Susie asked me to write an update about junk fees imposed by settlement agents (title/escrow companies in the West). She has a good point. Fees have changed since I last posted on this topic in 2015.
Here is a snippet from an actual Closing Statement showing what I call “clean” fees, meaning no unnecessary bogus fees added to pad the profits of the settlement agent.
The Lender’s Title Insurance is $827.14
The Escrow/Settlement/Closing fee is a flat $1,186.80
Notice that the Owner’s Title Insurance is blank, because the Seller pays that.
No doc prep fee, no email fee, no FedEx fee, no courier fee, no archive fee.
Fair and customary fees for the purchase price in Washington state. I like it!
This same company, First American, adds two fees that they do not charge in Washington for California. In CA, First American has a “new loan fee,” previously called a “loan tie-in fee.” They also like to add a notary fee, which can be waived if you go into their office to sign loan documents rather than have a notary drive out to your location after business hours–if you ask. I’ve seen them charge a notary fee even when the buyer drove into their office but also waive it when asked.
Why does the same company charge a notary fee in CA but not in WA? Because competing escrow companies in WA don’t charge extra for a notary.
Here is another snippet, this time from a purchase in California:
You see that this unfortunate buyer paid:
Escrow Fee: $1,225
Lender’s Title Insurance: $1,004
Loan Service Fee: $340
Recording Service Fee: $14
Signing Fee: $225
Special Courier Fees: $75
Owner’s Title Insurance: $1,929
My Comments on these Fees
Notice that the Buyer is paying both the Owner’s Title (typically paid by the current owner, the seller) and the Lender’s Title Insurance. Poor buyer paid $1,929 extra!
Loan Service Fee: $340 Added junk fee. What service are they providing that is not included in the title insurance and escrow closing? They are not the loan servicing company.
Recording Service Fee: $14 This is not the recording fee charged by the county, which was $375. It is an added nonsense fee to the escrow company. It’s like buying a hamburger and paying extra for the pickle.
Signing Fee: $225 to sign, even if they didn’t need to hire a notary outside of business hours.
Special Courier Fee: $75 Isn’t that special of them to charge $75 when FedEx overnight is $17.50! And why isn’t their $1,225 escrow fee enough to cover that in the first place?
The $50 Environment Fee at the top of the list is a county requirement, so all escrow companies are required to charge it. It’s not junk and it can’t be waived.
There is a lot more to say about this topic, but I hope by seeing these two examples, you can shop for a good title/escrow company, and then ask your Buyer’s Real Estate Agent to request your preferred company on the purchase offer.
To shop fees, you can use the online fee calculators. Locate them through Google, like this:
First American Title fees + zip code
Chicago Title fees + zip code
Fidelity Title fees + zip code
Old Republic Title fees + zip code
WARNING: If you sign a Purchase Contract that stipulates using a high-priced, fee-laden escrow/settlement company, then you have agreed to their fees. Once signed, you will not be able to get it changed.
Thank you for reading this post. I work hard to help good folks get good pricing on their mortgage loans.
Each title company has their own set of fees. Some charge one flat fee. Others add a couple junk fees. Some pile on a stack of fees that may add up to an extra $300 to $700.
The ones who charge multiple fees say, “We like to break it down for the buyer, so you know where everything goes.”
That sounds fine, but when the total of the break-down is significantly more than the flat-fee company, something is fishy.
And, there shouldn’t be double-charges. Such as a messenger fee and an overnight fee. Both of those fees are to transport the signed docs back to the lender. Which are you using, a messenger or FedEx overnight? And why are you charging $75 when Fedex overnight by 10:30 am (2 lbs) is $28.05? 3 lbs is $31.40.
Can You Object to Title Overcharges and Junk Fees?
You can always object to title fees, but if you’re far into the loan process or almost at closing, you have no leverage and will likely have no success. They will say no, and then what? It’s too late to start over with another title company.
The best solution is to know from the start which title company you want to use. That way, you write it in on your purchase offer.
The Law and the Seller
Federal lending law states that the choice of title company belongs to the Buyer. However, when a listing agent places the home on the Multiple Listing Service, he/she includes the legal description of the property, and they get that from the title company. Thus, the listing agent chooses a title company right from the start.
No actual work has yet been done by that title company, so at this point, it is no problem to switch companies. There is no reason you can’t say, “I’d like to use Y Title,” even though the listing shows X Title. Truly, it’s no problem.
How Do You Find Title Company Fees?
Use Google to search for your title company + zip code. Some companies have a fee calculator on their site you can use. For the others, call and ask. You don’t need a written quote. The title agent can provide the quote over the phone in just a few minutes.
Personally, I prefer to use the same company for both title and escrow settlement. This is because (1) many offer a 10 percent discount for doing so, (2) you avoid the sub-escrow fee, (3) avoid expensive little independent escrow companies–which in California can be double what the national title-and-escrow companies charge, and (4) possibly save time at closing.
If you are in a state where an attorney is used for settlement closing, then the above doesn’t apply to you. But do take the trouble to find a good and reasonably priced attorney.
When Good Folks Ask Me About their Closing Costs
I appreciate where people are coming from when they email me a list of their closing costs and ask, “Am I getting ripped off?” However, I cannot answer this question without seeing the actual Closing Disclosure. I don’t know the price of the home, their state and zip code (which affects the title cost), or what fees they might not have noticed hiding in a different section, or if the seller or lender are providing a credit. When I do a review, I spend time ahead of our consultation comparing local title fees for their exact situation, and this takes time out of my day. This is why I charge for my service. It’s not that I’m trying to be greedy, but a review-and-consult takes a good hour. If I do that for four people, that’s four hours of my day, so you get the idea.
I encourage you to do your research ahead of shopping for a house. That way, you will be empowered with knowledge and make a good choice for a title company right from the start.
Some Realtors say not to “rock the boat” and let the Seller choose the title company. In a super-competitive market where multiple offers are coming in, there’s some wisdom in that. If you’re bidding $25,000 over asking price, why worry about paying an extra $500 or even $1,000 for title? Your objective is to beat out five other buyers and get the house.
Thank you for reading. Remember, I am state licensed in California and Washington. (NMLS 1284134) I am a mortgage broker, so I am legally bound to find you the lowest interest rate, best pricing, and best loan program I have from my list of 50+ wholesale lenders. ApplyHere
When you get a mortgage, there are closing costs that must be paid. With a refinance, you can roll those costs into the loan; but with a home purchase, the closing costs must be paid at closing and cannot be rolled into the loan. However, the seller can pay the buyer’s closing costs if that is designated in the purchase contract. (The lender can also give you a credit toward closing costs if you choose to take a higher interest rate.)
The Three Types of Closing Costs
Lender Fees. This is what the lender charges for its profit and to pay for required third-party vendors that are chosen by the lender.
- Origination fee, underwriting fee, administration fee, processing fee, document fee
- Credit report, flood cert., tax service
- Appraisal, appraisal review, appraisal management fee
Third Party Fees. These are fees for vendors that you can shop for and choose.
- Title insurance
- Settlement closing agent (escrow agent or attorney)
- Recording fee
Prepaid Costs. These are not fees, but rather costs that are part of buying a home. These will be the same no matter which lender you choose, because they are not related to nor controlled by the lender.
- Property taxes
- Other taxes depending on your location, such as transfer tax, state stamp tax, county tax
Home owner’s insurance, which is your fire/hazard insurance
- Partial mortgage payment if you close in the middle of the month, called prepaid interest
Closing costs vary widely depending on the price of the property and the location. The East and West Coasts are more expensive, and middle America is cheaper for closing costs (as well as property prices).
Your initial cost estimate (this is what used to be called a Good Faith Estimate) will list the expected closing costs as well as the loan term, loan amount, interest rate, and monthly payment.
There are some exceptions to the information above. Most notably is that the FHA Upfront Mortgage Insurance Fee of 1.75% is rolled into the loan unless you ask for an exception.
Any questions about closing costs, please feel free to ask me. Thank you for reading my blog.
In addition to your down payment, there are closing costs that go into a mortgage. The down payment lowers your loan and goes toward the price of the house. The closing costs are fees paid for services rendered. Here are the seven most common and what they are for:
1) Origination Fee: The lender’s fee for processing, underwriting, and funding your loan.
2) Credit Report: Goes to the credit reporting agency that provides your tri-merge credit report to the lender. You have the right to know your credit score.
3) Tax Service Fee: Lenders use a third party service to ensure the property taxes are properly paid and posted. (You don’t want your property taxes going to the neighbor’s address.)
4) Flood Certification: Federal banking law requires lenders to determine whether or not the property is in a flood zone and needs flood insurance.
5) Escrow or Attorney: Federal law requires a neutral middle party to handle the disbursement of funds. They also sign and notarize your final loan documents, send the Deed of Trust to the county for recording, and perform other required tasks for your loan closing.
6) Title Fee: Insurance to protect your title against false liens and judgments, fraud, errors, and other incorrect encumbrances on your title.
7) Recording Fee: The local county charges to record your Deed of Trust.
None of the above fees are unnecessary, bogus, or junk fees. They are all costs for legitimate and required services.
Added, unnecessary fees would be things like Application Fee, Archive Fee, Doc Prep, Doc Fulfillment, Email or E-doc Fee, Wire Fee, and so on.
Discount Points are not a junk fee. This is when you choose to buy down your interest rate to a lower rate by paying a chunk of the interest up front. This is optional.
A no-fee loan means you are paying for the fees by taking a higher interest rate. One way or the other, you do pay required and necessary closing costs.
The seller may pay some or all of your closing costs. The real estate agent may not pay your closing costs, per federal banking law.
In addition to closing costs, there are “pre-paids.” These are not fees; but rather, your taxes and insurance as well as daily interest. (More about pre-paids in an upcoming blog post.)
There is a lot more information about fair and unfair mortgage costs than what I can put into a blog post. Feel free to check out my best-selling book that was chosen by The Washington Post as their Book of the Month (“Color of Money” book club). Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers