How would you react if you had a limited amount of funds in the bank to pay for closing costs and then were hit with hundreds of dollars in extra “unexpected” closing costs? This is a problem that the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) was enacted to eliminate. The goal of RESPA is stop hidden fees and charges by settlement service providers and to stop kickbacks to ensure the integrity of the real estate transaction for the consumer.
In 1974, RESPA was enacted by Congress. Its intent was consumer protection by regulating the disclosure of all costs and business arrangements in a real estate transaction settlement process.
Enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), RESPA requires that consumers receive disclosures at various times in the transaction and outlaws “kickbacks” that increase the cost of settlement services.
Specifically, Section 8 of RESPA prohibits a person from giving or accepting a referral fee, kickback, or anything of value in exchange for the referral of settlement-service business.
An example of an illegal “kickback” was when title companies would pay for rounds of golf, provide free administrative services, or sponsor educational classes for Realtors and lenders to encourage referral business.
A common RESPA violation, with direct impediment to consumers, occurred with lenders during the housing boom. Consumers would apply for a loan, receive a Good Faith Estimate providing the cost to obtain that loan, and then, they would go search for a new home. After making an offer on the home, they would get the final loan documents to sign at close of escrow. When they sat down to sign the final loan documents (HUD 1 settlement statement), they were oftentimes surprised to find extra and ambiguous closing costs and fees that had come up during the escrow process, sometimes along with higher interest rates. These fees were added by lenders who lured consumers with promises of low cost loans.
RESPA has done away with many of these types of unsavory business practices, as well as leveled the playing field between lenders and others in the real estate industry.
To help consumers more easily understand settlement costs and prevent big price discrepancies between the preliminary Good Faith Estimate and the HUD-1 settlement statement, HUD has created stricter RESPA laws, which take effect in January 2010. HUD has published a Frequently Asked Questions about RESPA which is a good resource for further information.
Interested in what you are reading? To automatically receive these Escrow Tips in your email box, subscribe to these articles at the top right corner of this site (Glen Oaks Escrow) in the box titled “Subscribe via Email”.