The Nation's Housing

The Nation's Housing: More Protections for Home Buyers at Closing

By Kenneth R. Harney
Saturday, July 18, 2009

If you're applying for a loan to purchase a primary or secondary home, or planning to refinance, you should be aware of a little-publicized new set of federal consumer-protection rules that takes effect July 30.

Among other key changes, the new Federal Reserve guidelines require lenders to give you initial disclosures of your mortgage costs within three business days of your loan application. If you don't get them, you can pull the plug.

The rule also prohibits lenders from collecting any fees, except a reasonable charge for checking your credit, until you have been given the loan-cost disclosures. This means no more out-of-pocket, upfront application charges until you have received the truth-in-lending disclosures and an annual percentage rate (APR) calculation of those loan costs.

Since many mortgage brokers and lenders traditionally have collected fees covering appraisal, credit and various other charges at the time of application -- sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars -- this will be a significant change in procedure for the lending industry.

The rule also prohibits quickie closings on loans by requiring a seven-day waiting period after applicants are handed their early disclosures or the disclosures are mailed. You will now have up to a week to think about the transaction and decide whether it's right for you. Final truth-in-lending disclosures are due three business days before closing.

Here's an even more sweeping change for applications on or after July 30: The new Fed rules require lenders to deliver a copy of the real estate appraisal to you three business days before the scheduled closing on the loan.

In the past, even though federal regulations guaranteed that consumers could request and obtain a copy of the appraisal, lenders and home buyers frequently ignored that right. In fact, many consumers had no knowledge of this right because no one in the home purchase, financing or settlement process told them about it.

Now, the timing of the loan closing itself -- which is the financial ballgame for loan officers, real estate agents, and title and escrow officials -- will be dependent upon your receipt of the appraisal in advance. The exception will be that the three-day rule can be waived if you don't think receiving the appraisal is necessary.

Another significant change under the new rules: If the APR on the early truth-in-lending disclosure increases by more than one-eighth of a percentage point (0.125), the lender will be required to "redisclose" -- provide you a corrected version and allow you an additional seven business days to consider the transaction before settlement.

What might cause the APR to increase following the initial, early disclosure? Lots of things. If you allowed your initial rate on the loan to float with the market but rates increased, you would need to get an amended truth-in-lending disclosure. Or if the lender got inaccurate estimates of costs from a third-party participant in the transaction such as the settlement or escrow company. Or if unexpected, 11th-hour junk fees materialize.

All of these events, which have been frequent sources of consumer complaints this decade, could force the lender to redisclose loan costs and set back timing for the settlement.

What are some of the likely repercussions of the Fed's new mandates? First, the traditional approach of aiming in advance for a date-certain settlement target for home loan transactions almost certainly will be affected. Actual closing dates will be more closely tied to lenders' and settlement agents' accurate estimates and their ability to deliver disclosures and appraisals by the required dates. For example, if appraisers are backlogged and can't produce valuation reports quickly enough, settlements will have to be postponed.

Second, the purposes of the rules are to afford consumers better access to and more time to consider key elements of what, for most people, are major financial transactions. There might be fewer instances of last-minute closing-date surprises on fees, where buyers are slammed with hundreds of dollars of charges they never expected. But nobody can say that for sure.

Finally, the rules may well trigger new waves of litigation if lenders and their business partners are not scrupulous in their compliance. There is an aggressive segment of the legal profession that specializes in going after banks and mortgage companies for truth-in-lending violations. Don't be surprised if you hear of lawsuits seeking cancellation of mortgage deals because timing deadlines were not met or appraisals were not received.

As David Berenbaum, executive vice president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, put it in an e-mail comment: "Consumer advocates will closely monitor" compliance with the new Fed regulations, and the lending industry can expect "civil litigation against bad actors."

Kenneth R. Harney's e-mail address is kenharney@earthlink.net.


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