WASHINGTON – The Department of Housing and Urban Development reached settlement agreements involving alleged violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) that included sham title companies, free for-sale home virtual tours, and online mortgage-related kickbacks. The cases involved a wide variety of business practices that violate RESPA’s anti-kickback and unearned fees provisions. Section 8 of RESPA prohibits a person from giving or accepting anything of value in exchange for the referral of settlement service business and prohibits a person from giving or accepting any part of a charge for services that are not performed. Business practices that are intended to skirt the anti-kickback provisions of RESPA will not be tolerated, said HUD Assistant Secretary for Housing – Federal Housing Commissioner John Weicher in announcing the settlement agreements. HUD determined that TitleVentures.com, a title insurance agency in Kingsport, Tenn., established bogus title insurance companies for the purchase of paying kickbacks to real estate and mortgage brokers in five states for the referral of title business. The states, according to HUD, were North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Ohio. Real estate agents for Coldwell Banker United and Coldwell Banker Richard Smith Realtors accepted free Internet-based virtual home tours from title companies in the Austin, Texas area in exchange for the referral of business.

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