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  • 05/09/2024 9:30 AM | Rebecca Charette (Administrator)


    [Miami, FL] — [May 6th, 2024] — Skyline Lien Search, a cornerstone in the property search industry for over two decades, is proud to announce its evolution to Skyline Property Insight. This rebranding, effective May 6th, 2024, symbolizes the company's longstanding commitment to providing a wide array of property-related services. The launch will be commemorated with a new website and visual identity that better reflects the company's holistic approach to property insights.

    Denys Ferreiro, CEO of Skyline Property Insight, emphasized, "As Skyline Property Insight, we will continue to serve our clients with the same dedication and expertise that have been our hallmark. Our service portfolio encompasses Municipal Lien Searches, Tax Certificates, Zoning Letters, HOA Estoppels, Boundary Surveys, Mortgage Payoff Letters, UCC/Name Searches, Title Searches, and Deed Preparations. These services, most of which have been a part of our core offerings for years, represent our all-encompassing approach to meeting our clients' diverse needs."

    What's New for Clients and Partners:

    • Introducing a refreshed brand and an enhanced online presence through skylinepropinsight.com aims to improve the client experience while maintaining the quality and range of services our clients rely on.
    • The rebranding ensures a smooth continuation of services. Clients are encouraged to keep using their existing login credentials, affirming a seamless transition to the new brand identity.
    • Skyline Property Insight reaffirms its commitment to maintaining open and effective communication channels, ensuring that both new and longstanding clients receive the exceptional service they have come to expect.

    About Skyline Property Insight: With over 20 years of experience, Skyline Property Insight, formerly Skyline Lien Search, stands as a leader in the property search industry, distinguished by its comprehensive service offering and a client-centric approach. The rebranding to Skyline Property Insight reflects the company's adaptability and commitment to providing detailed property insights that support informed decision-making.

    For additional information on the rebranding or to request an interview with CEO/ Denys Ferreiro, please contact:

    Contact: Jason Danzi, Chief Marketing Officer, 1-888-553-4627 ext:1232, marketing@skylinepropinsight.com, https://www.skylinepropinsight.com


  • 04/16/2024 12:00 PM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)

    The Florida Land Title Association (FLTA) along with the Real Property Probate and Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar are the primary industry advocates for the title insurance and settlement agent industry. The mission of FLTA is to support the land title profession "for the protection of property rights and the integrity and security of real estate transactions." FLTA promotes the interests of approximately 30,000 title professionals and attorneys conducting residential real estate closings in Florida. Most of the title companies and law firms fall under the definition of small businesses under the rules of the Small Business Administration.

    FLTA has supported FinCEN over the past several years in its efforts to combat illegal money laundering through residential real property transactions. Our comments reflect our commitment to continue that and work with FinCEN to develop a rule that can be implemented with an acceptable level of cost, time and effort by the parties affected. Additionally, our comments are based on the collective knowledge, expertise, and experience with our members' compliance with existing Geographic Targeting Orders. The importance of Florida in residential real estate sales is reflected by the scope of the GTOs currently affecting eleven of the most populous counties in Florida and therefore the impact of the proposed rule on the real estate economy in Florida will be significant.

    As requested in the Proposed Rule, we refer to the numbered Questions, beginning on Page 12442, Federal Register/Vol. 89. No.33/Friday, February 16, 2024/Proposed Rules. For ease of reference, they will be designated as Q_).

    For ease of reference, the terms Closing Agent, Settlement Agent and Title Agent or Title Agencies, are used interchangeably.

    FLTA would like to submit for consideration the following comments which are grouped into related categories. What follows is a summary of concerns we see affecting the title industry.

    I. THE CASCADE (Q 3-7, 32)

    The Proposed Rule establishes a hierarchy for responsibility for reporting a covered transaction. Although the rule provides for 7 potential Reporting Persons, FLTA asserts that 99 percent of the time responsibility for compliance will fall upon Closing/Settlement/Title Agents. None of the other parties in the Cascade will accept the responsibility if there is a Settlement Agent as defined in the proposed rule. In Florida, the Settlement Agent is the same as the Title Agent in the vast majority of transactions. Thus, our letter focuses more specifically on how the Proposed Rule will impact Title Agents. 

    II. TITLE AGENTS LACK READY ACCESS TO BUILDING AND ZONING INFORMATION (Q 40, 41, 42)

    A. In Florida, Settlement Agents do not routinely obtain zoning information or review building permit applications. Zoning is not a matter insured against under a title policy in Florida; therefore title agents are not familiar with obtaining or interpreting zoning information. Under the proposed rule, however, in addition to the search of the county official records required to issue a title insurance policy, the closing agent will be required to verify the permitting and zoning information at the applicable local municipality. This will increase the labor costs to the closing agent and require possible third party vendor costs, which will be passed on to consumers (further discussion regarding costs to follow) as well as having the potential to delay closing transactions if this additional information is not available or is misinterpreted. At worst, it potentially subjects the closing agent to large financial penalties and fines, due to not being able to obtain such information or unintentionally submitting incorrect information.

    FLTA’s Recommendation

    The FLTA recommends allowing the closing agent to rely upon the information in the contract for purchase and sale, rather than requiring investigation of building permits and zoning records. Furthermore, the closing agent should not be held responsible for the accuracy of this information nor in making the determination of whether a vacant parcel is “zoned” or is a parcel “for which a permit has been issued” for a single family residence to be constructed.

    III. TITLE AGENTS DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO THE FINANCIAL INFORMATION REQUIRED AND THE INQUIRY WILL CREATE PROBLEMS FOR PARTIES IN THE TRANSACTION (Q 9,12,13,16, 20, 29, 36, 41, 42, 44)

    A. The proposed rule requires the following information about payments received from the transferee entity, transferee trust and others, including the amount of the payment, the method of payment, the name of the institution and the account number from which the payment was made, and the name of the payor if not the transferee entity or transferee trust.

    The information received by the settlement/closing agent for a typical transaction from their bank for incoming wire transfers does not include most of this information. Specifically, requiring the account number from which the funds were transferred to the closing agent’s escrow account is of significant concern. To obtain this information, the closing agent would need to request this information from each party sending money on behalf of a covered transferee entity or trust. Several problems could arise as a result of this request. If a sending party refuses to provide the information, the sending bank may also not be willing to provide it due to privacy concerns. Since wired funds are received very shortly prior to settlement, delays in closings would likely result. This will also create significant hurdles to the handling of “double or same day closings” in which funds may be received from another title agency or attorney, who will refuse (under industry best practices) to disclose their trust account number. This is addressed again in other comments below.

    B. The requesting of additional information will cause friction between closing agents and their customers. With identity theft and land fraud at all-time high levels in Florida, people are increasingly reluctant to provide non-public information.

    C. Another significant concern is whether the closing agent is responsible for verifying the information received and maintaining compliance with privacy statutes. Accordingly, a closing agent will be at risk for reporting incorrect information as well as increased risk of cyber fraud.

    D. Under the current FinCEN Geographic Targeting Orders, the Transferee in a residential real estate transaction is not required to provide the same detailed information. FLTA requests clarity on the nexus between the additional information required by the proposed rule and the ability of law enforcement to effectively investigate suspicious activity. 

    E. The Rule, as proposed, would include all parties who pay a part of the purchase price, regardless of the amount. Small dollar amounts should not be reportable.

    F. There are many transactions where the transferee’s funds are coming from the law firm or title company that handled the transferee’s sale of previously owned property. Under ALTA Best Practices, the law firm and title company will likely refuse to provide detailed account information required by the proposed rule. 

    FLTA’s Recommendations

    FinCEN may consider limiting the information required to be reported for the wires to name and address of the party supplying the funds. We also suggest a threshold dollar amount for a nontransferee (e.g., family member) who is contributing funds to a purchase but not holding title. The rule should provide that a reportable transaction should not be delayed due to the failure to obtain all required information provided there is substantial compliance with the rule.

    IV. SIGNIFICANT FINANICAL BURDEN UPON SMALL BUSINESSES (Q 1, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 47)

    The Proposed Rule imposes an additional financial burden on the reporting persons. As mentioned, the majority of Florida title agencies fall within the definition of small business and compliance with the proposed rule will be burdensome financially considering the additional costs in (a) training personnel to properly complete and submit the reporting forms and (b) the additional legwork necessary to obtain the additional information to be reported and (c) the actual cost of obtaining the necessary data to either determine if a party fits within the definition of transferor or transferee and/or whether the real property qualifies as reportable residential real estate as defined by the proposed rule. Additionally, obtaining and storing the additional information required will put the title agency at increased risk for cyber fraud which in turn increases expenses to the title agent. More specific information may be found below.

    FinCEN provided estimates of labor costs associated with implementation of the proposed rule. We suggest that FinCEN’s estimates do not capture the full financial impact on title agents and offer the following comments.

    (a) Investigating zoning (beyond what may be posted on a local government website) requires either a visit to the applicable office to research their records, or the ordering of a zoning letter. Will the closing agent will have to advance the cost (est. $50 - $100)?

    b) Investigating permits will almost certainly require a visit to the local government office, since permit history is generally not readily available (est. labor 1-1.5 hours);

    c) Time required to research (and verify, if deemed necessary) the information requested regarding Buyers/ Seller and those who may assist Buyers with funding; Members of the Limited Liability Company; shareholders of the corporation; Trustees, beneficiaries of the Trust.(est. labor 1-2 hours);

    d) Additional costs for software upgrades to track the ordering, processing, and receipt of the information, then maintain in secure data base (unknown—depends on vendors);

    e) Writing checks to obtain some of this information will add additional time in bank reconciliations; bank fees for check clearing, management of outstanding checks; stop payment fees when checks lost, reissue checks (est. .5-1.0 hours);  

    f) Training and supervision costs to educate staff on the procedures, checking the data for each closing, reading zoning reports, permit reports, form completion, in depth review (average per file of 1.0 hour);

    g) Review Operating Agreement for information about Members, which may require the engagement of an attorney to render a legal opinion (est. $350.00);

    h) Alternatively, review shareholders agreements or corporate bylaws, which may require the engagement of an attorney to render a legal opinion (est. $350.00);

    i) Review of Trust which will certainly require engagement of an attorney to make the determination as to who is a Beneficial Owner under the proposed rule (est. $350.00); and

    j) Preparation of Forms as required by the Rule (Beneficial Ownership Affidavit, Real Estate Report), submission, verification of receipt, follow up with inquiries from FinCEN (est. 1 hour). 

    Based on a reasonable volume of business, title agents would likely need to retain a full time person on staff to handle these additional tasks for the company. Title agents would need a fully trained and knowledgeable employee on all aspects of FinCEN. Compliance will be expensive, especially in light of the magnitude of the amount of the fines and penalties. 

    FLTA’s Recommendation

    FinCEN should include a provision in the Rule authorizing the Reporting Party (including the Title Agent) to charge a reasonable fee for compliance, notwithstanding any state or federal law to the contrary.  

     V. CATEGORIES OF DOCUMENTS AND/OR TRANSACTIONS THAT SHOULD BE EXEMPT FROM REPORTING  

    The purpose of the proposed rule is to collect data to aid in identifying transactions involving money laundering. In Florida, there are several situations in which conveyance documents would be reportable but that are not vulnerable to money laundering because no consideration is being transferred or involved in the transaction. 

    A. Corrective Conveyance Instruments (Q 29)

    A significant portion of our business as title insurers and title/closing agents is performing corrective title work for either upcoming transactions or where there is corrective work needed to correct a matter after the transaction has closed and title has been insured. To report on this type of transaction is unduly burdensome and in some cases may be impossible.

    B. Estate planning/Family Gifts (Q 16, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38)

    Similarly, Florida has a large population of retirees and senior citizens. Therefore, estate planning is naturally a large part of the real estate industry and law practice. We believe that as the proposed rule currently reads, some transactions involving gifts between family members would fall into reportable transactions. This is not information that FINCEN is seeking to track and therefore gifts between family members should be exempt.

    Estate Planning, by its very nature, involves confidentiality, personal information, and financial data. Most importantly, the planning is always prepared by an attorney, who is bound by Attorney Client privilege. The disclosures sought by FinCEN will affect each of these areas.  

    FLTA’s Recommendations

    i. Create an exemption for corrective documents.

    ii. Create an exemption for transfers resulting from a sale to a revocable trust in which the Trustee confirms by Affidavit that Trustee or the Settlor is the same person as the Primary Beneficiary.

    iii. Create an exemption for a gratuitous transfer from an individual into a revocable trust in which the trustee confirms by affidavit that grantor is the same as the primary beneficiary.  

    VI. TITLE AGENTS MAY INCUR LIABILITY FOR MISINTERPRETATION OF COMPLEX CORPORATE AND OTHER DOCUMENTS (Q 22, 25, 29, 34) 

    The type of information needed for reporting under the Proposed Rule potentially increases exposure to the Title Agent/Agency for the inability to obtain and properly interpret and analyze the detailed reporting information. As previously mentioned, large fines for non-compliance are potentially devastating to a small business. Inherent in the issue is that, in general, title agents are not trained in the organizational structure of LLCs, Corporations, Partnerships, etc. The first challenge is for the purchasing entity to be identified as a reportable transferee entity. For example, an unregistered pooled investment vehicle (“PIV”) is an entity within the categories of transferees under the proposed rule. A title agent closing a real estate transaction is not in a position to identify whether or not an entity purchasing real estate qualifies as a PIV. The second challenge is that if the entity is identified as a PIV, is to obtain the specific information required to be included in the reporting information. The same applies to identifying and reporting on Large Operated Businesses.  

    A further example is where the title agent, in order to comply with the proposed rule when a purchaser of residential real estate is a Transferee Trust, will now have to request complete copies of a settlor’s trust where neither Florida law, nor customary practice currently mandates this. Many times the settlor does not want to provide this information due to understandable family privacy concerns. Again, this causes increased friction and time delays as well as additional labor to request and analyze the information.

    With specific regard to LLCs in Florida, closing agents are now going to have to request operating agreements for every LLC along with other internal corporate documents. This will be an impossible task because Florida law does not require LLC’s to create or maintain written operating agreements and therefore, many Florida domiciled LLCs will not have written operating agreements.

    The additional NPI Retention (5 years) is contrary to current practices. There will be additional storage costs, plus Agents will want to delete NPI from their files, if possible (given the cyber security breaches which could occur). 

    FLTA’s Recommendation

    The foregoing were just a few examples and challenges the Florida title industry will face. In light of the difficulty or impossibility of obtaining information and challenges with confirming the veracity of the information provided, FINCEN should consider allowing for a representative of a transferee entity to certify under penalties of perjury (a) whether the entity is a transferee entity under the rule and (b) that the information provided is true and correct and identifies all required parties/entities as required by the proposed rule.

    VII. IMPACT ON CONSUMERS (Q 1, 8, 10, 22, 25, 26, 27, 37, 38, 41, 42, 47)

    The Rule will have significant impact upon the buyers and sellers (consumers).

    A. FINANCIAL

    1. Elimination of closings scheduled on short notice due to the time delay in receipt of zoning and building permit information from municipalities (average 5 to 10 days to receive).

    2. Additional cost to obtain zoning certificates and building permit information.

    3. Costly delays in closing due to obstacles in obtaining information.

    4. The proposed rule will eliminate the ability to accommodate sequential same day closings because the attorney or title agent handling the first closing will refuse to wire the seller proceeds directly to the attorney or title agent handling the second closing due to the requirement to disclose detailed trust account information.

    B. PRIVACY WILL BE BREACHED

    1. Confidentiality of Trust Agreements (discussed above).

    2. Confidentiality of Operating Agreements or Shareholder Agreements (for the vast majority of entities who create their entities for a legitimate purpose).

    3. This adds to the information that must be obtained and stored by the title agent which is at risk of exposure of a cybersecurity breach. 

    C. CONVENIENCE

    Some title agents often record, as a courtesy, deeds and other documents for customers. Under the proposed rule, title agents will no longer be able to do this as a courtesy due to the cost and risk with complying with the rule.

    VIII. FLTA REQUESTS CLARIFICATION ON THE FOLLOWING POINTS. FLTA has a very strong and active agent and agency membership. Representatives of that group have reviewed the proposed rule and have numerous areas of concerns about the coverage of the rule and how to handle situations that often arise in connection with their transactions. Clarification is key to facilitating the success of the rule.

    A. The third person in the Reporting Person cascade is the person who “files with the recording office” the deed or other instrument transferring owner. Is this the Clerk or other officer who places the deed in the public records or is it the person who presents the deed for recording to the clerk or other officer?

    B. How are 1031 exchange transactions handled since the funds are coming from third party exchange entity?

    C. A cash buyer who is an individual (not reportable) and funds are received via wire from an LLC account that we are told is owned or controlled by the individual cash buyer. Does this make the transaction “reportable”?

    D. Earnest Money Deposits. Please clarify whether Settlement Agents must include funds received from real estate brokers that represent the buyer’s earnest money deposit? Similarly, are we required to provide the required information on funds sent that represent the cash due at closing?

    E. Often the contract for sale and purchase is assigned by the original buyer to a new buyer (often for consideration). Is only the transaction to the assignee buyer taking ownership reported?

    F. Who is the party responsible to pay for the cost to obtain permit and zoning documentation from the applicable local government? The settlement agent should not be responsible for advancing the funds, if any are required to obtain this documentation.

    G. What about gifted land-money hasn’t changed hands but there is a value to the land?

    H. How do we know if a company is registered with FinCEN? How do we confirm?

    I. Are there any consequences if a Reporting Person reports a transfer that is not covered by the rule?

    CONCLUSION (Q1, 47)

    We commend the effort to investigate and eliminate money laundering. The FLTA seeks dialogue with FinCEN to create reasonable methods for the Department to accomplish these goals, while minimizing the burden and costs upon the Closing/Settlement/Title Agent and consumers. Based upon the complexity of the information required under the proposed rule, the FLTA recommends a minimum of a one-year period before the proposed rule becomes effective. This would allow for personnel training on completion of the forms and time to develop internal processes and procedures. We also request confirmation from FinCEN that a title agent’s good faith attempt to comply with the rule is sufficient to eliminate the potential for fines and penalties. Perhaps a sufficient compliance standard would be something FinCEN would consider. The FLTA very much looks forward to working with FinCEN as the rule making process moves forward.  

  • 04/10/2024 11:43 AM | Rebecca Charette (Administrator)

    State-of-the-art enhancements are part of a multi-year program that has further deepened industry-leading geographic title plant coverage.

    Agoura Hills, Calif., April 9, 2024 DataTrace®, the nation’s largest provider of data and automation solutions to the title and settlement services industry, today announced it has expanded the historic depth of title plants in eight Florida counties, each title plant leveraging the company’s proprietary artificial intelligence and automation technology. DataTrace’s expanded Florida coverage now dates back 30 years in Charlotte, DeSoto, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Martin, Okeechobee, and Sumter counties.

    Customers can search the geographically indexed Florida title plants using multiple property parameters, including legal descriptions, subdivision names and assessor parcel numbers, further streamlining and accelerating the title search and examination process.

    "Our ongoing investment in title plant data and automation technology reflects our commitment to help our customers grow and increase efficiency, while providing the most complete, in-depth data in the nation,” said Robert Karraa, president of DataTrace. “DataTrace customers can now access and rapidly search our unmatched historical title data in Florida and the rest of the nation.”

    DataTrace maintains the largest geographic title plant footprint in Florida, operating digital title plants in all 67 counties in the state, making it easier and more efficient for title companies to automate title searches and examinations across all state counties.

    Already the industry leader in fully geographically indexed title plants across the U.S., DataTrace has added more than 1,100 title plants to its coverage since 2022. The company now operates over 1,800 title plants, containing data covering more than 80% of the properties in the country. DataTrace provides title chains, recorded document images, legal and vesting data, tax reporting, and property and ownership data to thousands of title companies nationwide. More details on DataTrace’s title plant coverage can be found at https://www.datatracetitle.com/national-title-plant-county-coverage.

    About DataTrace

    DataTrace Information Services, LLC provides advanced real estate title search technology, automation and production services that enable settlement services companies to quickly access and search regional title databases through a secure application. The DataTrace system delivers title history information, property tax assessment and payment data, document images and property profiles in 47 states across the United States. With its significant geographical coverage, DataTrace’s title plant and tax database is the broadest and most comprehensive title information system available and is used by the largest national title insurance underwriters. For additional information, visit www.DataTraceTitle.com.

  • 03/25/2024 12:00 PM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)

    Effective March 2024 - Per Highlands County Board of County Commissioners Ordinance No. 22-23-23, any instrument recorded in the Official Records of Highlands County, Florida, which grants, conveys, or transfers fee simple ownership in and to real property shall be accompanied by an affidavit or affidavits verifying the roadway status related to the real property.  An affidavit shall be recorded for each grantee listed in the transferring instrument and such affidavit shall be recorded with, and immediately after in sequence, the transferring instrument.  The affidavit or affidavits shall only be accepted in the form approved by the County Attorney.  Recording fees shall be applicable to any affidavit recorded with the transferring instrument and shall be paid at the time of recording. For the affidavit forms or more information, visit this link on the Highland County Clerk of Courts website (Roadway Status Affidavit at Property Transfer (highlandsclerkfl.gov)).


  • 03/08/2024 9:54 AM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)

    ALTA Issues Statement in Response to White House State of the Union Address

    ALTA Says White House Attack on Title Insurance Offers False Promise of Savings

    Ahead of the State of the Union Address, the Biden Administration released a plan aimed at lowering housing costs, which includes a pilot to waive the requirement for lender’s title insurance on certain refinances.

    ALTA called the announcement a purely political gesture offering a false promise of savings for homeowners while exposing consumers, lenders and taxpayers to greater financial risk.

    "The approval of this waiver is a hollow attempt by the White House to placate Americans’ current economic frustrations,” ALTA's statement said. “By announcing this only hours before the State of The Union address, without outreach to, or engagement with, the title insurance industry, the Administration has reduced the crucial role of the industry to nothing more than a politicized talking point.”

    Since the waiver program was first reported, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has faced strong bipartisan opposition. Several members of Congress asked FHFA Director Sandra Thompson about such a pilot during a May 23, 2023, House Financial Services Committee hearing and expressed concern that Fannie Mae would be expanding outside their charter by operating in a primary market business with this pilot program.

    In addition, there is bipartisan support of the Protecting America’s Property Rights Act, which has been introduced in both the Senate and House. The bill would amend the Charter Acts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to require that all loans purchased by the GSEs are protected by a title insurance policy issued by a state licensed and regulated title insurance company. Lead sponsors of H.R. 5837 include U.S. Reps. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) and Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), and cosponsors include Young Kim (R-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Wiley Nickel (D-NC), as well as Del. James Moylan (R-Guam). In the Senate, S. 2687 is sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) and cosponsored by Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL)  

    According to the Biden Administration, the waiver pilot would “save thousands of homeowners up to $1,500, and an average of $750. According to analysis from First American, a borrower’s largest life-of-loan costs are property taxes and recording fees, followed by fees paid to the mortgage-backed security (MBS) investor and lender, homeowner’s insurance and fees charged by the government sponsored entities. The fees paid to the GSEs’ are almost six times the cost of title insurance, which is often less than 0.5% of the purchase price of a home.

    “In August, Fannie Mae and FHFA confirmed to ALTA that the title waiver pilot program was abandoned – a decision that was clearly overridden elsewhere in the Administration. The Administration should not be playing politics with the American Dream,” ALTA said.

    This action is why we need your participation at the upcoming ALTA Advocacy Summit, which will be held May 6-8 in Washington, D.C. Click here for more information.

    The Florida Land Title Association will continue to monitor and work with the American Land Title Association on this. 

    FLTA's mission is to support the land title profession for the

    protection of property rights and the integrity and

    security of real estate transactions.

    Advocate. Connect. Educate. 


  • 10/02/2023 8:00 AM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)

    Man, it has been such a long and hot summer.  Don’t get me wrong, as a Florida cracker, the heat is just a fact of life for us Floridians.  It is the cost of living in such a beautiful state.  But this year was something different.  I remember one day this summer there was a reported heat index of 117 degrees.  Golf today?  No thanks.   My wife and I went drift fishing for trout in the St. Marks flats one morning and not only was it brutally hot, but it was so dead calm that the boat simply stopped moving.

    This week, however, is different.  Mid-eighties all week and not a lot of humidity.  There is a coolness to the air we haven’t seen in a while, and it is so welcome.  Coupled with the sighting of pumpkin spiced lattes at Starbucks and the start of the college football season, it is clear the sign of the times can only mean we are headed to fall.

    I am also now beginning to see another sign of the times.  Interim committee meetings in Tallahassee, bills being filed for consideration and, of course, phone calls for campaign contributions which can only mean one thing, the 2024 Legislative Session must be just around the corner.  It’s true of course, the 2024 Legislative Session is scheduled to begin on January 9th and conclude on March 9th, 2024.  With interim committee meetings scheduled every month from now until the start of Session, now is the time to get prepared for success in 2024. 

    I have worked in this process for a number of years, and I have identified are several key ingredients that are helpful to success in the legislative process.  Check up and see how you are doing.

    Are you scheduled to attend the FLTA Lobby Days? Save the Date for February 5-7, 2024

    Lobby days provides the perfect venue for participants to network with peers, gather intelligence and strengthen relationships both in the title industry and with legislative leaders.  Like a staff retreat, getting out of your typical daily routine and gathering with other industry leaders provides you the opportunity to take see a bigger picture on the challenges and opportunities we are facing as a title industry.  It is also a great opportunity to catch up with the state legislators you know, get to know those you don’t and potentially develop a contact with state regulators.  If you haven’t done so already, make plans to attend. 

    Do you know your state senator and state representative personally?

    Not to oversimplify but success during a legislative session, whether trying to pass a bill or defeat a bad idea, is based on relationships and intelligence.  Legislators don’t typically file bills attacking industries that are important to their district.  Nor do they make it a practice to attacking someone they know and like from their community.

    Further, term limits in Florida’s Constitution limits a state legislators’ term to 8 years in most cases.  That means today’s freshman legislator is tomorrows Speaker, committee chair or leader.  And concurrently, your relationship with your local state legislator has a life span of a brief 8 years.  After that, someone else will hold the seat and the process begins again.  Just like in business, you are either growing or you are dying. 

    If you already know your state legislator that’s a great start but, have you connected with them recently?  You should think of it like you would a client.  How do you get a client to remain with your business, connect with them frequently, not just when the bill is due and help them be successful at their goals.  Politics is no different.

    Do you understand challenges in the title industry from a broader perspective than simply your challenges?

    Each title agent or underwriter faces different challenges based upon their client makeup, new business targets, where they choose to operate and what their goals are.  The title industry in Florida also faces numerous challenges to our ability to be successful in a complicated and interconnected industry that is critical to Florida’s continued growth.

    I am frequently asked by legislators to help them understand the challenges particular clients are facing.  When meeting with your local legislators you should be prepared to explain not just your individual business’ challenges but also broader title industry challenges.  Being able to do so will empower you with your local state legislators and reinforce your position as a valuable source of information and contact.

    I seem to remember an old Florida Lottery commercial with the catch phrase being something like, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”  It’s a funny tagline that I find equally relevant to legislative advocacy.  Truth is, we will not win for the title industry in Florida if our members choose to sit on the sidelines.  It's clear by the signs that the 2024 Legislative Session is approaching.  What are you going to do about it?

    David Daniel is the Agents' Section Lobbyist and Lobbyist with Smith, Bryan & Myers

  • 08/31/2023 1:37 PM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)

    Mortgage Payoff Fraud is spiking! Home sales may be down, but fraudsters are amping up on Mortgage Payoff Fraud. This alarming trend is significantly impacting our industry and can be devasting to a title agency due to the size of the loss.

    What is Mortgage Payoff Fraud?

    Mortgage Payoff Fraud is a deceptive scheme where fraudsters attempt to manipulate the mortgage payoff process during a real estate transaction. They may falsify information related to mortgage payments or attempt to divert funds meant for mortgage payoff to their own accounts. This can lead to serious financial repercussions for both the title insurer, title agent, and the parties involved in the transaction.

    How to fight back? Here are some tips to add to your process for obtaining Mortgage Payoffs!

    1. Always be on the lookout for a new payoff replacing a current statement you have on file.
    2. Create a database of previously verified accounts and payees for each bank/lender and match the wire information in the payoff statement to what is in your internal database.
    3. Verify all parties – lender, borrower, and any intermediaries - ensuring that all are legitimate and authorized.
    4. Verify with the payee using a previously verified phone number you have on record; never use the one on the payoff statement.
    5. When verifying, have the bank verbally read the account information to you, instead of reading it to them.
    6. If unable to verbally verify the payoff wire instructions, choose to arrange for an overnight payment made by check instead of wire.  Mail it to the address you have on file for the lender.
    7. Do not rely on third-parties, such as mortgagors or sellers, for information.
    8. Do not click on a link in an email that appears to come from the lender without verifying it is legitimate first. These links could take you to a fraudulent website or portal.
    9. Be sure to use secure communication for sharing sensitive information like wire transfer instructions and account details.  These channels should include multi-factor authentication, and when communicating over the phone, consider employing authentication questions and passwords as extra security measures.
    10. Order payoffs with enough time to allow for verification procedures.
    11. Have staff meetings on a regular basis to remind everyone to be vigilant and review procedures.
    12. Have a clear and detailed Incident Response Plan should an event happen. 

    Back to Industry News

    Back to the Cyber Secuirty Page

  • 07/06/2023 10:59 AM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)

    July 1, October 1 and January 1 are commonly known for their effective dates of new laws. Other months and dates may also be used, including the "upon being signed by the Governor" date. As such, several new Florida laws are already in play since July 1st. Here are some that may be of interest to the industry and their effective date(s).

    Be sure to review and save a copy of the bills for your reference. The below descriptions are from legislature staff analysis in the Florida House of Representatives or Florida Senate. For questions on these bills, please contact your legal counsel or title insurer.

    ---------------------------------

    HB 487 – Department of Financial Services1

                    Ch. 2023-144

    • Relieves title insurance, life insurance, and annuity insurance agents and agencies from the requirement that they notice all active policyholders of an office closure that is more than 30 days because the related policies are not continually serviced by the agent or agency.
    • Permits DFS to suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew or continue the license or appointment of a title agent or agency that:
      • Misappropriates, converts, or unlawfully withholds funds related to an escrow agreement, real estate sales contract, or settlement of a real estate transaction; or
      • Is the subject of an adverse action against a license or similar credential in another state, a court of competent jurisdiction, or federal agency, or similar.
    • For the purposes of title agents and agencies, changes the authority to act as an escrow agent from the title agent to the title agency and removes the obligation to invest the escrow funds consistent with the requirements applicable to state investment of funds.
    • The bill was approved by the Governor on May 25, 2023, ch. 2023-144, L.O.F., and became effective on that date.

    ---------------------------------

    SB 770 – Residential Loan Alternative Agreements2

                    Ch. 2023-117

    • The bill creates s. 475.279, F.S., to regulate residential loan alternative agreements. The bill defines the term “residential loan alternative agreement” as a signed writing or a signed and written legal instrument between a person and a seller or owner of residential real property that:
      • Grants an exclusive right to a person to act as a broker;
      • Has an effective duration, inclusive of renewals, of more than two years; and
      • Requires the person to pay monetary compensation to the seller or owner.
    • The bill defines the term “disposition” to mean “a transfer or voluntary conveyance of the title or other ownership interest in residential real estate.” It also defines the term “residential real property” to mean “improved residential property of four units or fewer or unimproved residential real property intended for four units or fewer.”
    • The bill prohibits a residential loan alternative agreement from authorizing a person to place a lien or otherwise encumber any residential real property. Nor can a residential loan alternative agreement constitute a lien, an encumbrance, or a security interest in the residential real property.
    • Under the bill, a residential loan alternative agreement may not be enforced by a lien or constructive trust in the residential real property or upon the proceeds of the disposition (sale) of the residential real property.
    • The bill provides that a residential loan alternative agreement may not be assigned and becomes void if the listing services do not begin within 90 days after the execution of the agreement by both parties. The bill provides that a listing agreement that does not meet these requirements is unenforceable in law or equity and may not be recorded by the clerk of the circuit court.
    • Additionally, the bill deems a violation of s. 475.279, F.S., to be an unfair or deceptive trade practice within the meaning of FDUTPA, and provides that a person who violates this section is subject to the penalties and remedies provided FDUTPA.
    • The bill takes effect July 1, 2023.

    ---------------------------------

    HB 1419 – Real Property Fraud3

                    Ch. 2023-238

    • Recording Notification Service
    • The bill creates s. 28.47, F.S. to require the clerks of the circuit court to, on or before July 1, 2024, create, maintain, and operate a free recording notification service, open to all persons wishing to register for the service, to provide property owners with early notice that a land record has been filed on their property. Under the bill:
      • “Recording notification service” means a service which sends automated recording notifications.
      • "Recording notification” means a notification sent by electronic mail indicating to a registrant that a land record associated with the registrant’s monitored identity has been recorded in the county’s public records.
      • “Registrant” means a person who registers for a recording notification service.
      • “Land record” means a deed, mortgage, or other document purporting to convey or encumber real property.
      • “Monitored identity” means a personal or business name or a parcel identification number submitted by a registrant for monitoring under a recording notification service.
    • Registration for the recording notification service must be made possible through an electronic registration portal, which portal must:
      • Be accessible through a direct link on the home page of the clerk’s official public website;
      • Allow a registrant to subscribe to receive recording notifications for at least five monitored identities per valid electronic mail address provided;
      • Include a method by which a registrant may unsubscribe from the service;
      • List a phone number at which the clerk’s office may be reached for questions related to the service during normal business hours; and
      • Send an automated electronic mail message to a registrant confirming his or her successful registration for or action to unsubscribe from the service, which message must identify each monitored identity for which a subscription was received or canceled.
    • Further, when a land record is recorded for a monitored identity, the bill requires that a recording notification be sent within 24 hours of the recording to each registrant who is subscribed to receive recording notifications for that monitored identity. Such notification must contain:
      • Information identifying the monitored identity for which the land record was filed;
      • The land record’s recording date;
      • The official records book and page number or instrument number assigned to the land record by the clerk;
      • Instructions for electronically searching for and viewing the land record using the assigned official record book and page number or instrument number; and
      • A phone number at which the clerk’s office may be contacted during normal business hours with questions related to the recording notification.
    • Finally, the bill provides that:
      • There is no right or cause of action against, and no civil liability on the part of, the clerk with respect to the creation, maintenance, or operation of a recording notification service.
    • Nothing in this section may be construed to require the clerk to provide or allow access to a record or information which is confidential and exempt from s. 119.071 and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution or to otherwise violate Florida’s public record laws.
      • This section applies to county property appraisers that have adopted an electronic land record notification service before the bill’s effective date, but where a land record is recorded for a monitored identity, notice through the property appraiser’s service must be sent within 24 hours of the instrument being reflected on the county tax roll by the property appraiser.

    Quiet Title Actions

    • The bill creates s. 65.091, F.S., to expressly state than an action to quiet title based on a title fraud allegation may be maintained under chapter 65, F.S. Further, the bill:
      • Requires the clerks of the circuit court to provide a simplified form for the filing of a quiet title action based on a title fraud allegation and instructions for completing such form.
      • Entitles a petitioner bringing a quiet title action based on a title fraud allegation to the expedited summary procedure timeframes set out in s. 51.011, F.S.45
      • Requires a court hearing a quiet title action to quiet title in and award a prevailing plaintiff with the same title and rights to the land that the plaintiff enjoyed before the title fraud.

    Quitclaim Deed

    • The bill creates s. 689.025, F.S., to prescribe a statutory form for quitclaim deeds. Specifically, the bill provides that a quitclaim deed must be in substantially the following form:
    This Quitclaim Deed, executed this (date) day of (month, year) by first party, Grantor (name), whose post-office address is (address), to second party, Grantee (name), whose post-office address is (address).


    Witnesseth, that the said first party, for the sum of $(amount), and other good and valuable consideration paid by the second party, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, does hereby remise, release, and quitclaim unto the said second party forever, all the right, title, interest, claim, and demand which the said first party has in and to the following descried parcel of land, and all improvements and appurtenances thereto, in (county), Florida:

    (Legal description)

    • The bill also requires that a quitclaim deed include:
      • The legal description of the property the instrument purports to convey, or in which the deed purports to convey an interest, which description must be legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped on the document.
      • A blank space for the parcel identification number assigned to the property the instrument purports to convey, or in which the deed purports to convey an interest, which number, if available, must be entered on the deed before it is presented for recording.
    • However, the bill provides that the:
      • Failure to include such blank space for the parcel identification number does not affect the conveyance’s validity or the deed’s recordability.
      • Parcel identification number is not part of the property’s legal description otherwise set forth in the deed and may not be used as a substitute for the legal description.
    Recording Real Property Conveyances (Effective January 1, 2024)
    • The bill amends s. 695.26, F.S., to require that the post-office address of each witness to an instrument purporting to convey real property be legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped upon such instrument.

    Pilot Program

    • The bill creates the Title Fraud Prevention Through Identity Verification Pilot Program (“Pilot Program”) in s. 28.2225, F.S., for a period of two calendar years. Under the Pilot Program, the clerk of the circuit court for Lee County, Florida (“clerk”), may require that a person presenting a deed or other instrument purporting to convey real property or an interest therein for recording produce a government-issued photographic identification card as follows:
      • When the person presents the deed or qualifying instrument to the clerk for recording in person, the clerk may require the person to produce a government-issued photographic identification card for inspection by the clerk before recording the deed or instrument. The clerk must then record the name and address of such person, as this information appears on the identification card, in a record to be kept by the clerk, along with the official records book and page number or instrument number of the deed or instrument ultimately recorded in connection to the production of the identification card. Such a record may not be made available for viewing on the clerk’s official public website but must be made available for public inspection and copying as required by Florida’s public records laws.
      • When the person presents the deed or qualifying instrument to the clerk for recording through an electronic recording service, the clerk may require the person to also submit a photocopy of a government-issued photographic identification card to the clerk before recording the deed or instrument. The clerk must note on the photocopy the official records book and page number or instrument number assigned to the deed or instrument ultimately recorded in connection to the submission of the photocopy and retain the photocopy in a record kept by the clerk. Such a record may not be made available for viewing on the clerk’s official public website but must be made available for public inspection and copying as required by Florida’s public records laws. However, the person submitting the photocopy may redact from the photocopy prior to its submission all information he or she does not wish to be made public, except for his or her name, address, and photograph.
    • Further, under the Pilot Program, the clerk may refuse to record a deed or qualifying instrument if the clerk requires the production of an identification card as specified in the bill and the person presenting such deed or instrument for recording does not produce the requested identification card.
    • The bill provides that, if the clerk chooses to participate in the Pilot Program, the clerk must:
      • Provide notice of the identification card requirement on the clerk’s official public website.
      • Require the production of an identification card from all persons presenting a deed or qualifying instrument for recording, whether in person or through an electronic recording notification service, until such time as the clerk:
        • Chooses to cease participating in the Pilot Program; and
        • Provides notice that the production of an identification card is no longer required on the clerk’s official public website.
      • By December 31, 2025, provide a report containing the following information to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives:            
        • The number of persons who presented a deed or qualifying instrument for recording:
          • In person.
          • Through an electronic recording notification service.
        • The types of identification cards produced in connection with the presentation of deeds or other qualifying instruments for recording, and the number of each type.
        • Feedback received from the community, if any, in response to the clerk’s implementation of the Pilot Program.
        • Whether the Pilot Program led to the identification of any persons suspected or accused of fraudulently conveying, or attempting to fraudulently convey, real property, and the outcome of any criminal charges or civil actions brought against such persons.
        • The clerk’s recommendation as to whether the production of a government-issued photographic identification card in connection with the presentation of a deed or other instrument for recording is appropriate to require throughout the state.
        • Any other information the clerk deems necessary.
      • The bill provides that nothing in s. 28.2225, F.S., may be construed to require the clerk to provide or allow access to a record or information which is confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1), F.S., and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution or to otherwise violate Florida’s public records laws.
    • Effective Date The bill was approved by the Governor on June 14, 2023, ch. 2023-238, L.O.F., and takes effect on July 1, 2023, except that the amendments made by the bill to s. 695.26, F.S., take effect on January 1, 2024.

    ---------------------------------

    SB 264 – Interests of Foreign Countries4

                    Ch. 2023-33

    The bill (Chapter 2023-33, L.O.F.) generally restricts the issuance of government contracts or economic development incentives to, or real property ownership by, foreign principals, which are certain individuals and entities associated with foreign countries of concern. Foreign countries of concern include the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Cuba, the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro, and the Syrian Arab Republic.

    With respect to conveyances of real property in this state, the bill generally:

    • Prohibits foreign principals from owning or acquiring agricultural land in the state.
    • Prohibits foreign principals from owning or acquiring any interest in real property within 10 miles of any military installation or critical infrastructure in the state.
    • Prohibits China, Chinese Communist Party or other Chinese political party officials or members, Chinese business organizations, and persons domiciled in China, but who are not citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S., from purchasing or acquiring any interest in real property in the state.
    • Provides limited exceptions from the ownership restrictions for the purchase of one residential property that is not on or within 5 miles of any military installation in the state. 

    The bill also amends:

    • The Florida Electronic Health Records Act, to require that the offsite storage of certain personal medical information be physically maintained in the continental U.S., U.S. territories, or Canada.
    • The Health Care Licensing Procedures Act, to require licensees to sign affidavits attesting that all patient information stored by them is being physically maintained in the continental U.S., U.S. territories, or Canada.

    Finally, the bill amends the statute criminalizing threats and extortion, to provide that a person who commits a violation of the statute, and at the time is acting as a foreign agent with the intent of benefitting a foreign country of concern, commits a first degree felony.

    These provisions were approved by the Governor and take effect July 1, 2023.

    Affidavits for Interests of Foreign Countries may be found on the FLTA web site: https://flta.org/ForeignInterests.

    ---------------------------------

    SB 708 – Estoppel Letters (Mortgage)5

                    Ch. 2023-135

    • Reduces the time to respond to an estoppel letter request from 14 days to 10 days.
    • Allows a mortgagee or mortgage servicer to send a corrected estoppel letter, so long as the previous estoppel letter was not relied upon.
    • Prohibits a mortgagee or mortgage servicer from qualifying, reserving the right to change, or conditioning or disclaiming the reliance of others on a current, valid estoppel letter.
    • Prohibits a mortgagee or mortgage servicer from refusing to accept funds received that conform with the amount provided in a current, valid estoppel letter; and requires the mortgagee or mortgage servicer to apply such funds to the balance of the loan.
    • Requires a mortgagee or mortgage servicer to execute an instrument acknowledging release of the mortgage and send it for recording in the official records of the proper county within 60 days of payoff. The recorded release must be sent to the mortgagor or record title owner of the property. The bill also provides for attorney fees for prevailing parties in civil actions relating to these requirements.
    • Specifies that the release of a mortgage does not necessarily relieve the mortgagor, or the mortgagor’s successors or assigns, from any personal liability on the loan or other obligations previously secured by the mortgage.
    • Provides the requirements for making and responding to an estoppel letter request.
    • Standardizes the minimum contents of an estoppel letter.
    • Provides for application to existing mortgages.
    • The effective date of the bill is October 1, 2023.

    1 HB 487 - House Final Bill Analysis 3 (Final Bill Analysis)

    2 HB 770 – Senate Rules (Post Meeting)

    3 HB 1419 – House Final Bill Analysis

    4 SB 264Senate Judiciary Committee Analysis

    5 SB 770 - Senate Rules Post Meeting

    For questions on these bills, please contact your legal counsel or title insurer.

  • 07/03/2023 12:00 PM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)
    Did you know that Cybercrime is expected to produce $8 trillion in global costs in 2023 and could reach as high as $10.5 trillion by 2025?

    Cybersecurity services are more crucial than ever, and there are many companies ready to step up and assist with your offense game.

    These FLTA Members below specialize in a variety of cybersecurity services:


    Please note:  This article is not an endorsement of any of the below companies.  Please contact them directly for all information and services.

    Cyber Insurance Services

    Fraud Protection Services
    Financial Cyber Security Services
    Information Security Services
    Managed IT Services
    Website Security Services

    --------------------------------------

    For more on Cyber Security, visit the FLTA Cyber Security Page.

    Return to Industry News.


  • 05/26/2023 9:54 AM | Scott Merritt (Administrator)

    As you likely already know, AI stands for Artificial Intelligence.  But did you know that AI is capable of generating someone else’s voice which actually sounds deceptively like that other person? This technology has gotten so good that the simulated voice is nearly indistinguishable from an authentic human voice as heard by the human ear.  Moreover, the technology has become relatively inexpensive and widely available so that ill-intentioned persons can access it from the internet.

    While perhaps not all persons using AI have bad intentions, those who do now have the ability to impersonate someone else’s voice to perpetrate a scam, and the types of scams we are seeing are limited only by imagination, determination, and opportunity – both on personal and business fronts.  For example, recent news publications described an incident where a fraudster used AI technology to simulate a child’s voice, claiming that the child had been kidnapped and requesting a ransom payment; similarly, a fraudster swindled a couple out of a large sum by using AI technology to convince them that their son was asking them for bail money.  The possibilities are limitless, and the technology behind it is so new that the victims are typically unsuspecting and extraordinarily vulnerable.

    WHAT MIGHT THIS MEAN FOR OUR INDUSTRY?

    We all have distinctive voices.  How often does it happen that you already know who you are talking to simply by hearing their voice?  Let’s think about how DeepFake AI could affect the closing transaction being handled at your office.

    DeepFake AI allows anyone to spoof a voice:  A seller calls with a change of disbursement, a broker calls telling you it is ok to pay the realtor at closing, the president of your company calls to tell you to release a wire or pay an invoice.  What would your team do if a realtor called to get additional information about their customer (sensitive information used to then defraud them)? A seller or buyer calls to gain information about the net proceeds from a sale, confirm financial information from lenders or employment details.   It might even be plausible that your office falls prey to a ghost fraud where the persona of a deceased person is used to convey property without having to go through probate.  Do you have a plan in place to verify any or all of the above?  How can you be sure it really is the person they say they are – especially if you speak with them frequently and it sounds like them?

    Think about RON technology and how this new scam may affect digital closings. Speak to your RON vendors and verify what they are doing to keep their platforms secure.

    Unfortunately, these are all questions and concerns that we now have to be aware of and try to plan for prior to getting caught by one of these DeepFakes.

    HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?

    As deep fake technology becomes more advanced, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between real and fake video calls. However, there are several signs that can help you recognize a deep fake video call and protect yourself.

    1.       Pay attention to the quality of the video.  Deep fake videos often have subtle distortions or inconsistencies that can be difficult to detect but may be noticeable upon closer inspection. Look for things like unnatural or jerky movements, blurry edges around the skin and hair, shifts in lighting or skin tone, lips poorly synched with speech and strange blinking or no blinking at all. watch for is hair and teeth that do not look real, as algorithms may not be able to generate frizzy or flyaway hair or individual teeth. One simple way to detect a live deep fake is to ask the person on the video call to turn their profile to the camera. A person turning 90 degrees to the camera will create a distortion that will be detectable in real time.

    2.       Pay attention to the audio. Deep fake videos often use synthetic voices or manipulated audio to create a more convincing illusion. Listen for any unusual or robotic-sounding speech patterns, or any discrepancies between the audio and the video.

    3.       Watch for any inconsistencies or contradictions in the video that may indicate that it is being manipulated.

    4.       Educate your yourself and your staff. Make sure you teach your employees about the various types and serious nature of cyber threats. Make cybersecurity training part of onboarding and provide continuous training.

    In conclusion, recognizing a deep fake video call can be difficult, but by paying attention to the quality of the video, the audio and the context, you can protect yourself from bad actors who may be using deep fake technology to perpetuate fraudulent title insurance transactions.

    Message from FLTA Cyber Security Committee

    ___

    Back to Industry News

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