Most popular posts of 2013

At Federal Title we believe educating consumers and their agents is the best way to ensure the real estate closing process is as quick, painless and affordable as possible. Our attorneys regularly write articles based on their experiences "in the trenches" and provide insight and, occasionally, commentary on the current state of our industry.

Over the course of 2013, visitors to our website viewed Federal Title's official blog more than 65,000 times. The blog contains literally hundreds of articles, and the following is a list of the most popular articles written in the past year.

New simplified loan modification initiative announced to help troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure 
by Jackie Kurz

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer a new loan modification initiative designed to help troubled borrowers avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes, according to an announcement today from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. (3/27/2013)

What does it mean when my DC property is classified as Class 3? 
by Catherine Schmitt

As a real property owner in the District of Columbia, the last thing you would ever want or need is for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to classify your property as Class 3 – Vacant Real Property. (4/9/2013)

My parents are going to be on title with me. Can I still qualify for the DC Homestead Deduction? 
by Todd Ewing

If you are buying a property in DC and otherwise qualify for the Homestead Deduction, you will still qualify even if your parents, who live somewhere else, are co-owners with you. As a benefit to homeowners living in a property as their principal residence, the DC Homestead Deduction subtracts $69,100 from the assessed value of the property before real estate taxes are calculated. (5/30/2013)

Loan payoff includes more than just principal balance 
by Joe Gentile

In about half of the settlements that I conduct a seller will stop me and comment, “The payoff is too high, I owe less than what’s listed.” This is because the seller is confusing the mortgage principal balance with the payoff amount. (3/20/2013)

I just bought a property in Maryland. How do I qualify for the Homestead Tax Credit? 
by Todd Ewing

If you just bought a property in Maryland, there is nothing that you need to do right now to qualify for the Maryland Homestead Tax Credit. The property taxes you pay are calculated based upon the assessed value of your property. If the assessed value goes up, your property taxes go up. (5/28/2013)

Refinance appraisal: What you can expect 
by Dianne Pickersgill

The following are some thoughts, based on my own personal experiences with refinance appraisals, including a refinance appraisal of my DC condo that took place this month. I’m not an appraiser, so this is not a professional opinion. (2/25/2013)

Popular $5,000 DC Homebuyer Tax Credit for first-time buyers not renewed for 2012 tax year 
by Nikki Smith

First-time homeowners in the District of Columbia, who purchased their principal residence after Dec. 31, 2011, will not be able to take advantage of the popular $5,000 DC Homebuyer Tax Credit when they file taxes this year. (1/8/2013)

Condominium limited common elements: Know what you're buying 
by Dianne Pickersgill

Condominium ownership is really popular in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Here at Federal Title, condominium sales make up about 25% of our transactions. (2/11/2013)

6 real estate apps that make you look like a genius 
by Nikki Smith

Want to look smart in front of your clients? It’s gonna take more than having a smart phone with access to email and Internet. You need to know what real estate apps can increase your productivity, expand your networks and, well, make you look like a tech genius in front of your clients. (7/1/2013)

Benefits of a VA loan in today's real estate market 
by Jackie Kurz

With interest rates remaining steady at all-time lows and a housing market that has seen below-market prices in most areas, now is a great time for servicemembers to purchase a home or refinance their existing home and take advantage of the benefits of a VA loan. (4/10/2013)

Post settlement occupancy agreements: A useful tool, but beware of potential pitfalls

A post settlement occupancy agreement allows a seller to continue to live in his home after settlement, under an arrangement where the seller is essentially renting the home back from the new purchaser.

This type of arrangement can be a life-saver for a seller who is purchasing another home but won’t be able to close on that purchase until a few days or weeks after he sells his current home. Joe wrote a very informative blog post about post settlement occupancy agreements and how they can be a solution to settlement timing issues. 

I thought I would take a look at things from a different perspective and point out some potential pitfalls of such arrangements. In order to be protected, both purchasers and sellers need to prepare for the worst.

What do I mean by the worst? Imagine a case where a seller who is renting back catches the house on fire, and the house burns down to the ground. There are a lot of tricky issues in such a situation.

One thing we know for sure is that the purchaser now has no home to move into, which is obviously a problem, no matter how the liability issues get resolved.

In the normal case of a house fire, there is a homeowner’s insurance policy that would provide coverage. Here, presumably the purchaser obtained a homeowner’s policy with an effective date of the date of the settlement.

The GCAAR standard post settlement occupancy form states: "From the date of settlement the Buyer shall obtain and maintain insurance on the Property with the Buyer’s policy being primary in the event of other available insurance." (Form #1309, paragraph 6.)

The trouble is that despite this provision, the purchaser’s insurance company might have a different opinion.

For example, it is possible that the purchaser’s insurance would not cover the fire, under an exclusion based on the fact that the policy holder was not living in the property at the time of the fire?

Even if the purchaser thought ahead and got coverage for someone renting property, the typical post settlement occupancy agreement will say that the arrangement is not a landlord/tenant relationship, which might cause complications for insurance coverage.
For example, the GCAAR form states, "Nothing in this Agreement shall constitute a Landlord/Tenant relationship between Buyer and Seller." (Form #1309, paragraph 8.)

It also may be that the seller continued his/her homeowner’s policy through the rent-back period, but it is possible that this insurance would not cover the fire damage, due to the fact that the seller no longer owned the home at the time of the fire. The seller may have also gotten renter’s insurance for the rent-back period (the GCAAR form requires it), but typically that will cover only belongings, not damage to the house itself.

Even something less extreme than a whole house burning down can pose some tricky questions in a post settlement occupancy situation.

The buyer now owns the house, along with the appliances, HVAC, etc. If the seller negligently breaks the door off of the refrigerator during the rent-back period, one would think that the seller should be held responsible, and, normally, that would be the case, at least under the GCAAR standard form, which provides for a deposit by the seller to be applied to any damages to the property caused by the seller in excess of ordinary wear and tear. (Form #1309, paragraph 2.)

But what if the refrigerator simply stops working 2 weeks after the closing, during the rent-back period? Whose responsibility would that be?

Since the refrigerator is now the buyer’s, generally one might think the buyer would be responsible, but paragraph 3 of the GCAAR form provides that the seller is to deliver the property (i.e., deliver it at the end of the rent-back period) in the condition specified in the sales contract. The sales contract provides that the condition of the property at delivery is to be in substantially the same condition as of the date of the contract, the home inspection or some other date to be specified. If the refrigerator was working at the specified date, then the seller is responsible if it is not working at the end of the rent-back.

The bottom line is that both buyers and sellers should carefully review any post settlement occupancy agreement to see what the agreement provides concerning liability for issues that arise during the rent-back period and concerning the responsibility for obtaining insurance.

They then should make any revisions to that agreement that are necessary to protect their interests, in consultation with an attorney, if possible. They should also contact their insurance agent to discuss insurance coverage for the rent-back period.

One other thing that a buyer should do before agreeing to allow the seller to rent back after closing is to check with his lender to see whether the lender will permit it.
Typically lenders will allow a short rent back. For anything longer, the buyer could be in violation of the covenant in the loan documents that states that the property will be owner-occupied.

If the seller is paying a security deposit and/or "rent" at closing, these numbers will appear on the closing statement, which the lender needs to review and sign off on.

You don’t want the lender learning about the rent-back for the first time when they receive the draft closing statement from the title company and see those numbers.

New govt regulations take effect, drive up closing costs

Homebuyers in 2014 will no doubt experience a higher range of closing costs than those homebuyers coming before them. With the start of this new year, both mortgage lenders and title companies are now subject to several new regulations spawned by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. 

For example, as administered through the newly formed Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (CFPB), new disclosure forms will be required of mortgage lenders and title companies by August of 2015, including, but not limited to, the Loan Estimate (replacing the current Good Faith Estimate) and the Closing Disclosure (replacing the current HUD-1 Settlement Statement).

The requirement of these new disclosure forms effectively voids all current closing software production systems and demands a complete overhaul of those software systems. Re-tooling these software systems will be just one expense that will be passed along to the consumer. 

Another closing cost increase will be shifted to consumers with the forced adoption of Best Practices policies by title companies. Because the new law imposes liability on mortgage lenders for the acts of third-party vendors, including title companies, the mortgage industry has forced the hand of the title industry to adopt a uniform Best Practices policy. 

That means every title company, small or large – local or national – must implement and administer its own Best Practices policy and remain subject to yet another time-consuming annual audit. It also means that title companies (large or small) will likely have to expand their payroll to accommodate a chief compliance officer or an equivalent thereof. 

Whether or not the consumer is better protected remains to be seen but, for now, we do know that the costs of all these changes will be reflected on the new Closing Disclosure in the form of increased closing costs.

Meet our new compliance officer protecting homebuyers and home sellers

Moving into the year 2014 and beyond, "Compliance" is the word at Federal Title as our industry undergoes a major facelift in the wake of the Dodd-Frank regulatory outgrowth.

We are very proud to announce the addition of Dianne Pickersgill, Esq. to fulfill our newly created position of Chief Compliance Officer.

Dianne received her Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School and prior to joining Federal Title represented clients in the areas of affordable housing and HUD multifamily regulatory compliance issues.

Dianne will oversee all of our regulatory compliance issues, including implementation and monitoring of our Best Practices policies.

She will essentially act as an internal auditor to assure, among many other things, the protection of our clients’ non-public personal information, the protection of our clients’ funds, and to make sure every Federal Title employee keeps a clean desk and complies with our Best Practices policy.

If you should have any questions about our policies for the protection of non-public personal information or how we best protect our clients’ funds, please don’t hesitate to contact Dianne directly.

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Our blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. Rate tables and figures that appear on our blog are deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For current rates & policies, refer to our Quick Quote and Consumer Guide. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on our blog.