REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

September 29, 2017

Selling Yourself When You Have A Broker

By David Reiss

image by Russellprisco

Realtor.com quoted me in Selling Your House Privately If You Have a Listing Agent: OK or a Big N-O? It opens,

So your home is for sale, and you’ve signed a contract with a real estate agent, but you were actually able to nab a buyer through your own efforts. Maybe it was through word of mouth or your aggressive push on Facebook (you should really apologize to your friends for posting so many pictures of your house!), but someone is writing you an offer and really wants to buy your house. Having found a buyer on your own, are you still legally obligated to pay real estate fees or commission? Here’s how to know if you’re on the hook.

Read your listing agreement

In most states, a seller and an agent draw up something called a listing agreement. The listing agreement details the rights and responsibilities of the seller and the broker, and usually outlines the circumstances when a broker is due a commission.

“If it is an open listing or an exclusive agency listing, the seller can sell the property and not have to pay the broker a commission,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School
.

Things get tricky if the listing agreement confers an exclusive right to sell. This means the real estate agent has the sole right to sell the property. All offers must go through him or her, and for any sale, you’re obligated to pay the agent the commission spelled out in the contract, according to Marc D. Markel, a board-certified Texas attorney in residential and commercial real estate law. Agents rely on these exclusive listing agreements to avoid putting in what can be months of free work without seeing a payoff. For this reason, the agreement outlines the many ways an agent earns a commission, including what happens if the seller breaches the exclusive agreement.

The loopholes

If the sellers do find a buyer on their own, despite having a contract with an agent, they may be able to negotiate a reduced commission with the agent. But the sellers should be up-front about their potential to find their own buyer when drawing up the exclusive-right-to-sell listing agreement, says Markel. Maybe they know of a friend of a friend who is looking for a house, or they plan on marketing their home on social media.

If the sellers feel as if they are doing all the work, they might also be able to modify the existing agreement and add a termination if the broker doesn’t meet certain obligations, like selling the home within a certain time frame, says Sandy Straley, a real estate agent in Layton, UT. Other obligations for the listing could include organizing open houses, creating and distributing printed materials, and even the posting of videos shot by drones, says Markel.

September 29, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Based upon the 2007-2009 financial crisis and the Dodd-Frank Act, the U.S. Government Accountability Office studied the use of the financial industry’s use of swaps. Swaps occur through financial contracts (derivatives) where two parties trade payments rooted in an asset price or other value. The use of swaps is governed by Section 716 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act). The Dodd-Frank Act allows individuals and institutions to register as swap dealers; however, each are required to abide by specific rules which determine their eligibility to receive federal financial assistance.

September 29, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

September 28, 2017

Equifax and Your Mortgage

By David Reiss

image by Mark Warner

HouseLoan.com quoted me in How Will The Equifax Data Breach Affect Your Ability To Get A Mortgage? It opens,

Like throwing a stone into a pond, the Equifax data breach has long-lasting repercussions. Already, because of what’s being considered one of the largest data breaches in recent history, 143 million consumers may be affected. Data compromised in the breach has the potential to impact any form of credit taken out in the U.S. — including mortgages, credit cards, and car loans.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE EQUIFAX DATA BREACH?

The credit-reporting agency Equifax recently revealed that a data breach lasting from mid-May through July 2017 gave hackers access to their consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and, for some, driver’s license numbers. The Federal Trade Commission confirms that credit card numbers were stolen from an estimated 209,000 people and documents with personally identifying information for roughly 182,000 others. Hackers also accessed personal data for customers in the UK and Canada. Equifax says their agency didn’t discover the breach until July 29, 2017, after most of the damage was done.

Anyone who may be affected by the breach is encouraged to act fast, Lisa Lindsay, executive director of the collaborative group Private Risk Management Association (PRMA), which aims to raise awareness and educate agents and brokers, says. “Consumers will need to evaluate what they want to do next with regards to protection and what risk management options they want to take. Such as purchasing cyber and fraud insurance. Those impacted by the breach could be at risk for additional attacks.”

HOW WILL THE DATA BREACH AFFECT GETTING A MORTGAGE?

Buying a house may be the biggest financial decision you make. The last thing that you need is a credit setback — or disaster. Megan Zavieh, a Georgia attorney-at-law, explains that the full ramifications of the data breach have yet to be known because we don’t know who accessed private data or what they may ultimately do with it. But, she says, it could impact homebuyers significantly.

“If someone uses personal data to open new credit lines or take other typical identity theft actions, homebuyers could be in for a terrible surprise when they complete their home loan applications. Often, credit report correction following identity theft is a long process. And it could well prevent loans from closing if borrowers had identities stolen after the Equifax breach,” Zavieh says.

ADDING TO THE POST-EQUIFAX FRENZY, MANY PEOPLE ARE SEEKING TO FREEZE THEIR CREDIT IN THE WAKE OF THE BREACH.

David Reiss, Professor of Law and Academic Program Director of CUBE, The Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, says, “Those who are looking to refinance their mortgage or purchase a new home should be aware of how a credit freeze affects them. When they are ready to take the plunge and apply, they will need to contact the credit rating agencies where they had placed a freeze and lift the freeze temporarily.” Just as importantly, Reiss reminds buyers to put the freeze back in place after completing the mortgage process.

During the time when you’re buying a home and the freeze is lifted, you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit. Reiss explains that this should limit lenders from granting credit under your name without first verifying that you are the one who applied for the loan.

September 28, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Equifax’s data breach woes are far from over. Massachusetts led the charge against the credit giant by filing a complaint against Equifax.  The city of San Francisco has followed suit. While Massachusetts led the charge as a state, San Francisco is the first city to take action against the company. San Francisco marks the eighth group to take action against the company. Further Equifax’s internal controls are taking action as well, three of the company’s top executives were fired and the CEO suddenly retired.
  • Similar to Equifax, Meridian Title Corp., has found themselves in trouble with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB fined the real estate settlement services provider $1.25 million for their violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. Meridian failed to correctly disclose their relationship with Arsenal Insurance, a title insurance company party owned by Meridian’s own executives. By participating in such activity, the company illegally benefited from their relationship with the title insurance provider.

September 28, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

September 27, 2017

Fannie, Freddie and Climate Change

By David Reiss

NOAA / National Climatic Data Center

The Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute issued its September 2017 Housing Finance At A Glance Chartbook. The introduction asks what the recent hurricanes tell us about GSE credit risk transfer. But it also has broader implications regarding the impact of climate-change related natural disasters on the mortgage market:

The GSEs’ capital markets risk transfer programs that began in 2013 have proven to be very successful in bringing in private capital, reducing the government’s role in the mortgage market and reducing taxpayer risk. Investor demand for Fannie Mae’s CAS and Freddie Mac’s STACR securities overall has been robust, in large part because of an improving economy and extremely low delinquency rates for loans underlying these securities.

Enter hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. These three storms have inflicted substantial damage to homes in the affected areas. Many of these homes have mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and many of these mortgages in turn are in the reference pools of mortgages underlying CAS and STACR securities. It is too early to know what the eventual losses might look like – that will depend on the extent of the damage, insurance coverage (including flood insurance), and the degree to which loss mitigation will succeed in minimizing borrower defaults and foreclosures.

Depending on how all of these factors eventually play out, investors in the riskiest tranches of CAS and STACR securities could witness marginally higher than expected losses. Up until Harvey, CRT markets had not experienced a real shock that threatened to affect the credit performance of underlying mortgages (except after Brexit, whose impact on the US mortgage market proved to be minimal). The arrival of these storms therefore in some ways is the first real test of the resiliency of credit risk transfer market.

It is also the first test for the GSEs in balancing the needs of borrowers with those of CRT investors. In some of the earlier fixed severity deals, investor losses were triggered when a loan went 180 days delinquent (i.e. experienced a credit event). Hence, forbearance of more than six months could trigger a credit event. Fannie Mae put out a press release that it would wait 20 months from the point at which disaster relief was granted before evaluating whether a loan in a CAS deal experienced a credit event. While most of Freddie’s STACR deals had language that dealt with this issue, a few of the very early deals did not; no changes were made to these deals. Both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have provided investors with an exposure assessment of the volume of affected loans in order to allow them to better estimate their risk exposure.

So how has the market responded so far? In the immediate aftermath of the first storm, spreads on CRT bonds generally widened by about 40 basis points, meaning investors demanded a higher rate of return. But thereafter, spreads have tightened by about 20 basis points, suggesting that many investors saw this as a good buying opportunity. This is precisely how capital markets are intended to work. If spreads had continued to widen substantially, that would have signaled a breakdown in investor confidence in future performance of these securities. The fact that that did not happen is an encouraging sign for the continued evolution of the credit risk transfer market.

To be clear, it is still very early to reasonably estimate what eventual investor losses will look like. As the process of damage assessment continues and more robust loss estimates come in, one can expect CAS/STACR pricing to fluctuate. But early pricing strongly indicates that investors’ underlying belief in these securities is largely intact. This matters because it tells the GSEs that the CRT market is resilient enough to withstand shocks and gives them confidence to further expand these offerings.

September 27, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

September 26, 2017

Safeguarding The CFPB’s Arbitration Rule

By David Reiss

image by Nick Youngson http://nyphotographic.com/

 

I was one of the many signatories of this letter to Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Brown (D-OH) opposing H.R. Res. 111/S.J. Res. 47, “which would block the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new forced arbitration rule.” the 423 signatories all agree “(1) it is important to protect financial consumers’ opportunity to participate in class proceedings; and (2) it is desirable for the CFPB to collect additional information regarding financial consumer arbitration.” The letter, reads, in part,

Class action lawsuits are an important means of protecting consumers harmed by violations of federal or state law. Class actions enable a court to see that a company’s violations are widespread and to order appropriate relief. The CFPB’s study shows that, over five years, 160 million class members were awarded $2.2 billion in relief – after deducting attorneys’ fees. Class actions are especially important for small dollar claims, because the time, expense and investigation needed for an individual claim typically make no sense either for the consumer or for an attorney. Additionally, class actions provide behavioral relief both for the plaintiffs and the public at large, incentivizing businesses to change their behavior or to refrain from similar practices.

Individual arbitrations are not a realistic substitute for class actions. Compared to the annual average of 32 million consumers receiving $440 million per year in class actions, the CFPB’s study found an average of only 16 consumers per year received relief from affirmative claims and another 23 received relief through counterclaims; in total, those consumers received an average of $180,770 per year. While the average per-person arbitration recovery may be higher than the average class action payment, the types of cases are completely different. The few arbitrations that people pursue tend to be individual disputes involving much larger dollar amounts than the smaller claims in class actions. Most consumers do not pursue individual claims in either court or arbitration for several reasons: they may not know their rights were violated; they may not know how to pursue a claim; the time and expense would outstrip any reward; or they cannot find an attorney willing to take an individual case. Thus, if a class action is not permitted, most consumers will have no chance at having their dispute vindicated at all. Class actions, on the other hand, are an efficient method of resolving claims impacting a large number of people.

The U.S. legal system depends on private enforcement of rights. Whereas some countries invest substantial resources in large government agencies to enforce their laws, the United States relies substantially on private enforcement. The CFPB’s study shows that, in those cases where there was overlap between private and public enforcement, private action preceded government enforcement 71% of the time. Moreover, consumer class actions provide monetary recoveries and reform of financial services and products to many consumers whose injuries are not the focus of public enforcers. American consumers can’t solely depend on government agencies to protect their rights.

Reporting on individual arbitrations will increase transparency, broaden understanding of arbitration, and improve the arbitration process. As scholars, we heartily endorse the information reporting requirements of the rule for individual arbitrations. This reporting will address many questions that have gone largely unanswered, due to the lack of transparency that currently exists in this area of law. For example, the public will now know the rate at which claimants prevail, whether it is important to be represented by an attorney, and whether repeat arbitrators tend to rule more favorably for one side than the other. The reporting will permit academic study, which will prompt a necessary debate on how to strengthen and improve the process.

In conclusion, we strongly support the CFPB rule as an important step in protecting consumers. We believe it is vital that Congress not deprive injured consumers of the right to group together to have their day in court or block important research into the arbitration process.

September 26, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments