PRN: Something Has To Be Done

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE

Physician's Money Digest, May 31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 10

The most difficult subject I've triedto write about is the buying andselling of a home. If you've done eitherin the past few years, you'll probablyknow what I'm talking about. Ourhomes are near and dear to us, andlead to emotions that often overcomerational thinking. That's why I havegnashed my teeth and crumpled morethan a few columns into the wastebaskettrying to present a useful point ofview. But forget about rationale, somethinghas to be done.

Runaway Housing

The industry that services hometransactions, real estate agents, mortgagebrokers, and escrow companieshas burgeoned almost out of controland is feasting at the trough of publicexpense. It is underregulated, but likethe goose that laid the golden eggs, ithad better be careful or there will bean organized national backlash thatwill lead to a change that even its powerfulWashington lobby can't prevent.

A few years ago, Mel Martinez, thenincoming secretary of the Department ofHousing and Development, was soappalled at the Byzantine process ofbuying his new Washington, DC, homethat he swore he was going to legislate achange to simplify things for consumers.I wished him well, but was not optimistic.His legislation to simplify hometransactions finally wended its way toCongress recently but was embarrassinglysquelched by the lobbyists.

Motion to Simplify

Where should we start? How aboutby looking at that snarl at the conclusionof the property transaction we calla closing? I've never seen a more complicated,opaque, confusing, and ridiculouslyexpensive exercise of whatshould be a straightforward deal. Theburden of spending hours lookingblankly at impenetrable legalese whileendlessly signing your hand intowriter's cramp just to be able to moveinto your own home is unjustified, toput it politely.

No one, not even Secretary Martinez,could remotely consider closing as"informed consent," its description inlegislation. Closing a home sale must befundamentally simplified, demystified,and rendered at a substantially reducedcost. Consumers want it, and so will therealty lobby, after the fact.

Buyers and sellers have beenoppressed by an endless litany of nonsensefees and costs that total manythousands of dollars, regardless of thecircumstances of the property transfer.And the blizzard of legal paper foistedupon us by a long tradition of lawyerlymeddling needs to be swept away.We've been told once too often thatwe're at the mercy of the real estateindustry's "standard, nonnegotiable waythat it's done here." We sign and pay justto have things done as soon as possibleand be able to get on with our lives. It'stheir hold on us. What can we do?

Edmund Burke once said, "The onlything necessary for the triumph of evilis for good men to do nothing."

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a practicingphysician who is a partner onthe Stanford University GraduateSchool of Business Alumni ConsultingTeam, teaches in the StanfordSchool of Medicine FamilyPractice Program. He welcomes questions orcomments at jeffebrownmd@aol.com.