Forbes Magazine reported back in a November 2006 cover story that First American Title was selling more than $5.8 billion dollars a year for title insurance in a story called, “America’s Richest Insurance Racket”  Read the full story here: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2006/1113/148.html

Reporter Scott Woolley extensively interviewed Parker Kennedy, head of First American.  Forbes noted that thanks to computerized record-keeping, the cost of searching for a home’s ownership records online has fallen to as low as $25. The average cost for claims on title insurance policies was running approximately $74 per policy. Although Forbes concluded that everyone should agree that this is a pretty lucrative business, and title companies are fat and thriving, First American’s Parker Kennedy claimed that “Nobody is cutting a fat hog,” whatever that means.

So why is this relevant to the off shoring of jobs?  According to Forbes, Kennedy attributes his profit margins to several things including the efforts his company has made to deploy technology and move jobs offshore.  Forbes noted that in 5 years, First American closed 48 out of 50 offices in California replacing people and paper with databases and offshore data entry clerks.

Kennedy says, “In the old days, if you wanted to double your business you had to double your people. Now you can double your business and increase your staff maybe 10%.”

The Forbes article suggests that off shoring of jobs has been part of First American’s long term business strategy aimed at adding to the huge profit margins they enjoy.

Given these kinds of profits, do you think it is really necessary for them to continue their policy of sending jobs offshore?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.


Further Discussions Regarding Recent HUD Changes

Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for all the feedback we received on our recent post  regarding HUD adding NHD reports to the list of official settlement services. I received many good comments and wanted to clarify some points that were raised.

  1. We know that a majority of escrow officers handle the accounting of the NHD reports on the HUD-1 correctly. The problem, according to the NHD companies I have interviewed, is not the 80% of escrow officers who account for these services the right way, but the 20% who do not.  You would be surprised at the number of residential real estate transactions that actually close without an NHD report, resulting in panicked real estate agents calling NHD companies to get reports after the fact to ensure their files are complete. You can imagine the legal problems that could arise from that practice. With the NHD reports required to be on the HUD-1 these types of unfortunate mistakes and many others will be greatly reduced.
  2. It is true that in your average residential real estate transaction the seller pays for the NHD report. It is also the case that the buyer typically receives just their side of the HUD-1 showing what they paid for in the transaction. However the complete HUD-1 is the official record of how all monies, both credits and debits, were handled in the transaction. While there are ways to handle miscellaneous expenditures in a transaction, settlement services by law, should only be accounted for on the HUD-1. This is the reason why NHD reports are required to be on the HUD-1 regardless of the buyer’s interest.

Again, I want to thank all of you for your comments and keep them coming!  I would love to hear from all my readers.  And please continue to follow along with me as I explore different issues facing buyers and sellers in the real estate industry at http://www.re-insider.com.

A Tale of Two Banks: Chase & Wells Fargo

Some real estate agents and buyers are being given the run around by folks representing REO bank-owned sellers. To quote from Aretha Franklin, “Who’s zooming who?”

We continue to receive complaints by numerous agents telling us that they are being directed to specific settlement service providers as ordered by banks.  So we decided to do a little outreach of our own.  We emailed several major banks and asked about their relationship with settlement services.

Interestingly, Chase’s VP of Media Relations replied, “Thank you for your email and consideration.  However, at this time I must decline your inquiry.” Why would anyone decline this inquiry, could they have something to hide?

But not everyone is so off-putting.  Kudos go to Wells Fargo, who tells us, “Wells Fargo does not direct which settlement services provider a buyer must use.”

This is exactly the way we want banks to handle settlement services. We wish every bank could make the same highly ethical and commendable statement as Wells Fargo.

Congratulations! You guys are being taken seriously!

I am pleased to report that thanks to your efforts AB 957 successfully passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

By supporting AB 957, you are sending a clear message to large title companies and large banks that you continue to believe that the choice of real estate services should rest with the buyer and their agent, not with big business who continue to try to silence the voices and choices of independents.

We’re not out of the woods yet, we still have work to do to get it through the next rounds.

Thank you for all of your support. Let’s make this happen!


Who Killed the Real Estate Industry In California?

As you know, the original purpose of AB957 was to try and help independent title and escrow companies compete for business in the REO market.  Now? Now it seems large companies with special interests are trying to generate revisions that would essentially neuter the bill – providing the death knell to real estate jobs in California.

As you can see, these new revisions leave buyers at risk of being overcharged by the same banks that crested this real estate market collapse. Now, those banks are channeling all the Escrow, Natural Hazards Reports and Title business to the largest title companies in the nation thus eliminating those other service providers from the business. Once this practice is established it will send all the title, escrow and natural hazard work FROM California companies TO these out of state giants.

Folks, once the work is gone, so are the jobs.

So what do we do?  We have to get this bill back on track.  Yes, I need your help here.  Please fax Assembly member Cathleen Galgiani
and the Committee person(s) in your district to let them know you want a bill that works for you!

Here is a sample letter to use. Please fax this directly to Assembly member Cathleen Galgiani and to the assembly member for your district (numbers below):

June 4, 2009

RE: Assembly Bill 957

Dear Assembly Member,

As a constituent, I want you to know that I support for AB 957 with its proposed new language:

1103.21. (a) A seller shall not, directly or indirectly, as a condition of receiving offers or selling residential real property to a buyer, require the buyer to purchase title insurance, or escrow services, or a Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement in connection with the sale of that property from a company chosen by the seller.

AB 957 is written to save jobs in the real estate industry. I need your help.

Unless the bill is amended to include all settlement services, the controlled “affiliated” companies owned by the large title companies, will control California’s real estate business and thousands of people may lose their jobs!

Your support of this amendment will ensure that large banks and large title companies cannot impose their own provider, and ensures that the provider is negotiable.

Please represent me in supporting this amendment.





(Printed Name)


(Street Address, City, State, Zip)


(Phone Number)


Assembly Member Cathleen Galgiani, FAX 916-319-2117

Senate Judiciary Committee

Senator Ellen Corbett– Chair (D)

State Capitol, Room 5108
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-327-2433
Counties: Portions of Alameda, Portions of Santa Clara
Main Cities: Castro Valley, Fremont, Hayward, Milpitas, Newark, Pleasanton, San Jose, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Union City

Senator Tom Harman (R)

State Capitol, Room 3070
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-445-9263
Counties: Portions of Orange
Main Cities: Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach, Westminster
Senator Dean Florez (D)

State Capitol, Room 313
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-327-5989
Counties: Portions of Fresno, Portions of Kern, Kings, Portions of Tulare
Main Cities: Bakersfield, Coalinga, Delano, Dinuba, Fresno, Hanford, Lemoore

Senator Mark Leno (D)

State Capitol, Room 4061
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-445-4722
Counties: Portions of Marin, Portions of San Francisco, Portions of Sonoma
Main Cities: San Francisco, Mill Valley, Novato, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, San Rafael

Senator Mimi Walters (R)

State Capitol, Room 3082
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-445-9754
Counties: Portions of Orange
Main Cities: Orange, Portions of Fullerton, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Portions of Anaheim, Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Tustin, Aliso Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Irvine, Laguna Woods, Buena Park

Senate Banking and Finance Committee

Senator Ron Calderon – Chair (D)

State Capitol, Room 5066
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-327-8755
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles
Main Cities: Hacienda Heights, Huntington Park, La Mirada, Los Angeles, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, South El Monte, South Gate, Whittier

Senator Dave Cogdill – Vice Chair (R)

State Capitol, Room 5097
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-327-3523
Counties: Portions of Fresno, Portions of Madera, Mariposa, Portions of San Joaquin, Portions of Stanislaus, Tuolumne
Main Cities: Clovis, Fresno, Lodi, Madera, Stockton, Sonora

Senator Lou Correa (D)

State Capitol, Room 5052
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-323-2323
Counties: Portions of Orange
Main Cities: Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Stanton, Westminster

Senator Dave Cox (R)

State Capitol, Room 2068
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-324-2680
Counties: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Portions of Nevada, Portions of Placer, Plumas, Portions of Sacramento, Sierra
Main Cities: Auburn, Elk Grove, Fair Oaks, Folsom, Galt, Mammoth Lakes, Orangevale, Placerville, Rancho Cordova, Roseville, Sacramento, Shingle Springs, South Lake Tahoe, Susanville, Truckee, Valley Springs

Senator Dean Florez (D)

State Capitol, Room 313
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-327-5989
Counties: Portions of Fresno, Portions of Kern, Kings, Portions of Tulare
Main Cities: Bakersfield, Coalinga, Delano, Dinuba, Fresno, Hanford, Lemoore

Senator Tom Harman (R)

State Capitol, Room 3070
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-445-9263
Counties: Portions of Orange
Main Cities: Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach, Westminster

Senator Christine Kehoe (D)

State Capitol, Room 5050
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-327-2188
Counties: Portions of San Diego
Main Cities: San Diego, Del Mar, Lemon Grove

Senator Carol Liu (D)

State Capitol, Room 5061
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-324-7453
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles
Main Cities: Altadena, Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, La Canada Flintridge, Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Gabriel, Valley Village, Van Nuys

Senator Alan Lowenthal (D)

State Capitol, Room 2032
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-327-9113
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles
Main Cities: Artesia, Avalon, Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Long Beach, Lynwood, Paramount, Signal Hill, Southgate, Florence-Graham, Willowbrook

Senator Alex Padilla (D)

State Capitol, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-324-6645
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles
Main Cities: Canoga Park, North Hills, North Hollywood, Northridge, Pacoima, San Fernando, Sun Valley, Sylmar, Van Nuys, Winnetka

Senator George Runner (R)

State Capitol, Room 4090
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-445-4662
Counties: Portions of Kern, Portions of Los Angeles, Portions of San Bernardino, Portions of Ventura
Main Cities: Lancaster, Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Apple Valley, Hesperia, Victorville, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Los Angeles

Senator Lois Wolk (D)

State Capitol, Room 4032
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-323-2304
Counties: Portions of Sacramento, Portions of San Joaquin, Portions of Solano, Yolo
Main Cities: Davis, Fairfield, Manteca, Stockton, Tracy, Vacaville, West Sacramento

An open letter to California Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

Dear Secretary Donovan, Senator Feinstein, and Senator Boxer:

Thank you in advance for your attention to this vitally important matter. As a Californian and a reporter, I am writing this open letter requesting clarity regarding Natural Hazard Disclosure statements and their status within the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA).

In a highly publicized legal action brought by HUD last year, an agreement was made with all parties that the Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement (NHDS) in California would be considered a “settlement service” as part of the escrow process and would be subject to RESPA federal regulations.

While HUD vigorously pursued a determination, they have yet to put in writing the fact that the NHD report is a settlement service under RESPA.

I have spent several months researching the law and inspecting HUD required documents, and along with my associates, have interviewed various HUD executives and experts. We have yet to find anything in writing to indicate that NHD reports in California are to be treated as settlement services.

The NHDS along with the TDS (Transfer Disclosure Statement) are the most important consumer protection documents in a real estate transaction. They are required by law and under the California Civil Code are the only documents that give the buyer the right of rescission during escrow. The NHD report gives notice to the buyer of known material facts that can impact the desirability and/or value of the property.

When you buy a home in California, there are a host of fees charged for “settlement services” that must be paid by the seller before the deal closes. These include such things as city and county taxes; the appraisal fee; the credit report fee; title and escrow fees; and additional costs for such things as insurance and the lender’s inspection fee.

The determination made by the HUD lawsuit was that the NHDS must be included in this list of services; and is thus subject to strict federal laws, and must be paid for before the escrow disburses funds. Furthermore, by not notifying real estate agencies and consumers, they run the risk of being sued for not complying with a federally mandated settlement service.

Although HUD vigorously pursued its belief that NHDS companies are indeed settlement services, they still have nothing in writing that reflects this position to the public.

The fact remains that HUD continues to give out misinformation. For instance, last month one of my associates spoke to Kevin Stevens, a compliance protection specialist with HUD. When asked if NHD’s are a required settlement service in California, he replied they were, and that they were listed in Section 1300 of HUD-1, a document that outlines various settlement services for homebuyers.

Well, I checked and they’re not listed there.

We also asked Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesman, if NHDS reports are a settlement service and he too said they were ‘most certainly a settlement service,’ and when asked if HUD was enforcing this mandate, he stated, “We believe so. If not, it’s a violation of RESPA.”

So we asked Sullivan that if HUD is really enforcing this new mandate, why weren’t the NHDS included in HUD-1 as a settlement service for real estate transactions that occur in California?” Sullivan didn’t exactly have an answer for that one. “It’s not a requirement across the country, just in certain states,” he said.

No one here at RE-Insider can find any communication from HUD that reflects Mr. Sullivan comments. No mention on HUD-1 was made and there was no official or unofficial communication posted.

Kirsten Ivey-Colson, an attorney with HUD’s Office of Finance and Regulation Compliance, insists that California state law requires that this disclosure is made. “Because it is paid at closing, it appears on HUD-1,” she said.

Well, it doesn’t appear on HUD-1. We checked.

There is nothing that tells buyers, sellers, real estate agents, lenders, title companies or escrow companies in California that NHD’s are a settlement service and legally required.

I believe that as U.S. Senators representing the people of California, you want buyers to receive all legally-required full disclosure documents for the properties they are about to buy. I also believe that it is Secretary Donovan’s agency’s responsibility to ensure that everyone across the board is treated equally and fairly by being made aware of this requirement before they are lead down a legally sticky path of ignorance of the law.

Look at it this way: In the United States of America, we are taught that a law requirement MUST be in writing, posted and readily available. Well, when buying a home, which is the biggest and most important purchase most of us will ever make in our lives, shouldn’t the legal process be transparent?

While this letter comes from me, I urge anyone who will ever consider purchasing a home or who has recently purchased a home to contact Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and urge them to bring some clarity to this issue.

Ask them — Is this a service that I, the homeowner, must pay for before my escrow can close? And if I am a real estate agent, or escrow or title officer, must I pay for this service out of escrow monies?

Federal requirements should be able to be read someplace, somewhere. It’s the least we can do for California homeowners and the real estate industry.


Serena Ehrlich

P.S. For those who are interested, here’s the contact information for Feinstein, Boxer and Donovan:

Senator Dianne Feinstein
United States Senate
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3841
Fax: (202) 228-3954 TTY/TDD: (202) 224-2501

Senator Barbara Boxer
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone:(202) 224-3553
Fax;(202) 224-0454 (fax)

Shaun Donovan
Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W., Washington, DC 20410
Phone: (202) 708-1112
TTY: (202) 708-1455

ATTENTION: AB 957 Assembly Judiciary Committee votes this TUESDAY! Show your support!


We did it! As you know by now, AB 957 passed the first round of votes with solid bipartisan support just two weeks ago. Thank you so much for all the letters you sent. They made a real difference.

This coming Tuesday, the Assembly Judiciary Committee is holding their vote on AB 957 and once again we need your help to prompt these legislators to vote YES.

Below is a list of committee members and their contact information. Please do me and the entire real estate industry a favor and print out this letter, sign and fax it to the assembly members listed below.

Two weeks ago, AB 957 passed the Banking and Finance Committee with bipartisan support! That first committee meeting victory is due to all of you who faxed a letter of support.

RE: Assembly Bill 957 – The Buyer’s Choice Act

Dear Assembly Member:

I support AB 957, The Buyer’s Choice Act. This is important legislation that affects my business and must be enacted!

I understand that this bill will prohibit banks (sellers who acquired title to residential real property at a foreclosure sale) from requiring the buyer to purchase title insurance or use escrow services chosen by the seller/bank. And it would prohibit a seller/bank from, without good cause, disapproving the use of a title or escrow company chosen by the buyer.

Of particular importance is the language in the bill that prevents a bank who is a seller from disapproving of a buyer’s choice of title, escrow and settlement companies without good cause. This will help prevent the current practice of large banks from putting inappropriate pressure on buyers to agree to use companies that provide an advantage to the banks in the transaction.

This bill will put the choice of affiliate services back where it belongs, with the consumer. Thank you for undertaking this important legislation in California.



(Printed Name)

(Company Name)

(Street Address, City, State, Zip)

(Phone Number)

CC: Assembly Member Cathleen Galgiani, FAX 916-319-2117

Assembly Judiciary Committee

Assemblymember Mike Feuer (D) – Chair
State Capitol, Room 3146
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2142
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles
Main Cities: Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks, West Hollywood, West Los Angeles

Assemblymember Van Tran (R) – Vice Chair
State Capitol, Room 4130
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2168
Counties: Portions of Orange
Main Cities: Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Stanton, Anaheim, Newport Beach

Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D)
State Capitol, Room 2163
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2141
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles, Portions of Ventura
Main Cities: Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Los Angeles, Malibu, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Monica, Westlake Village

Assemblymember Noreen Evans (D)
State Capitol, Room 6026
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2107
Counties: Napa, Solano, Sonoma
Main Cities: American Canyon, Calistoga, Napa, St. Helena, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, Yountville

Assemblymember Dave Jones (D)
State Capitol, Room 6005
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2109
Counties: Portions of Sacramento
Main Cities: Sacramento

Assemblymember Steve Knight (R)
State Capitol, Room 2016
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2136
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles, Portions of San Bernardino
Main Cities: Adelanto, Lancaster, Palmdale, Victorville

Assemblymember Paul Krekorian (D)
State Capitol, Room 4005
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2143
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles
Main Cities: Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, North Hollywood

Assemblymember Ted Lieu (D)
State Capitol, Room 3173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2153
Counties: Portions of Los Angeles
Main Cities: Lomita, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach,
Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Venice, Westchester, West Los Angeles,
Marina Del Rey, Playa Del Ray, Mar Vista

Assemblymember William Monning (D)
State Capitol, Room 5150
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2127
Counties: Portions of Monterey, Portions of Santa Clara, Portions of Santa Cruz
Main Cities: Carmel by the Sea, Monterey, Morgan Hill, Santa Cruz

Assemblymember Jim Nielsen (R)
State Capitol, Room 6031
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2102
Counties: Portions of Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Modoc, Shasta, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Portions of Yolo
Main Cities: Alturas, Anderson, Chico, Colusa, Orland, Red Bluff, Redding, Weed, Yuba City

Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani (D)
State Capitol, Room 5155
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-319-2117
Counties: Merced, Portions of San Joaquin, Portions of Stanislaus
Main Cities: Atwater, Lathrop, Merced, Newman, Stockton, Tracy