SunTrust Requires ALTA Best Practices Compliance by July 1

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… AND indicates it will produce and deliver Closing Disclosures.

suntan lotionMaking a significant announcement with a tight deadline, SunTrust Mortgage revealed in an April 22 letter to its settlement service providers (closing attorneys in South Carolina) that it will require them to comply with ALTA’s Best Practices and to complete an ALTA Self-Assessment no later than July 1, 2015.*

The letter also announced that SunTrust, following the lead of Well Fargo, Bank of America, CitiBank and Chase, will produce and deliver Closing Disclosures to borrowers and will require closing attorneys to provide complete and accurate title and settlement charges up to two weeks prior to scheduled closing dates.

SunTrust also plans to handle Closing Disclosure revisions and expects closing attorneys to provide timely notice of any changes in the closing numbers, including changes that occur after closing.

Closing attorneys will be responsible for preparing and delivering the seller’s Closing Disclosure on purchase transactions. A signed copy of the seller’s Closing Disclosure will be required by SunTrust as a condition of funding approval.

SunTrust will require an attestation form from closing attorneys for each closing, confirming the ability to comply with the new rules and expectations.

* The letter directed closing attorneys to www.alta.org/bestpractices/index.cfm for more information on ALTA’s Best Practices and offered assistance from SunTrust via e-mail at TitleSettlementMgmt@SunTrust.com and mail at Title/Settlement Management, SunTrust Mortgage, Inc., Mail Code: VA-INSB-7882, 5600 Cox Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060.

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Lenders’ Closing Plans Solidify As August 1 Approaches

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news news newsCitibank recently notified settlement agents (closing attorneys in South Carolina) that they will be requested to register with the FPSDirect Vendor Website at the time they agree to handle a Citibank closing. This website was created to provide the bank’s settlement agents with an easy and efficient method of loan document delivery, closing date confirmation and funding approval, among other matters. The memo stated the bank’s goal is to save the time of faxing and the insecurity of email.

Wells Fargo issued a Settlement Agent Communication on March 16 indicating that, like Bank of America, it plans to integrate with Closing Insight™ with a goal of improving the way instructions, fees and other information is shared. The memo stated: “Unlike today where we typically use email to pass these important details back and forth, Closing Insight™ will support an interactive, online collaboration that includes a full view of information from both parties, and provides an audit trail and quality checks to reduce errors.”

We have learned and the Wells Fargo communication states that many closing attorneys will be able to access Closing Insight™ through connections with their existing software packages. Wells’ communication also states that attorneys without closing software packages will not be left out because a secure web portal will be available. Wells reiterated its goal of continuing to do business with local service providers, but emphasized that it expects closing attorneys to be ready, willing and able to comply with requirements and closing instructions.

Wells Fargo also answered four recent FAQs:

“If co-borrowers plan to sign the loan documents on different dates, which date applies for compliance with the three business day receipt requirement of the CD? The borrower’s CD must have been received not less than three business days before the earliest signing date. This question highlights the importance of communicating specifics about signing plans to your Wells Fargo closing contact, including cases when a mobile signing agent or mail away signing is being requested.

Will Wells Fargo be providing loan closing documents to the settlement agent at the same time the borrower’s CD is delivered? Our goal is to provide the closing documents to the settlement agent shortly after the borrower’s CD has been finalized and provided to the borrower. In most cases, you should receive the closing documents earlier than in the past.

Will Wells Fargo permit any other party to deliver the borrower’s CD to meet the three business day closing requirement for a rush closing situation? No. We have determined that we must be responsible for delivering the borrower’s CD to meet and track the three business day receipt requirement for all transactions We will continue to encourage all parties involved to stay in close communication and work together proactively to minimize the need for expedited CD delivery.

Is my company required to be ALTA Best Practices Certified by August 1 to continue to close Wells Fargo loans?  No. Completing your certification by August 1 will not be a Wells Fargo requirement. However, we hope that if your company is not yet certified you will – at minimum – have already completed a self-assessment and addressed any identified gaps. As communicated in our March 6, 2014, newsletter, Wells Fargo supports the ALTA Best Practices as sound business practices that should ideally already be in place for businesses providing title and closing services to our customers.”

Wells Fargo also stated that it has entered into a business arrangement with ClosingCorp, a leading provider of fee management solutions, to obtain actual fee information from selected settlement agents who closing a high number of Wells Fargo loans.

Lenders Announce They Will Control More of the Residential Closing Process

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Regional bank will require third-party BP certifications on a short time frame!

work in progressLet’s take the big bank first. Bank of America recently shared more details about changes in its closing processes after August 1, 2015.  In addition to delivering Closing Disclosures, BofA will take the responsibility for complying with the three-business day waiting period. It will not require closing attorneys to monitor the timing of the delivery of the initial CD or any required re-disclosures.

BofA stated that close collaboration will be needed with closing attorneys for requests of information and notices of all loan and fee changes through its selected platform, RealEC® Technologies Closing Insight™. Closing attorneys will be notified of re-disclosure requirements and new closing dates through Closing Insight™.

BofA said it expects to engage closing attorneys to begin fee collaboration a minimum of ten calendar days prior to closing, and it intends to generate and send the CD six business days prior to closing.*

Now let’s look at an interesting announcement from a small bank, and please pay attention to the short time frame.

Mississippi based regional BancorpSouth announced in early March that its approved closing must comply with ALTA’s Best Practices through a certification from an independent third party vendor acceptable to the bank. Self-certifications will not be accepted.certified - blue (small)

The announcement stated that Memphis Consumer Credit Association and many of the large accounting firms have agreed to provide the certification. The bank asked closing attorneys to advise by March 23 whether they intend to obtain the certification. And the deadline for obtaining the certification was stated to be July 31.

*In almost all South Carolina transactions, we expect the “consummation date” to be the same as the closing date and the same as the date BofA refers to in this memorandum as the signing date.

Don’t Expect Uniform Closing Procedures in 2015

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And … Bank of America makes a big announcement.

changes comingLenders will not collaborate on a standard and consistent process for closings under the new CFPB rules effective August 1, 2015, at least not according to Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo’s December 10, 2014 Settlement Agent Communication answered nine FAQs from settlement agents, the first of which sought confirmation on whether to expect standard closing procedures from lenders. Wells responded with a “no,” and stated that each lender is accountable and must determine its own method for achieving compliance.

This mega lender had announced on September 24 that it will control the generation and delivery of the buyer/borrower Closing Disclosure (“CD”), the form that will replace the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. The stated rationale was that the new CD is governed by the Truth-in-Lending Act (“TILA”), not the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), and the risks and penalties for lenders are more severe under TILA.

Bank of America announced on December 17 that it will follow suit by generating and delivering the buyer/borrower CD.  Both banks have indicated settlement agents will generate the seller’s CD. Other lenders have not announced whether they will follow this procedure. It is entirely possible that settlement agents (closing attorneys in South Carolina) will prepare the CDs for other lenders.

The December 10 memo did state that Wells will work closely with settlement agents to determine fees, prorations, and other content required for the CD and, importantly, Wells will not assume the responsibility for disbursing loans. This quote from the Communication provides some comfort with regard to Wells’ attitude about keeping local settlement agents involved in the closing process:

“The settlement agent is critical and continues to be responsible for executing the closing including document signing, notarization, disbursement of funds, document recordation and delivery of final documents post-closing.”

Also comforting was the promise of training plans for settlement agents in collaboration with American Land Title Association, title underwriters and other service providers. The plans are said to include many educational communications and an information guide.

Bank of America stated that it will use Closing Insight™, an industry tool developed by Real EC Technologies®. All documents, date and information will be exchanged through Closing Insight™, discontinuing the use of e-mail, fax and other document delivery methods.

Bank of America also indicated that the requirement for the buyer/borrower to receive the CD three business days prior to closing will intensify the need for the bank to work very closely with the settlement agent to schedule the details of the closing.

stay tunedFor more information about Real EC ® Technologies and Closing Insight™, Bank of America invited settlement agents to visit their website at www.bkfs.com/realec.  The December 17 memo indicated that many title and escrow production systems are working with RealEC® Technologies to enhance current integrations in support of Closing Insight™. The bank suggested that settlement agents reach out to their title and escrow production system provider directly.

Stay tuned!

Who Will Get On the Wells Fargo Wagon?

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Wells Fargo announces it will generate and deliver the Closing Disclosure

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Wells Fargo announced on September 24, 2014 that it will generate and deliver the borrower’s Closing Disclosure when the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule becomes effective on August 1, 2015.

Software companies, title insurance companies and closing attorneys have been speculating about this for many months. Now we have an answer, at least as to this mega-lender. Whether other lenders will fall in line remains to be seen.  The stated rationale is that the process will allow Wells Fargo to consistently meet compliance and regulator expectations.

The announcement stated that Wells will continue to collaborate with closing attorneys to determine fees and other content required for the Closing Disclosure and to ensure that the lender has accurate information.

For purchase transactions, the closing attorney will continue to be responsible for the seller’s information and will prepare and deliver the seller’s Closing Disclosure. A copy must be provided to Wells Fargo.

The Closing Disclosure must be delivered three business days prior to the closing, and Wells Fargo anticipates this requirement will require that all the parties work together more than ever on scheduling closings.

Conducting closings will continue to be the responsibility of closing attorneys, but with increasing focus on compliance with the lender’s closing instructions, according to this announcement.

This announcement has a huge impact on the closing process. The closing attorney will continue to be responsible for gathering information required to generate the document that replaces the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, but Wells Fargo, not the closing attorney’s office, will actually generate and deliver the form.

Please recall that Wells Fargo is the lender that endorsed ALTA’s Best Practices. My best advice for residential closing attorneys in South Carolina who want to remain in the game after August, 2015?  Get your office in compliance with Best Practices now so you will be prepared to implement the hardware/software changes this announced “collaborating” with lenders will require.

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Embrace ALTA’s Best Practices

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 BestPractices2Some real estate practitioners are furiously bringing themselves into compliance with ALTA’s Best Practices, while others are furiously ignoring the entire topic or, at best, waiting until they hear marching orders from lenders. I propose that we all step to the plate and embrace Best Practices.

Residential practitioners can and should use compliance as a marketing tool. Some commercial practitioners are assuming that when lenders become educated and begin demanding compliance from residential practitioners, they will naturally ask for the same or similar compliance from commercial practitioners. Striving for compliance is an opportunity for all practitioners to demonstrate to their clients, to real estate agents and to lenders their value in real estate transactions.

ALTA is now encouraging practitioners to conduct a self-assessment of their adoption of Best Practices by September of 2014. Time may be of the essence because a practitioner may first hear marching orders from a lender in connection with a specific real estate closing. If it is impossible to demonstrate compliance quickly, that closing will likely be lost to someone who is better prepared.Best-Practice-processes

I am convinced that the numbers of residential real estate practitioners in South Carolina will be drastically reduced in the next year or two. Attorneys approaching retirement age may decide to retire rather than to learn how to use the new forms. Large law firms  who handle commercial transactions may decide that residential transactions are no longer worth the effort. Left standing will be the practitioners who embrace this change and tackle it now. There is opportunity for growth for those who act wisely in the face of change.

Title insurance companies are willing and able to help and have resources that can ease the pain. But no outsider can do the actual work. Each pillar requires careful consideration from a management standpoint, and only the closing attorneys themselves can make the necessary decisions for implementation. Each pillar will require on-going demonstration of compliance. Files must be papered. Calendars must be tickled. Software and hardware must be kept current. Compliance will not be a matter of establishing written procedures and continuing business as usual. We should establish a culture of compliance and make it the responsibility of all employees.

I can’t say this strongly enough: At some point, practitioners will either have to embrace compliance or get out of the game. The time to act is now.

If you want to continue to handle residential real estate transactions, call your title insurance company today and ask for assistance in nailing down each pillar.