Friday, August 24, 2018

Natural Hazard Disclosures for Real Estate Transactions


Image result for natural hazard disclosure

One of the main purposes of using an escrow officer when moving forward with your real estate or business transaction is to make sure that both seller and buyer fulfill all of their requirements (both legal and contractual). The escrow officer holds onto all of the funds in the transaction until those requirements are met, at which point, the escrow officer is legally allowed to begin disbursement. One of those legal requirements that must be completed by the seller, at least for real estate transactions in California, is what is known as a natural hazard disclosure, or NHD. In general terms, this means that, before escrow can close, the seller must disclose any and all potential hazards related to the real estate property being sold.

In some cases, sellers will fill out the required documentation themselves, usually the Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement or on the Local Option Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement (if applicable), both of which allow the seller to outline all hazards in full. However, the vast majority of sellers elect instead to use a third-party service to prepare the disclosure statement. It is important to note that, even if a seller uses such a third-party, they are still legally responsible for any information that is not disclosed. So, if a seller wishes to use a third-party service, they should make sure to choose one that will deliver the required scope of information necessary.

Natural Hazard Disclosures need to have information regarding whether the property is located in an area that has a heightened risk of certain (usually significantly destructive) natural disasters. For example, the seller must disclose if the area is one of potential flooding and if it is located in Zone A or Zone V (specially-designated zones that have very high flood hazard). Additionally, the NHD will include whether the area has been designated as "high fire risk," or if it is within a designated wildland area. Finally (and perhaps most devastatingly, in California), the NHD must list if the property is in an area with heightened earthquake risk and if the property is located along a fault line.

So, now that you know what kind of information you need to disclose when selling real estate, make sure that you cover all of your bases before escrow closes. A recent analysis of several third-party NHD preparers discovered that several of the companies only included the major, state-mandated information, as outlined above. However, there are often local city or county regulations that require even more natural hazards to be disclosed. These additional disclosures can range from recent methane leakages to issues with hillside erosion or landslides. So, be careful when filling out your disclosure statement, and be even more careful if choosing a third-party. You don't want to be left without full legal and financial protection because of a couple of missing disclosures.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cryptocurrency as Funds in Escrow Transactions?


Image result for bitcoin for real estate

An escrow officer's main duty in any transaction, be it a real estate sale, liquor license transfer, or hard money loan, is to act as a neutral third party between the buyer and seller (or lender and borrower). The escrow officer holds funds in a trust account and only disburses those funds once both parties have fulfilled all of their obligations in the transaction. Sometimes those obligations entail performing repairs or professional inspections, and sometimes it's just a short period (often 30 or 60 days) in which the escrow officer can get all of the necessities taken care of (Grant Deed, Change of Title, insurance, property liens, etc). Throughout this process, the escrow agent has a fiduciary duty to safeguard the funds in the trust account until such time as they can be disbursed.

Because an escrow officer almost always has to hold onto funds for some amount of time (even in all-cash offers), the funds need to be in the form of a currency that will retain its value. Until recently, that was simple. In the United States, the value of the dollar fluctuates very slightly each year with respect to the currency of other nations, but will generally be worth approximately the same amount from one day to the next. An issue may arise if the buyer wants to pay with funds that are not American currency, or even any type of national currency. In some cases, buyers want to make a purchase using Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a well-known type of blockchain-based cryptocurrency. A blockchain is a decentralized record of all transactions happening within an online peer-to-peer network. The benefit of such an innovation is to allow users to confirm the transfer of funds without the need for a third-party like a bank to wire the funds. Cryptocurrency is the "currency" that is being transferred through the online blockchain. In a general sense, cryptocurrency is a chunk of data that can be easily transferred between users. While cryptocurrency is a convenient way to transfer funds, there are several downsides. First, cryptocurrency has no intrinsic value. One Bitcoin is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay you for it. There is no guaranteed trade-in value for paper currency or other commodities such as gold or diamonds. Second, cryptocurrency has no physical form. There are no bills or coins -- nothing except a block of data that says how much currency a user owns.

Unlike the U.S. dollar, cryptocurrency doesn't have a stable value. There are owners of Bitcoin who put in thousands of dollars just to lose it all in days, and there are users who saw their Bitcoin investment increase a thousand-fold over the course of a year. There's no way of predicting if the value of a cryptocurrency will go up or down, as the value is determined by how much people want it. It is a currency that exists in the minds of its users. If all buyers are willing to pay $10,000 for one Bitcoin, then that's the value of the Bitcoin. If all buyers are only willing to pay $100 per Bitcoin, then that's its value. Such an unstable currency is unusable by an escrow officer because there's no guarantee that the seller will receive the amount of real money (U.S. dollars) that they had assumed based on the price of the cryptocurrency at the time when the purchase agreement was signed. During the 30 or 60 day escrow, while the currency is sitting in a trust account, it could just as easily go up in value as it could go down. That kind of volatility is bad for business, so even if a buyer can find a seller willing to accept the cryptocurrency, Escrow companies cannot accept this as currency as Bitcoin does not qualify as verified “good funds”.

Finally, there's the major issue that blockchain is decentralized, which means it doesn't have any official (governmental or otherwise) institutions backing up the currency. The decentralization is a good aspect to many users since it makes the transfer of funds relatively inexpensive, fast, and painless. However, decentralization also means that if your blockchain account gets hacked and you lose your cryptocurrency, you're on your own. With centralized systems (such as banks or credit cards), if you are the victim of cybercrime, your funds will generally still be safe, and the financial institution will take the burden of dealing with law enforcement in tracking down the criminal and getting the money back. With blockchain, there's nothing proving that a piece of cryptocurrency belongs to you. It's just a chunk of online data associated with an online account that someone else might gain access to. This is why the inherent instability of cryptocurrency in its current form is not an acceptable means of funding an escrow transaction. Perhaps in time, and with more regulation and security this could be the way of the future, though for now, escrow companies do not accept Bitcoin in lieu of U.S. currency.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Friday, July 27, 2018

Federal Law Prohibits Banks, Escrow, and Title Companies from Participating in the Sale of Marijuana-Related Businesses



The sale and consumption of marijuana, both medicinally and recreationally, is a pretty controversial topic throughout the United States. Some view marijuana as a dangerous substance that should be banned, comparable to hard narcotics like cocaine or methamphetamine. Many others view marijuana as a substance that should have limitations (similar to the sale of alcohol and tobacco), but not be completely illegal. Then, there's the even deeper issue of medicinal versus recreational usage. Some believe that marijuana should only be used when absolutely necessary (i.e. as a diagnosed treatment for a legitimate medical condition like glaucoma or nausea caused by chemotherapy), and some believe that cannabis isn't dangerous enough to be limited much, if at all.

The main difference between cannabis and substances like tobacco and alcohol is a lack of information. While there has been plenty of research done on the health effects of tobacco (cancer, asthma, etc.) and alcohol (impaired motor skills, liver disease, etc.) and even the effects on a fetus, there really isn't enough evidence to make a conclusive ruling on marijuana. However, for a while, it didn't matter whether marijuana was healthy or not. It didn't matter if it could impair motor skills or give a smoker asthma, because the sale and/or consumption of marijuana was illegal in the U.S., both on a federal and state level.

Over a decade ago, several states (California being one of the first) began to legalize medical marijuana, which could only be purchased from a licensed dispensary with a prescription from a doctor. Then, much more recently, states began legalizing recreational marijuana usage. However, that doesn't mean much from a business standpoint, because although marijuana is now legal in California, it's still illegal according to federal law. That may change within the next several years, but as of this moment, the law is the law, and that's all there is to it.

Because marijuana is still illegal federally, many businesses that must comply with state law (such as escrow/title companies), are not permitted to participate in any transactions regarding businesses that handle the sale of marijuana. In fact, in April of 2017, several national title companies received a memorandum from the Office of the Chief Underwriting Counsel that if the title company gets any indication from a buyer, seller, or broker that the Land will be used for growing, processing, distributing, or dispensing any types of marijuana-based products, they aren't allowed to be involved in the handling of any escrow or other funds of any type, issue any type of zoning coverage, or issue title insurance (except with the inclusion of an exception related to violation of federal law). This policy even applies to an entrepreneur looking to buy property that they will then rent out to tenants who may be involved in the marijuana industry,

Federal laws are taken very seriously by businesses involved in escrow and the transfer of funds, including banks. Banks are federally chartered, insured by the FDI, and use the Federal Reserve wire system. If those banks start breaking federal laws (even laws that don't exist at the state level), the bank can lose its charter and FDIC insurance, and eventually get shut down altogether. Just like banks, escrow companies lose their legal ability to operate if they break federal laws, especially in the financial realm, and for most of those businesses, it simply isn't worth the risk of getting involved in any transaction that might violate federal law.

For that reason, escrow companies (just like title companies and banks) don't take part in transactions involving property (or businesses) that are connected to the marijuana industry. It can be next to impossible for an entrepreneur to start that kind of business with a loan from a bank, because banks won't provide the loans and title companies won't close the sale (a closing is usually required by a lender). However, in some situations (where the sale is an all-cash offer, with no financing), there are law firms with real estate experience that can close real estate transactions. As of now, federal law makes it nearly impossible to do business in the cannabis industry if you need bank financing or plan to go through an escrow company. The laws may change in the future, but for now, it is what it is.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Friday, April 22, 2016

UPDATE: SIX MONTHS INTO TRID REQUIREMENTS



It’s a new day!

Six months into the new TRID rules and in my experience and opinion, the transition appears to be going pretty smoothly. The Lenders issuance of their Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure, along with complying with disclosure requirements seems to be working out too. Most Lenders I am working with are ready to close on time (many before the date of closing). Perhaps due to concerns of delayed closings and the possibility of disappointing their Clients has them working harder and expediting every file (which is GREAT NEWS!)

While there have been internal hiccups with computer software, at banking institutions and escrow companies, we are working around them. For the most part, this has not affected our Clients and the closing of their transactions. We continue to rely on our tried and true methods of operation for closing transactions, while some of the larger institutional Lenders are still working on getting their automated systems up and operating (they appear to be having continued difficulties). Again, this has not affected my transactions to date, though may affect others.

In my humble opinion, I expected the Escrow Industry to shoulder a heavier burden due to the new TRID requirements, though, in my personal experience, I have found that the Lenders are acting more independently and are carrying their own burden (which in years past is not the norm). Lenders and Mortgage Brokers had increased their demands on escrow holders to such an extent, Escrow Companies spent an extensive amount of time responding to repetitive (and quite frankly excessive and burdensome) requests for revised documentation. As of right now that process is being kept outside of escrow and in the lenders office, where it rightly belongs. However, I reserve the right to amend this statement in future, as it will not surprise me if, in time, Lenders and Mortgage Brokers shift more responsibilities and burden to escrow, as it has always been their M.O. (modus-operandi).

My hope is that things will continue to move in a positive direction. We do have a few challenges in the Industry and I have been doing some volunteer work with the Escrow Institute of California. The nice thing is that I know a lot more of what is happening in the Industry in California, as well as the nation. The Escrow Institute of California’s Board members are some of the most sophisticated and intelligent people I have ever met! In May 2016, they will personally meet with congressional representatives in Washington D.C. and lobby support and awareness for California’s Department of Business Oversight’s Escrow Licensees, whose members are one of the nation's most highly regulated (and ironically Lenders are demanding of additional and unnecessary regulation).

We are living in an exciting time, dealing with changes that have been thrust upon us. Many in the Industry, myself included, have tugged along providing services just like in years past. It is now that we must wake up and open our eyes! We must stay informed and connected. To educate ouselves and do all that we can to continue to be a strong, relevant mainstay in our communities and Industry.

You may find the following links of interest:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) http://www.consumerfinance.gov/


Escrow Institute of California http://www.escrowinstitute.org/

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

BEWARE - You and Your Clients Are a Target For This Real Estate Scam



Originally posted to Real Estate, The Economy, and News on March 24, 2016

Cyber-criminals are finding new methods every day to steal personal and financial information. Their techniques range from phishing scams to buffer overflow techniques and brute-force password hacking. Banking institutions have found themselves under attack far more than usual in recent years, and have in turn begun to incorporate stronger security measures in an attempt to block hackers. As a result, many scammers/hackers have moved on to what they believe are "easier targets." focusing on normal people rather than financial institutions, Just last week, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors issued a warning to consumers that they must be hyper-vigilant in order to avoid recent phishing schemes that have been targeting closing costs on real estate transactions.

The National Association of Realtors, along with the Federal Trade Commission, issued their statement warning people to be on the look-out for a specific scheme targeting those involved in a real estate transaction. First, the hackers gain access to the email account of a customer, real estate agent, or escrow officer, and use the information to keep up-to-date on the transaction and determine the closing date. When they have figured out the closing date, the scammer sends an email that has been masked in such a way that they are able to impersonate the escrow company, title company, or real estate agent, telling the customer that the wiring instructions had a last-minute change. If the customer takes the bait, they send their funds to the scammer's account, which can be emptied in minutes.

Sepulveda Escrow utilizes encrypted and secure email when sending documents with sensitive and confidential information. In addition, documents can be returned via email through this secure portal. Sepulveda Escrow has also instituted new procedures to contact Clients directly to confirm details, rather than relying on email or contact through a third party. (Please see end of this blog for some helpful tips.)

It is imperative to know that cyber criminals don't always need to be able to break through firewalls or use high-tech software to get your personal information or access your computer's data. Quite often, hackers use more subtle tricks to gain access. Phishing schemes are one of the most common ways by which they trick potential targets. One example of phishing is when a hacker sends a mass email to a group of people and makes it look like the email comes from a bank or other online payment platform. The email requests that the recipient verify their login information by following a link. The link leads to a page that closely resembles the actual login page for the financial institution, but when the user inputs their login information, the hacker records the username and password, thereby enabling them to access the account and steal their money.

Another example of phishing is when a hacker contacts a target or a group of targets under the guise of an Official informing them that they have been the victim of a scam. They then tell the recipient that they can help them fix the damage, but first ask for certain sensitive information like Social Security number or bank information, to "verify" what data had been "stolen."  While you may look at this and think that the scheme is too obvious to be effective, statistics show that approximately 0.4% of recipients fall prey to such attacks. In other words, if a mass email is sent to 10,000 people, about 40 of them will have their information successfully stolen.

While phishing is historically the easiest and most effective method by which hackers are able to steal personal or financial information, there are several other methods. A buffer overflow attack, used by more sophisticated hackers, involves inputting many lines of code into an online form in order to overload the system and allow the hacker to steal data inputted by previous customers. A brute-force password hack involves a computer program that inputs all kinds of combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols, until the correct password has been found and the hacker has gained access to an email or other kind of online account.

Finally, hackers often package viruses or worms into free online software or as attachments to mass emails. Such viruses can enable the hacker to record keystrokes, thus giving them access to many of your passwords, or enable them to access built-in microphones or webcams on laptops. Simply opening such an email or downloading an infected attachment can lead to a virus being installed on your computer or mobile device. Fortunately, anti-virus software can often help to detect and remove these viruses, but hackers are constantly finding new ways to avoid detection by your anti-virus program. The best way to avoid getting such viruses is to be careful when downloading anything, and to avoid opening any emails that seem suspicious or come from unknown or unreliable sources.

Here are some tips to help you avoid being affected by similar scams. First and foremost, if something doesn't look right or feels even a little bit suspicious, don't hesitate to double-check it. Don't rely too much on emails. Instead, pick up the phone and call your escrow officer or realtor to make sure that everything you have received is correct. Don't open email attachments you aren't expecting. Additionally, you shouldn't trust financial information that has been sent via email, nor should you send any of your own financial information via email, because it usually isn't secure. In general, wiring instructions are sent by fax or encrypted email message. When inputting personal information on a website, check the address for "https," of which the "s" stands for secure, meaning that your information will be better protected.

Be very careful when opening attachments or downloading anything from an email, no matter who sent it to you. Just because you recognize the email address, doesn't mean that the message actually came from the person you associate with that email address. It's possible that a scammer could have hacked a friend's email, or could have disguised their email to appear as if the message came from a friend's email address. Proceed with caution. Being aware and cautious can save you a lot of hassle in the long run. 

Biggest Tip: Following up on the phone after sending an email may seem burdensome, but we at Sepulveda Escrow find that it is always worthwhile to go the extra mile to avoid financial losses and potential lawsuits.

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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Sunday, November 1, 2015

The New Standard Practice: Our Latest Adventure



So here I am writing a post in my Blog called Escrow Experts, thinking that in this new Lending environment, I am anything but an expert. Learning as I go along and putting into action that which I learned in theory these last many months. The nice thing is that I am amongst good company. Throughout the nation, my peers, all respected professionals, are in the same proverbial “boat”.

As a quick reminder, as of October 3, 2015, we will no longer use the HUD1 Closing Settlement Statement, which has been phased out in exchange for the new Closing Disclosure.

There will be so much more liability on the lenders' shoulders, that the lenders will be issuing the Closing Disclosure based on an accumulation of fees provided to their office by the Settlement Provider (Escrow Holder). Consequently, the situation is now such that all fees as provided to the Lender must be actual, with little to no room for inflated Estimates as we have provided in the past. This creates quite a challenge, as in Escrow, we never really know what will be required of our office until the very end.

Consequently, effective October 3, 2015, Sepulveda Escrow Corporation has a new fee schedule, whereupon our office has done our best to keep our fees as close and reasonable as our previous schedule of fees, with the exception of including a small increase for archive fees and cost of living.

I also want to take this opportunity to explain something of great importance. During the last several years, our office has put a new protocol in place due to the terms and conditions in the lenders Instructions, and which some of you may not be aware of. Lenders require the Escrow company to be fully responsible and liable for the actions of the notary public performing the signing and notarization of the Loan documents (most require a One Million Dollar Errors and Omissions Policy of Insurance). Due to this burden of liability, our office requires Buyers to sign their loan documents in our office, and during our hours of operation. Doing so protects the Buyer on an even higher level by avoiding the documents being handled by outside notaries, Agents or Mortgage Brokers. (In the event of extenuating circumstances, such as out of State Buyers, our office has in place a Nationwide Signing and Notary Company who we employ to accommodate the signing). Each and every Manager of a direct Lender with whom I have spoken agrees with this as a necessary practice, and as such Sepulveda Escrow adapted this as company protocol.

While signing in escrow during office hours may not be as convenient as signing in one’s home at any hour of the day or night, every Buyer benefits in countless ways coming into escrow. It is a great comfort to meet and know the very person responsible for conducting the closing transaction which applies their hard earned money into homeownership.

Here at Sepulveda Escrow Corporation, we consider these changes in our Industry a challenge; preferring to accept this as an exciting opportunity to learn and incorporate new procedures into our every-day routine. And with that let me wish each and every one of us the best of luck, whether you navigate through these new times as an Agent, Broker, Mortgage Broker, Lender, Seller, Buyer or Escrow Officer. CHEERS!

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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TRID Presentation Powerpoint Slides - July 16, 2015 SRAR Lunch and Learn










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Find out more about us at www.sepulvedaescrow.net. Any Questions? Contact our Escrow Expert! Sepulveda Escrow Corporation (818) 838-1831. Follow our company on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Google+.
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