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May I register a Trade name for a branch office?

Brokerage
Q I’m a broker of my own brokerage corporation, which currently handles only residential transactions. I want to set up a branch office to run the commercial side of my business. May I register a trade name for the branch office and continue to use the corporate name for my primary office?

A No. All branch offices must have the same corporate or trade name as the primary office.  Also, no individual, partnership or corporation may be registered under more than one trade name.

Mortgage Practices
Q I represent the seller in a transaction that’s scheduled to close next week. According to the purchase and sale contract, the seller will pay $5,000 toward the buyer’s closing costs. However, the lender advised that its guidelines won’t allow this, which could make closing on time difficult because the buyer doesn’t have the cash to bring to the table. The closing agent has suggested that the seller simply write the buyer a personal check for $5,000 after the closing.  Is this allowable?

A No. Since the lender has specifically prohibited the seller from paying $5,000 of the buyer’s closing costs, this means the seller cannot give the buyer that money behind the lender’s back for the same purpose. On the FBI’s Web site (www.fbi.gov/whitecollarcrime.htm), it says: “Each Mortgage Fraud scheme contains some type of ‘material misstatement, misrepresentation, or omission relating to the property or potential mortgage relied on by an underwriter or lender to fund, purchase, or insure a loan.”

Under the facts provided, your seller and the buyer, along with the sales associates and the closing agent, would be condoning a material misstatement and/or omission related to the buyer’s potential mortgage, since all of you knew that one contingency of the lender’s funding the loan was that the seller not give the buyer $5,000.

If your seller wants to go along with the closing agent’s suggestion, you should advise both your broker and your seller of the potential for investigation and/or prosecution, and then further advise that if the seller insists on paying the buyer anything at all without the lender’s express knowledge and consent, you must immediately withdraw from representation and forego your listing commission.

Q Where can I find information about mortgage fraud?

A Lender fraud is a hot topic of concern these days. There are many Web sites set up to help uncover and report these schemes.
The FBI’s Web site addresses mortgage fraud at www.fbi.gov/whitecollarcrime.htm as does the Mortgage Bankers Association’s site at www.stopmortgagefraud.com.

License Law
Q I suspect a colleague is involved in lender fraud. Could my real estate license be in jeopardy?

A Yes. Anyone who has involvement in a transaction can be investigated for lender fraud, whether the person actually participated in the fraudulent behavior or merely knew about (or even suspected) it. Accepting a commission on a transaction that may result in a fraud investigation/prosecution could lead not only to the loss of your real estate license, but also to prison time. 

If you have a complaint about a mortgage scam or other fraudulent situation, contact the Florida Attorney General’s Fraud Hotline at (866) 9-NO-SCAM or file a complaint at www.myfloridalegal.com.

Real Estate Practice
Q My buyer is interested in a house built in 1927. Given the age of the home, she wants to find out if anyone ever died there before she agrees to buy it. What if the owner isn’t the original owner and doesn’t know?

A There is no legal requirement to discover or disclose whether a property was ever the site of a death. Section 689.25(b), Florida Statutes, advises that “The fact that a property was, or was at any time suspected to have been, the site of a homicide, suicide, or death is not a material fact that must be disclosed in a real estate transaction.”

Search through more Q&As online in the Legal Center at floridarealtors.org.