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Title insurance industry answers GAO criticism

September 19, 2007

By Matt Carter
Inman News

   Related Information
Homeclosing101.org

Calling a GAO study that was critical of the way title insurance is marketed to consumers a "fair and thorough review," the American Land Title Association on Tuesday rolled out an industry plan to increase competition in the industry.

Consumers have relied on their real estate agent, attorney or lender to choose their title insurance provider, said ALTA President Gregory Kosin, "and are not always aware that they have a choice."

ALTA has launched a consumer education campaign that includes a Web site, homeclosing101.org, describing how consumers can shop and compare prices for title insurance.

The industry group also unveiled new "Principles of Fair Conduct," which instruct members to provide consumers with comprehensive information on their policies, services, products and prices to enable comparison shopping.

In its April report, the Government Accountability Office called for greater oversight of the title insurance industry.

The GAO called on HUD to improve its enforcement of prohibitions on illegal kickbacks, and clarify regulations related to affiliated business arrangements referral fees. HUD should have the authority to levy civil fines against title insurance companies, and state regulators needed to improve oversight of title agents, the report said.

ALTA supports giving HUD the authority to levy civil fines, but is also proposing that the industry play a greater role in policing itself. The industry group said it will ask Congress to amend Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), to allow title insurance companies to seek injunctions against competitors who violate prohibitions on referral fees.

Currently, only the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), state attorneys general and consumers are allowed to seek such injunctions under RESPA.

Most of the complaints HUD receives about alleged Section 8 violations comes from the industry itself, said ALTA's chief council, Edward Miller.

"We're out there every day complaining about problems in the industry," but HUD doesn't always take action, presumably because of a lack of resources, Miller said.

Miller said that ALTA wants title insurance companies to have the ability to seek injunctions against competitors violating RESPA's rules on referral fees, but not monetary damages.

Once a court has issued an injunction against a title insurance company, "you can bet HUD and state attorney generals" will take action too, Kosin said.

ALTA said it will seek guidance from HUD on other "self-regulatory measures" the industry can adopt, and urge the department to provide timely responses to industry requests for guidance on business practices.

The goal, Kosin said, "is a tougher regulatory environment with the best cops on the beat -- us."

Although the consumer campaign is intended to address issues raised in the GAO report, ALTA members began working on it before the report was issued, Kosin said. The campaign was driven by ALTA members, rather than "top down" decisions by the group's Washington D.C., staff, Kosin said.

Copyright Inman News, 2007



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