.
  • Existing home sales hit their highest level in nearly 11 years.
  • This is the latest indication that housing was regaining momentum after almost stalling this year.

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12/21/2017

What Tax Reform Means for ALTA Members

The U.S. House and Senate this week passed the final GOP tax bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which now awaits President Trump’s signature. The legislation slashes rates for corporations, provides new breaks for private businesses and reorganizes the individual tax code. Specific to real estate, the new legislation will affect homeowners, homebuyers, real estate investors and ALTA members.

The final bill also includes a significant victory for ALTA and its members. Efforts by ALTA, members of the Title Action Network and the Congressional Liaisons helped convince Congress to retain the current treatment of capital gains on sale of a primary residence. Current law says a seller must live in their principal residence for two of the last five years before a seller can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of capital gains on their sale.

The Senate-passed bill would have changed the amount of time a homeowner must live in their home to qualify for the capital gains exclusion to five out of the past eight years. The House bill would have made this same change as well as phased out the exclusion for taxpayers with incomes above $250,000 single/$500,000 married.

"ALTA commends the work of the House and Senate conferees as they finalize the landmark tax reform plan and applauds the preservation of key housing tax provisions including the capital gains treatment on sale of a primary residence," said Michelle Korsmo, ALTA's chief executive officer. "ALTA has argued that tax policy changes should promote investment in real estate and housing. The decision to preserve the two-year ownership requirement for capital gains treatment on the sale of a principal residence is a victory for working families and military veterans who must move for their job. There are many marbles in the tax reform bag, but Congress understood that increasing the holding period would have artificially reduced the ability of homeowners to generate wealth, decreased the desire to purchase a home and profoundly affected the economy and local communities.”

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Fannie, Freddie announce final plan to serve underserved markets

GSEs ramp up efforts to support underserved markets

Kelsey Ramírez

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac today each revealed their final plans to confront the growing U.S. affordable housing crisis.

The low inventory of affordably prices homes continues to shrink, and Freddie Mac announced its plan focuses on supporting underserved markets by financing more rural and manufactured homes. With this effort, the company hopes to preserve affordable housing for homebuyers and renters across the U.S.

Fannie Mae explained the plan complements its ongoing efforts to bring innovative affordable housing solutions to market...

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State AGs Say They Will Redouble Enforcement Efforts if CFPB Backs Down

By David Baumann
December 14, 2017 

Democratic state attorneys general say they will redouble their consumer and financial services enforcement efforts if the CFPB slows down its enforcement.

“If incoming CFPB leadership prevents the agency’s professionals from aggressively pursuing consumer abuse and financial misconduct, we will redouble... 

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Fannie-Freddie Talks Set Competition as the Cost of Freedom

 

A pair of U.S. senators is determined to entice more companies to compete with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the housing-finance market.

If no rivals develop, the mortgage-finance giants could remain where they are now: under government control...

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Fed Predicts Modest Economic Growth From Tax Cut

Binyamin Appelbaum
December 13, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve, buoyed by a steadily strengthening economy, raised interest rates on Wednesday for a fifth time since the financial crisis and predicted that a proposed tax cut moving through Congress would modestly increase economic growth for the next few years without stoking inflation.

As a result, the Fed said it did not expect the legislation, which President Trump has called “rocket fuel” for the economy, to accelerate the Fed’s plans to raise interest rates in 2018 and indicated it remains on track for three rate increases next year.

The Fed’s highly anticipated economic assessment, delivered after a two-day meeting of its policymaking committee, amounted...

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US 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rate slips to 3.93 percent

Paul Wiseman, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON — Dec 14, 2017

The rate on 30-year fixed-rate U.S. mortgages slipped to 3.93 percent this week.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the benchmark 30-year home loan rate was down from 3.94 percent last week and 4.16 percent a year ago.

The rate on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, popular with those refinancing their homes, was unchanged this week at 3.36 percent. It was 3.37 percent a year ago.

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Borrowers beware: These mortgage rules could soon get a face-lift

Getting a mortgage today is much different than it was before the financial crisis.

Loans have to meet certain standards and there are many rules lenders and servicers have to follow. But after a shakeup in leadership at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the future of some policies is uncertain.

Here’s why: The new acting...

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How the Tax-Cut Bills Could Affect Homeownership

Proposals could change calculus of both buying and selling

If you’re planning to buy a home in parts of the country where real estate is pricey and taxes are high, you could soon snag some bargains thanks to the Republican tax-cut proposals. If you’re planning to sell, you could face some pain. 

And in other parts of the country, the tax changes could make moving more costly, prevent you from borrowing...

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Know Your ABCs of Avoiding BEC

December 14, 2017
By Joseph Curran

During WWII there was a famous poster that warned “Loose Lips Sink Ships” to remind civilians at home that giving any type of sensitive information about their jobs in the factories could be used by the enemy. Today, we fight a war against fraud in cyberspace yet, despite all the technological advantages of the intervening decades, our defenses are still only as strong as the weakest link.

Using tools and services widely available in the cybercriminal underground, criminals need a single compromised account to steal from a business. In the title industry, perpetrators monitor the real estate proceeding and pick the time to make a fraudulent request to change the payment type or change it from a legitimate account to one under their control.

As reported by Forbes this summer, thieves have been known to research how a CEO communicates and even his or her travel schedule to make it easier to trick employees to comply with fraudulent requests. FBI Special Agent Martin Licciardo said the best defense in that case is “walking into the CEO’s office or speaking to him or her directly on the phone. Don’t rely on email alone."

That logical advice is not so easy to accomplish if the company hasn’t built a culture based on adhering to best practices to avoid business email compromise (BEC).

Admit Your Business is at Risk

The first step is recognizing that BEC is a real and present danger facing the title industry.

ALTA Dispatches from the front lines:

  • Maryland, August 2017: The FBI says fraudsters used fake emails to fool a settlement company into wiring them the proceeds of the sale of a couple’s home. Amount lost: $411,548. 
  • New York, June 2017: A Judge trying to sell her apartment received an email she thought was from her real estate lawyer telling her to wire money to an account. Amount lost: $1 million. 
  • Washington, D.C., May 2017: The homebuyers sued the title company for the lost money due to BEC, but also close to $5 million for an alleged violation of the RICO Act. The title company, which denies it had anything to do with the money going missing, said that it immediately contacted the FBI when the attack was discovered. Amount lost: $1.57 million. 
  • Colorado, March 2017: A couple, who lost their life savings while trying to buy their dream retirement home, has filed suit alleging that none of the companies involved in the transaction—including a title company—did enough to protect sensitive financial information. Amount lost: $272,000.

But could it happen to you? Let’s imagine a criminal impersonates a trusted Counter Party in the RE Transaction by hacking into and using the email account of a Borrower’s RE Agent or Settlement Attorney to send fraudulent wire transfer instructions to the Borrower/Buyer. Based on the Borrower/Buyer’s subsequent request, their financial institution executes an authorized wire transfer to an account the criminal controls.

Yes, unless you have built your defenses, you are under threat of attack.

Be Prepared

Understand the battlefield and make sure you are using the right weapons to combat BEC:

  • Establish a company domain name and use it to establish company email accounts instead of free web-based email accounts.
  • Create intrusion detection system rules that flag emails with extensions that are similar to your company’s. For example, legitimate email of abc_company.com would flag fraudulent email of abc-company.com.
  • Create an email rule to flag emails where the “reply” email address is different than the “from” email address shown.
  • Color code emails from your employee/internal accounts a different color than those from non-employee/external accounts.

Rally the troops and commit to training employees, reviewing company policies and developing good security habits:

  • Be careful posting to social media and the company’s website information about job duties and descriptions, hierarchical information and out-of-office details that can give criminals the information they need to impersonate a trusted Counter Party.
  • Train your team to carefully scrutinize all emails and not be afraid to use face-to-face or voice-to-voice communications when in doubt.
  • Be wary of irregular emails sent by high-level executives, as they can be used to trick employees into acting with urgency.
  • Review and verify emails requesting funds to determine if the requests are out of the ordinary.
  • Confirm requests for transfers of funds by using phone verification as part of a two-factor authentication; use previously known numbers, not the numbers provided in the email request.
  • Verify any changes in vendor payment location by following a call back procedure using contact information on file or having secondary sign-off by company personnel.
  • Similarly, stay updated on customers’ habits, including the details and reasons behind payments.

Communicate Any Breaches Immediately

The following are recommended steps to take if and when you are a victim of outbound wire fraud:

  • Ensure all employees have the information on whom to contact.
  • Contact your banking team immediately via telephone and email to inform it of the fraudulent transaction.
  • Provide a screen shot of the outbound wire if possible.
  • Once informed, your bank will alert its fraud department and law enforcement.
  • The bank will contact the Beneficiary Bank to alert of the fraudulent transaction, get a status update on the transaction and begin recall process.
  • Your banking team should keep you fully informed of the status and any additional steps such as completing an Affidavit of Forgery, Hold Harmless Approval, etc.
  • Once funds are secured, your bank will make restitution to the proper account.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (a multi-agency task force made up by the FBI, National White Collar Crime Center and Bureau of Justice Assistance that is commonly referred to as the IC3) notes that all participants in real estate transactions, including buyers, sellers, agents and lawyers are at risk. The IC3 saw a 480 percent increase in the number of complaints in 2016 filed by title companies that were the primary target of the BEC/EAC scam.

Be sure that you and your banking team remain vigilant and prepared to meet this growing threat.

Joseph Curran is senior executive vice president and managing director at BankUnited N.A. He may be reached at jcurran@bankunited.com .

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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State Insurance Regulators May Get to Outrank CFPB 

Some House members are fighting to give state insurance commissioners the final say when commissioners and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) get into fights over jurisdiction.

Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., has introduced H.R. 3746, the Business of Insurance Regulatory Reform Act of 2017 bill....

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More Owners Tap Equity for Winter Remodels

 

Homeowners wanting to spruce up their homes before the holidays or make some retrofits heading into the harsher winter months are turning to their home equity to pay for renovations.

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Trade groups: Capital-gains change will harm millions

The banking and housing lobby have asked Republican leaders to scuttle the plan in the pending tax overhaul to tighten the capital gains exemption in home sales.

A total of 11 organizations, including the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and National Association of Realtors (NAR), asked GOP leaders, who are now reconciling...

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HOW BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY CAN IMPROVE REAL ESTATE

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of years, you’ve surely heard of blockchain technology—albeit you may not understand it. Like technological advents of the past, e.g. the personal computer and the internet, blockchain technology may soon become a cornerstone of our day to day lives, especially as it pertains to transactions. Given that the largest transaction...

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Fannie and Freddie: Should they stay or should they go?

WASHINGTON — Two steps forward and one step back.

That appears to be the current state of play regarding the effort to revamp the housing finance system.

On the one hand, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling made significant concessions this week in an effort to strike a bipartisan and...

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Mortgage rate volatility expected in the coming month

Mortgage rates moved higher this week after the U.S. Senate passed its version of the tax bill. But global and domestic events may push them back down.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average climbed to 3.94 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 3.90 percent a week ago and 4.13 percent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average rose to 3.36 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.30 percent a week ago and 3.36 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average rose to 3.35 percent...

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A Fed Rate Increase Is Expected. But What Comes Next?

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve is expected to end the year by raising its benchmark interest rate for just the fifth time since the financial crisis, as it continues to slowly unwind its post-crisis stimulus campaign. But pressures are building that could prompt the Fed to start moving a little more quickly.

Robust job creation in November is the latest sign of stronger economic growth, and it comes as Republicans are preparing a $1.5 trillion tax cut that President Trump has described as economic “rocket fuel.”

The Fed is widely expected to acknowledge the strength of the economy by increasing its benchmark rate by one quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, after its final policy meeting...

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E-Mortgages: Reshaping the Way You Do Business

December 5, 2017

The electronic mortgage you knew has changed. Consumer expectations of the mortgage process are evolving. With the help of industry players, lenders are meeting increased digital demands by transitioning into new e-mortgage strategies. The new e-mortgage age has increased adoption, but not without growing pains, misconceptions and overcoming barriers.

This transition is essential to the future of the mortgage industry. In fact, surveys by Fannie Mae’s Economic and Strategic Research Group found that consumers want a fully mobile...

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Fed rate hike is expected next week and three more increases are expected in 2018: Reuters poll

  • The U.S. Federal Reserve is almost certain to raise interest rates later this month, according to a Reuters poll of economists.
  • A majority of economists now expect three more rate increases next year compared with two when surveyed just weeks ago.
  • Most economists surveyed said tax cuts were not necessary and the passage of the bill means the forecast risks have shifted toward higher rates, and faster.

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5 Most Common Reasons for Closing Delays

 

Seventy-three percent of home sales closed on time in October, but 25 percent of REALTORS® report a delay in getting to the settlement table, according to the...

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Senate tax overhaul draws tepid industry response

The Senate’s tax overhaul bill — which was passed after a marathon session lasting into the early morning Saturday — has so far drawn a mixed response from the housing and mortgage lobbies.

Realtors remain the strongest critics of the Republican plan, ...

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Tax Reform: What’s the Impact?

On Monday, the Data & Analytics division of Black Knight, Inc. released its latest Mortgage Monitor Report for October 2017.

The report takes an in-depth look at the impact proposed changes to the tax code could have on the housing and mortgage markets—reporting that the tax reform, in its currently...

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Financial firms pin CFPB hopes on Mulvaney

Major players in the financial industry hope for sweeping change at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) now that a staunch conservative is in charge.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOvernight Regulation: Feds push to clarify regs on bump stocks | Interior wants Trump to shrink two more monuments | Navajo Nation sues over monument rollback | FCC won't delay net neutrality vote | Senate panel approves bill easing Dodd-Frank rulesOvernight Cybersecurity: Mueller probe cost .7M in early months | Senate confirms Homeland Security nominee | Consumer agency limits data collection | Arrest in Andromeda botnet investigationOvernight Finance: GOP delays work on funding bill amid conservative demands | Senate panel approves Fed nominee Powell | Dodd-Frank rollback advances | WH disputes report Mueller subpoenaed Trump bank records MORE was cleared to begin reshaping the CFPB when a federal court last week blocked an attempt to depose him. 

While Democrats are fretting about the CFPB’s future, banks and others in the financial services sector are eager for a new start at an agency they’ve long considered unaccountable and harmful. 

“We want Mick Mulvaney to be smart, reasonable and balanced,” said Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association. “He knows the CFPB... 

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Senate Banking to Consider Dodd-Frank Tweaks this Week

 
The Senate Banking Committee's markup of S. 2155, the "Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act," has been scheduled for Tuesday, December 5, 2017. The bill has bipartisan support and is expected to pass.

While most of the bill's provisions focus on providing regulatory relief for community banks and credit unions, there are some pieces that will impact ALTA members. These include a change to the TRID three-day rule for instances in which the consumer could get a lower interest rate, a sense of Congress that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should put out more guidance on TRID, and a requirement for the CFPB to write new consumer protections for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans.

The bill may also include an ALTA-supported amendment to require the CFPB to allow the disclosure of actual title insurance premiums and discounts to homebuyers. Under the current regulation, the CFPB does not allow title insurance companies to disclose available discounts for lender's title insurance on the government mandated disclosures.

This amendment would reflect the changes sought by the TRID Improvement Act of 2017 (H.R. 3978), which passed the House Financial Services Committee on November 15 by an overwhelming 53-5 bipartisan vote.

If you have any questions please contact Justin Ailes, ALTA's vice president of government and regulatory affairs, at justin@alta.org.

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New Loan Helps Reduce Down Payments

 

Many renters say saving for the down payment is a major obstacle that is preventing them from purchasing a home. A new mortgage offering says it wants to help remove some of that burden for renters.

Home Partners of America, a rent-to-own firm, is