Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New York Licensing Timeframe

I just received the news that a client’s application for a New York mortgage broker license was just approved (if he submits his surety bond). I originally submitted his application over a year ago. Although there were delays by him in responding to requests for additional information that increased the timeline for an approval, I have other clients whose applications are also pending for over 10 months.
I am trying to make 2 points: it doesn’t help you to dawdle about submitting the information that a licensing reviewer has requested and New York takes many months to approve an application.

If your goal is to get a new license because you need the new business, you must make the time to respond to a reviewer’s questions about anything you have submitted or to get new documentation that has been asked for. If you show the reviewer that you do not care about the application (and to a reviewer, there is no other explanation for why you are not jumping when they contact you), they will put your file aside and get to it when they aren’t busy (which is almost never).

Yes, I know that it is very frustrating to hear that a license application will take many months to get approved. Some unscrupulous companies, in order to get your business, may tell you they can get it for you in a matter of weeks or that they know someone who will fast-track your application. When asked questions about approval timelines, I try to be as honest as I can within the framework of my experience. Even though I know many of the reviewers in the state banking departments, I can’t get a “rush” on every application that I send in. I use my relationship with the reviewers to help move applications through the process but I don’t beg a favor with every application. After awhile, the reviewers will stop responding. If you are checking around to find someone to handle your license applications, ask each of them about approval timeframes. If someone tells you something radically different from the others, find out why. It may be an unusual situation, or more likely, someone is telling you what they think you want to hear. Be realistic about the time it takes to get a license and start now.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lowering Your Chances of Getting Sued

From time to time, clients ask me if they can get sued for this or that. My response is always “yes.” In America, we have a very open system that allows anyone to start a lawsuit. The lawsuit may have no merit and may be quickly dismissed, but in the meantime, you will be spending time and money to get the dismissal.

Are there ways to minimize the likelihood that you will be sued? Yes, there are.
You can be sued by your employees, you can be sued by your customers, and you can be sued by your investors who purchased the loans you underwrote that are now in foreclosure.

You should start by getting all agreements in writing. Nothing will protect you if the arrangement is verbal. Your word against someone else’s word means the lawsuit will be drawn out and expensive. Have your lawyer review the proposed contract before it is signed. The money you spend now to have that review will seem cheap if you are sued and have to pay litigation costs. But also recognize that even having an agreement in writing cannot stop a lawsuit from being started.

Supervise your managers closely. You should have a good idea of what is happening to your employees in terms of how they treat other employees (sexual harassment or discrimination suits) and how they treat your customers. Make sure that employees that are not following your company’s procedures are made aware that they are not following your company’s procedures. Document in writing all employee issues and how you resolve those issues. Consult with an employment law attorney so that you know how to handle these problems in accordance with all relevant laws.

Do not ignore customer complaints or let your managers do so. Customer complaints will result in lawsuits and complaints with the banking department. It may be cheaper to settle a complaint monetarily than to ignore the complaint. Customers hate being ignored or having their concerns ridiculed. If they feel as if they were not heard or were disrespected, then they get angry, and it starts a cycle of animosity that results in the lawsuit (and a difficult case to settle since they want "justice"). And the breakdown in communication may not even be intentional. It can as simple as one side being out of town (unbeknownst to the other side) and not returning a phone call. If you express your willingness to satisfy your customer, this may prevent a costly lawsuit or complaint. If you solve the problem even better than the customer expected, you can turn that angry customer into one who will rave about your customer service and send all of her family and friends to you with their business. Sometimes (actually, many times), it’s not the principle that counts. Many times, you will spend so much time and money on defending the principle that you will damage your company so severely that it may never recover.

Talk to your insurance company about managing risk before you have an inkling about a lawsuit (and you should have liability, professional practices, and errors and omissions insurance). They may suggest various procedures to put in place and strategies to use that help you lower your risk of being sued. Having those procedures in place may also lower your insurance premiums.

The subprime mess and current wave of foreclosures is also leading to lawsuits by borrowers claiming that they were misled about mortgage terms. Cities are suing lenders claiming that their lending policies have led to the cities’ losing tax revenue due to homeowners in foreclosed houses not paying their real estate taxes and trying to recoup their costs of maintaining vacant houses. In turn, the lenders are suing the mortgage brokers alleging that the mortgage brokers supplied fraudulent asset and income information about their borrowers. Homeowners are suing lenders, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, appraisers, and everyone else involved in a mortgage transaction. Some of these lawsuits are the typical “sue everyone in sight” nature of our current litigation practice and difficult to prevent. However, you must know that your loan officers are not engaging in any actions that leave you vulnerable to losing such a lawsuit. Although the focus of a loan officer may be his commission, you must ensure that you have procedures in place to ensure that neither your customers nor your loan officers are engaging in mortgage fraud.

We live in a litigious society and lawsuits are part of the cost of doing business. But there are many steps you can take to make lawsuits a smaller cost than it is now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New Requirements in Maryland

Maryland has new laws taking effect on June 1, 2008 that affect licensed lenders (which also includes mortgage brokers). The new requirements concern surety bonds and minimum net worths for licensees.

Maryland has always had a system of requiring surety bonds based on the volume of business in the previous 12 months. Effective June 1, 2008, if your company has done no business anywhere in the prior 12 months (you are a start-up) or up to $3,000,000 in closed mortgage loans, you will need a $50,000 bond. If you closed more than $3,000,000 but less than $10,000,000 in mortgage loans, you need a $100,000 bond. If your closed volume is more than $10,000,000 in the previous 12 months, you need a $150,000 bond. If your company has multiple offices, the largest surety bond you will need for all of the offices combined is $750,000.

Additionally, mortgage lender licensees will need a net worth of $25,000 if your company had no activity or up to $1,000,000 in loans closed in the previous 12 months. If you closed more than $1,000,000 and less than $5,000,000, you need at least $50,000 in net worth. If your dollar volume of loans closed was more than $5,000,000 you need a net worth of at least $100,000. Starting January 1, 2009, if you closed more than $10,000,000 in mortgage loans in the previous 12 months, you will be required to maintain a minimum net worth of $250,000.

Proof of compliance with the new net worth and surety bond obligations will be required when you renew your license or if you are being examined.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Inactive status

Maybe I never noticed during the busy years of the real estate bubble, but I am aware now that some states let you put your license in an “inactive” status. What does this mean and why would you want to do this?

Inactive status means that you have notified the state banking department that you are not actively conducting business in their state but you do not wish to relinquish your license. For those states that have an inactive status for licensees, notification may mean sending a letter or completing and submitting a specific form. Arizona, Florida, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington are some of the states that have a formal inactive status.

However, other states do not have such a category and if you do not wish to maintain the license and all of its requirements, you must surrender the license.

For states that allow you to go inactive, it is an excellent way to temporarily suspend your expenses in that state and wait until the market comes back. It permits you to postpone making a decision about your current business plan until the subprime mess shakes itself out and you can jump back into the newest trends. You will not need to go through the time and expense of getting a license when you wish to go back into that state. You only have to re-file for active license status.

What if your state does not have a category called inactive licensee? Then you must make a cost-benefit analysis of keeping your license. Is the reason that you obtained the license still valid but market conditions are not permitting you to earn enough in fees to justify the expense of surety bonds, accountants’ fees, renewal fees, and registered agent fees? Then, bolster your marketing dollars so that the license does become profitable. If you feel that you misjudged the market in a particular state, then surrender the license and cut your losses. Not every business proposition is a winner. Know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Washington State Consumer Loan Company License

Washington State has a new law requiring lenders to be licensed under the Consumer Loan Company Law. The law becomes effective on June 12, 2008. The license permits, lending, funding, brokering, or loan origination services to Washington consumers or others with Washington real property. The applicant needs to provide a financial statement, a surety bond of $100,000.00 per office location (up to a total of $500,000.00) and principals of the company must submit to criminal and credit background checks.

As of May 1, 2008, all lenders must apply for the license through the Nationwide Mortgage License System. Washington State will not be accepting paper applications anymore.