The Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts and the Title Appraisal Vendor Management Association are squaring off over a bill in the Massachusetts legislature that would open the real estate closing business to non-lawyers, media reports say.

The bill, H 904, was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Paul Kujawski of Webster, Mass., and heard by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in February, reports said.

For the local bar association, the issue is one of consumer protection, but the Moon Township, Pa.-based title appraisal association said the market needs more competition and choice, according to reports.

Massachusetts’ laws represent one of the last bastions of an older system, the title appraisal association’s lawyer, Ed Krug, told the Boston Business Journal. Massachusetts is one of only a half-dozen states that mandate some attorney involvement in the real estate title exchange process.

“We don’t think it’s competitive or provides true benefits to consumers,” Krug said, according to reports. “We don’t think there’s proven or inherent risk when a non-lawyer handles the title insurance.”

Competition has already lowered prices for consumers, the real estate bar president, Bob Moriarty Jr., an attorney with Marsh, Moriarty, Ontell & Golder PC, told the Business Journal. Lawyers used to charge about 1 percent of the mortgage, but in recent years the fee has dropped to the $450 to $600 range, Moriarty said, according to reports.

“It’s evidence that the market is competitive (and that) consumers are getting a bargain for the representation they get,” Moriarty told the Business Journal.

The state’s real estate bar association counts 3,000 members, and Moriarty estimates about 5,000 to 6,000 lawyers in the Bay State work on real estate closings each year, ranging from a few a month to a sizable practice, reports said.

The current bill represents the mortgage industry’s second legislative attempt to change the rules in Massachusetts, reports said.

The law would allow non-lawyers to perform commercial real estate closings, but the real estate bar believes that outcome is less likely since the parties involved in commercial transactions are more likely to want the safeguards of a lawyer, reports said.

The real estate bar also points to other benefits of having lawyers perform real estate closings: Dishonest lawyers are subject to discipline by the state’s Board of Bar Overseers, and lawyer’s ethical rules require that interest gained on money held in lawyer’s escrow accounts — known as IOLTA, or interest on lawyer’s trust account, funds — be donated to charitable legal organizations, Moriarty said, according to reports.

The issue was floated during the previous legislative session, but this time the fight has progressed further, Moriarty told the Business Journal.

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