WASHINGTON – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, the Bush administration’s top housing official, has declared war on the confusing and sometimes abusive settlement processes faced by mortgage borrowers. Martinez called for a streamlining of the mortgage finance system by requiring “full disclosure of settlement costs, as early as possible in the home-buying process.” The reforms, he said, would allow consumers to shop intelligently and compare alternative loans by “knowing up front what their final costs will be, who they are paying, and for what services.” Martinez also issued new federal policy guidelines on two pending home real estate controversies: the legal status of loan broker fees, and a demand that lenders, title companies and other stop uncharging borrowers – tacking extra fees on to routine services – on settlement fees. Martinez emphatically stated that “it is illegal” for a lender to mark up appraisals, title and recording fees, credit reports, courier fees or other charges unless additional services are rendered to the consumer to justify the extra cost. His proposed new mandatory disclosures would require brokers and loan officers to include detailed information on all fees and services involved in a loan transaction at or shortly after the point of application. Martinez also announced a stepped up enforcement by HUD against realty agents, loan brokers and title companies involved with illegal kickback schemes for referrals of business.

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