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[Solid Masonry] Bad Faith Turning Good or Vendors Beware?

John Philip Mason is a residential appraiser with 20 years experience and covers the Hudson Valley region of New York. He’s a good friend and a true professional who provides unique insight to appraisal issues of the day. Here is his weekly post called Solid Masonry. Jonathan Miller

“Ameriquest Mortgage Co.’s recent $325 million lawsuit settlement with 49 state governments suggests all isn’t well in [the] home-loan industry.” But if you read between the lines, it may also not be well for the venders who service these lenders.

As indicated in the recent article Cleaning Up Subprime Mortgages [Boston Herald] [1] it becomes all too clear just how far some members of the lending industry might have to go to make things right. And the sad truth is Ameriquest isn’t alone. While Ameriquest denies any wrongdoing, the settlement attempts to correct numerous issues concerning the application, processing and settlement of mortgages.

For one thing Ameriquest has agreed loan officers must also provide good-faith estimates of closing costs in a timely manner – and can’t “disparage, discredit or otherwise encourage (borrowers) to disregard” these figures.” In short, Ameriquest will have to adhere to the estimates they provide. It’s well known throughout the lending industry that some banks and mortgage brokers understate the good-faith estimates when borrowers are applying for loans. The technique steers borrowers away from honest lenders who are unwilling to play the “bait and switch game”. Some individuals claim these fraudulent estimates represented less than half the funds needed to close the loan. In addition, lowball estimates can be used to make higher lending rates look more attractive.

To be sure, this deceptive practice is a major issue for both consumers and honest lenders. But wait, national lenders smell a marketing opportunity, especially in light of a slowdown in mortgage applications during the past several months. In Kenneth R. Harney’s A Good-Faith Effort To Clean Up Estimates [Washington Post] [2] he spells out how SunTrust and LendingTree have recently announced programs where they too (without any allegations of wrongdoing) will guarantee good faith estimates, in an attempt to lure more borrowers.

So what does all this have to do with venders? Well if this trend catches on, either through legal settlements, revisions to the laws pertaining to lender requirements or from promotional programs aimed at increasing market share, it will force lenders to sharpen their pencils. And guess who they’ll turn to? The easiest and most cost effective option is to ask the outside venders to lower their fees, as it requires nothing of the lenders and only impacts the profitability of the venders themselves. Only as a last resort will the lenders consider reducing their internal fees or profit margins.

While increased efficiency and reduced costs are good for consumers, the race to the bottom, in terms of vender fees, could further compromise the quality of services provided. At a time when real estate deals are becoming more complex and technical and many real estate markets are in some sort of transition, this could prove unwise and lacking in good faith.