Special Features

With new CFPB forms arriving soon, buyers/sellers need to remind brokers that shopping title services is their right

By Mark Samuelson

Garry Wolff and Nick Wolff of myTitleins.com help consumers shop and compare title companies when buying or selling a home
It's been 40 years since Congress passed RESPA, the act designed to protect consumers from being nickel-and-dimed in inflated service charges that result from too-cozy relationships between real estate brokers and title companies. A key protection of that act finally gets some teeth next year when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) requires new real estate loan closing disclosure forms that define and encourage consumers to shop for their title and closing services.

Title policies offer virtually the same protection no matter where you buy them, but overall title rates and closing fees can vary $300 to $1,000 on an average sale - $1,500 and more on a luxury home. Even before the new forms are required, buyers and sellers need to be on their toes, says consumer protection advocate Garry Wolff, whose web site myTitleIns.com lets shoppers compare fees offered by Colorado title companies; much as you can compare airfares and hotel rates.

"These disclosure forms are going to create a paradigm shift as consumers are informed of their right to shop their title and closing services," Wolff adds. Meanwhile, brokers are often totally unaware that referring business to one title agent, without allowing the seller or buyer to shop the market, is a violation of RESPA. Wolff's web site also surveys consumers who've recently been involved in a purchase/sale, asking whether they were given an opportunity by their broker to shop (you can take that survey at myTitleIns.com/survey).

Not getting that opportunity is costly for consumers, Wolff says. Coloradans spent $3.8 billion on title insurance over the last ten years - with perhaps as much as $50 million per year lost to excesses that should be pocketed by sellers and buyers, he adds.

A Maryland real estate group is facing an investigation on $1.3 million in alleged kickbacks from a title company. Meanwhile, Wolff says many brokers refer a particular title company without concern for the consumer's best interests. "Title companies, brokers and lenders should all be helping to educate consumers of their responsibility to compare their title and closing services," Wolff adds.

Soon, says Wolff, the new disclosures will create a more level playing field where rates will be more competitive because of consumer awareness. In the meantime, myTitleIns.com allows consumers to compare fees of a dozen or so companies, based on the specifics and value of their coming transaction. The site also provides a consumer protection rating - weighing whether title companies carry protections to guard the consumer's money and transaction. Wolff lobbies the state legislature, as well as the Division of Insurance and the Colorado Division of Real Estate, to clarify consumer rights and to require better protections by title companies (one prominent Colorado case of misuse of consumer funds by a title company is in the headlines now).

Unlike many expenses involved in marketing your home that end up mortgaged over the life of the loan, title fees cost hard money at closing. Whether you're selling, buying or refinancing, Wolff suggests you shop myTitleIns.com.

WHERE: myTitleIns.com, free one-stop solution for shopping title insurance and closing cost services in Colorado. Web site includes a title insurance & closing cost calculator comparing different companies; detailed quotes by individual providers, plus educational information about title, closing costs & consumer protections.

TAKE A SURVEY: What were you told about title insurance?: myTitleIns.com/survey

Mark Samuelson writes on real estate and business; you can email him at mark@samuelsonassoc.com.You can see all of Mark Samuelson's columns at DenverPost.com/RealEstate. Follow Mark Samuelson on Twitter: @marksamuelson

  • Denver home prices frothy, but risk of a reversal remains low

    Metro Denver home prices are about 18.3 percent higher than what income gains can explain and justify, according to a first quarter update from Arch MI.
    That’s on the high side among metro areas and above the excess appreciation rates seen a decade ago during the housing boom. In fact, they haven’t been so high in Denver since the oil boom days of the early 1980s.
    But the odds that metro Denver will suffer a home price decline over the next two years remains at a low 2 percent due to a strong economy and the region’s continued popularity among those relocating, according to the Housing and Mortgage Market Review from Arch MI.
    “Don’t expect Denver home prices to go down. Everybody wants in. It isn’t a bubble and it will continue to be like this,” predicted Ralph DeFranco, global chief economist with Arch MI.
    Arch MI, which is based in Walnut Creek, Calif., provides mortgage insurance, giving it a motivation to stay on top of home price trends.
    Related Articles

    Read more

  • Denver now allows housing up to 30 stories in downtown’s next hot neighborhood

    The Denver City Council has approved sweeping proposals aimed at helping to transform downtown’s Arapahoe Square from an area dominated by parking lots into the city’s next dense, walkable neighborhood.
    City planning officials envision that development eventually could bring thousands of new housing units to the area, if developer interest holds.
    Zoning changes approved Monday night divide an 18-block area sandwiched between 20th Street and Park Avenue into two newly created zone districts that allow 12-plus stories closer to Park and 20-plus stories closer to 20th Street, the boundary with the Central Business District. Those unusually defined height boundaries are intentionally elastic: Developers can build even higher — up to 20 or 30 stories, respectively — if they meet criteria such as concealing parking garages from the street or designing slimmer towers atop shorter bases, called “point towers.”
    Those new zone districts between 20th and Park stretch from properties fronting Lawrence Street to those fronting Welton Street, in Five Points. Broadway cuts through the rezoned area diagonally.
    Related Articles

    Read more

  • Whole Foods to move regional headquarters to Denver from Boulder

    Whole Foods Market plans to move its Rocky Mountain regional headquarters down the highway to the Mile High City.
    By early next year, the Austin, Texas-based natural foods grocer will settle about 100 employees into the three-story, 38,000-square-foot brick building off 3012 Huron St. that once housed Centennial School Supply Co. The move was first reported by BusinessDen.
    Whole Foods will move from Boulder’s Twenty Ninth Street mall, where it leased a 45,000-square-foot office space that once served as the headquarters to Wild Oats Markets. A little under 10 years ago, Whole Foods snapped up its Boulder-bred rival for roughly $700 million including assumed debt.
    Since that acquisition, the natural products industry continued to blossom, soaring past $100 billion in annual retail sales, according to the Natural Foods Merchandiser.
    The Whole Foods store near 28th and Pearl streets in Boulder will remain the region’s flagship location, but just as natural and organic mature into the mainstream, Whole Foods opted to become more centrally located, said Heather Larrabee, a company spokeswoman.
    “We have three stores in Boulder … but the majority of our stores are actually in and around the Denver metroplex,” she said.
    The new office provides greater accessibility to Denver International Airport, where many of its producers and clients fly in for visits. The move also anchors Whole Foods near a flourishing culinary arts scene, she said.
    Whole Foods in December named chef Tien Ho to head its prepared foods and bakery efforts and position Whole Foods as the “best place to eat in town,” Larrabee said.
    “Our region as definitely experienced a lot of growth and a lot of progress,” she said. “We are definitely undergoing a transformation. We’re very much in a period of growth and change and all that comes with that.”
    Whole Foods has started to roll out its smaller-format brand, 365 by Whole Foods Market, which is designed to appeal to younger, more value-conscious and tech-savvy shoppers. The first 365 store opened last month in Los Angeles and one or a few could very well land in Colorado, Larrabee said.
    “We definitely have been looking at sites, and we don’t have anything confirmed yet,” she said.

    Read more

  • Denver Club Building to add bowling alley as part of $10M renovation

    In the downtown office building amenity race, fitness centers, co-working lounges, bike storage and outdoor terraces have become almost commonplace.
    But a bowling alley just for tenants? The owners of the Denver Club Building, 518 17th St.,  are hoping to throw a strike with companies in the market for a new office home.
    Seattle-based Unico Properties, which purchased the 24-story midcentury modern office building last year, plans to invest more than $10 million to repositioning the 231,454-square-foot tower, updating both its common areas and tenant spaces.
    That includes a new “industrial luxe” tenant lounge with a two-lane bowling alley and bar, fitness center, shower and locker facilities, bike storage and new lobby, restrooms and common corridors.
    A chapel that was built for Mamie Eisenhower, the wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for use during her visits to the Brown Palace, will be converted into a co-working space for tenants. Unico plans to donate the chapel’s artifacts to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kan., Unico vice president and regional director Austin Kane said in an e-mail Monday.
    The property, which is about 77 percent occupied, is also being re-branded as the DC Building. The high rise’s original namesake, the private Denver Club, has resided on the site since 1888. The current building dates back to 1954. Other tenants include Xerox, Dividend Capital and DCT Industrial Trust.
    “The building has very good bones, an efficient floor plate, and an exceptional location next to light rail,”  Kane said. “I think the market has known for years that the building has great potential, it just needed an owner with a clear vision of the needs of 21st-century tenants, an ability to execute on a project of this scale and the capital to do so.”
    Renovations will be completed in phases, with the majority of work expected to be done by this fall. Gensler and Interior Architects are overseeing the amenity and interior design.
    Cushman & Wakefield is handling the leasing and senior director Ryan Stout said at least for now, the DC Building is the only office building in the Central Business District to offer a bowling alley to its tenants.
    “The bowling alley is a very unique amenity for Denver,” Stout said.
    The idea was inspired by the physical shape of the space Unico had to work with, essentially a long alley, Kane said.
    “We knew we wanted to create an area for tenants to use for social gatherings, but also a collaborative work space that didn’t feel like an office building,” Kane said. “Scott Brucker, our senior asset manager, pointed out that this strip of space would be perfect for a bowling alley and we went from there.”
    “We think the bowling alley is an amenity that serves many purposes for tenants and when we realized we had the opportunity to create something that didn’t exist in Denver, we jumped at the opportunity,” he said.

    Read more