Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (Regulation X); Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platforms and Related Payments to Operators
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is issuing this Advisory Opinion to address the applicability of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) section 8 to operators of certain digital technology platforms that enable consumers to comparison shop for mortgages and other real estate settlement services, including platforms that generate potential leads for the platform participants through consumers’ interaction with the platform (Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platforms). Generally, this Advisory Opinion describes how an operator of a Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform violates RESPA section 8 if the platform provides enhanced placement or otherwise steers consumers to platform participants based on compensation the platform operator receives from those participants rather than based on neutral criteria. More specifically, this Advisory Opinion states that an operator of a Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform receives a prohibited referral fee in violation of RESPA section 8 when: (1) the Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform non-neutrally uses or presents information about one or more settlement service providers participating on the platform; (2) that non-neutral use or presentation of information has the effect of steering the consumer to use, or otherwise affirmatively influences the selection of, those settlement service providers, thus constituting referral activity; and (3) the operator receives a payment or other thing of value that is, at least in part, for that referral activity. Furthermore, if an operator of a Digital Mortgage Comparison-Shopping Platform receives a higher fee for including one settlement service provider compared to what it receives for including other settlement service providers participating on the same platform, that can be evidence of an illegal referral fee arrangement absent other facts indicating that the payment is not for enhanced placement or other form of steering.