After year and years of abuse, it appears a big area of real estate transaction abuse may be finally coming to and end. What is that you say? Something you probably experienced, but didn’t realize, which is known as a Marketing Service Agreement, or MSA.
MSA are agreements between various companies, more often than not, companies owned by the same people, to steer you into using the services of the other company.
For example, you buy your home using a Real Estate Agent from ABC Realty, who talks you into getting your mortgage loan from their affiliated company ABC Mortgage. Then they get you to close your home loan at their affiliated Title Company, ABC Title. Some, even go as far as even trying to get you to get your homeowners insurance from their affiliated company!
Another great example is in new construction, where the builder uses fake incentives (like free appliances) if your use the mortgage company and title company they own.
These MSA have become prevalent in the market, but have started to fall out of favor with many companies since the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) started going after these service agreements over their legality. Numerous companies have been slapped with large fines for their practices, so many others, seeing the writing on the wall, and just getting out of MSA’s all together.
Essentially these agreements require one company to be obligated to recommend the other, even when they know there is a better alternative for the client.
Almost always, it comes down to money. If the client believes they are required to use the company and they don’t shop, or are not allowed to shop, what sort of deal do you think the related provider is providing? That’s correct, rare is their offering the best deal, and many times, the consumer is paying a significant premium for the related company services. Because the related provider costs more, if allowed to shop, it would usually put their own overpriced companies at a competitive disadvantage. Therefore many companies employ tactics to scare or otherwise discourage clients from shopping. The aforementioned builder incentive is classic. People, the builder is NOT giving away anything. The appliance allowance, or finished basement upgrade is already built into the price of the house. They only “offer” that as a great incentive for you to also use their MSA partner.
While MSA’s are not currently illegal, the CFPB has strongly stated that if you are going to be making a referral, it better be because it is the best deal from the client, and not the best deal for them.
The bottom line for a home buyer is that you should always shop for the other services. Almost without fail, because of the nature of Marketing Service Agreements, you’ll usually get a better deal somewhere else.