Introductory Comments of Mark A. Bilbrey, Warranty Title and Abstract Co. Of El Reno, Oklahoma, On Behalf of the American Land Title Association® At the Hud Roundtable on Respa
July 14, 2005
Mark A. Bilbrey
My name is Mark Bilbrey, and I am currently serving as the President of the American Land Title Association, the national association for the land title industry. With me today is Ann vom Eigen, Legislative/Regulatory Counsel for the Association.
ALTA appreciates being invited to participate in this roundtable and to share our views with other industry and consumer groups and with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As many of you know, the Association was an active participant in the 2002 rulemaking and continues to have a great interest in all matters relating to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, its implementation, and its potential amendment.
We have given considerable thought to the positions taken, and the comments filed, by the major industry and consumer groups in connection with the 2002 rulemaking, and to the reasons why HUD was unable to move forward with the kind of changes to the RESPA regulations that were proposed at that time. While no one could claim that the RESPA statute and regulatory regime have no shortcomings, we think that the experience in that 2002 rulemaking demonstrates why HUD must be cautious in making changes to a regime that governs so many industries and transactions, and affects a most vital segment of the American economy. We appreciate that Secretary Jackson recognizes the need for caution, transparency, and consensus-building in this area, and that these roundtables reflect that attitude.
Based on our experience and the comments of others in connection with the 2002 rulemaking, we have identified the kind of principles that we believe should guide HUD’s consideration of regulatory and legislative alternatives to improve the operation of the RESPA regime. While a copy of those principles is being circulated, in brief they include the following:
Market-based approaches should be given an opportunity to work before regulatory directives are imposed.
Proposals must be sensitive to the important role small businesses play in this area of the economy.
Any approaches that are considered must recognize the fundamental differences between refinance transactions and the “buy/sell” transaction.
Sweeping changes (whether to the RESPA statute or to HUD’s regulations) should be avoided unless there is a clear and demonstrable basis to believe that such changes will not seriously disrupt the residential real estate and settlement services markets.
Consumers should have maximum freedom in selecting settlement service providers who will be providing services to them.
Regulatory approaches must be consistent with the existing RESPA statute. Proposals for more fundamental reform of the RESPA framework can only be achieved through statutory amendments to RESPA.
HUD may not preempt state laws unless those laws are inconsistent with the provisions of the RESPA statute.
Approaches that would enable one party with economic leverage to use that leverage to obtain kickbacks or reductions in charges from other settlement service providers as a condition to participation in the package – where such kickbacks or reductions are not passed through to the consumer – must be avoided.
Uniform closing instructions which will reduce lender and settlement costs should be explored.
The GFE’s should accurately reflect likely prices that the consumer will have to pay in the particular market.
HUD should clarify that “average cost pricing” is not a § 8 violation.
We invite others to comment on these principles or to circulate their own ideas regarding the guidelines HUD should take into account as it considers what changes in the RESPA regime are needed and workable.