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Last week, I suggested that real estate agents check up on title companies after closing to make sure that mortgages were paid off. Why? Title company executives have been known to "help themselves" to money held in escrow, particularly when business is bad.
See: Is Your Title Company Misbehaving? Most people don't realize that the title industry is basically unregulated in most states. Unregulated as well, are the massive escrow accounts administered by the title companies. A preliminary federal study released in 2006 revealed a laundry list of startling truths about a misunderstood industry and its primary product, title insurance. Most startling: title agents are primarily responsible for auditing their own escrow accounts. It's tantamount to asking the fox to guard the hen house. The study also found that ridiculously relaxed licensing standards have possibly resulted in an industry of unqualified practitioners.
The truth about the title industry is frightening: licensing requirements are non-existent in 3 states plus the District of Columbia; 18 states and the District of Columbia do not require a title agent to pass a test to become licenses; only 20 states have an educational requirement as a pre-requisite to licensing.
For the preliminary federal study on the status of the title industry, click here. For the final report, click here.
An article published in the Springfield Business Journal paints a horrific tale of consumer suffering at the expense of title company malfeasance.Click here to read article. Guaranty Title conducted business in Missouri before being shut down last June by its underwriter, LandAmerica. The problem: there's more than $5,000,000 missing from escrow accounts. While LandAmerica is clearly on the hook for some of the missing funds, it's disputing liability for buyer's deposits held by Guaranty Title for a local developer named Branson Hills Development.
Based on an anonymous tip, Branson's attorney subpoenaed audit reports proving very harmful to LandAmerica.
The report indicates that a routine audit conducted by LandAmerica in April, 2006 found that $600,000 was missing from Guaranty Title escrow accounts at that time. Several months later, promissory notes were issued by Guaranty Title to LandAmerica to cover part of the missing money.
Why didn't LandAmerica close Guaranty Title's doors upon discovering that escrow funds were missing?
Because Guaranty Title was an enormous company that made a lot of money for its underwriter, LandAmerica, in the form of title insurance premiums.
Why didn't LandAmerica report Guaranty Title's criminal activity to the proper authorities?
That's the seminal question that casts a shadow of doubt on the integrity of LandAmerica, and possibly the title industry, in 2008.
It could be said that LandAmerica drove the getaway car used by Guaranty Title to rob a bank.
In defense of LandAmerica: the company has a good reputation overall and isn't normally associated with this type of reprehensible behavior. I hope the company has the courage to step to the plate and publicly dismiss every executive who was involved in the reckless decision making that permitted a rogue title company to continue raping the public.
I want to go a step farther and share my concerns about those of you who collect fees, or soft-dollar perks, for shipping title orders to affiliated title companies. Don't do it! It's a business model that's marginally legal, at best, when constructed correctly, but perilous all the same for real estate agents. In time, your affiliated title company will screw up, overcharge consumers, or steal money and you'll find yourself mortgaging your house to pay for expensive legal representation. You heard it here! A special thanks to Diane Cipa for bringing the Springfield Business Journal article to my attention.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.