The Hassles of Home-Buying


As Newsweek reports, one more step has been added to our ability to buy a home: checking your name against a terrorist watch list. Some excerpts:

The Treasury Department?s Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains the ?specifically designated nationals? (SDN) list of people blocked from participating in ?any transaction or dealing ? in property or interests? within the United States. These people have been identified ?to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism,? according to White House Executive Order 13224, which was issued Sept. 24, 2001. Although the blocked-persons list has been around in some form for about a decade, under the order private individuals (be they jewelers, pawnbrokers or suburban families) buying or selling property are now considered ?financial institutions? by the government. And the responsibility has fallen to the title companies to check all parties involved in a transaction against the list.
But does it work? That depends on the search software. Typing ?Osama bin Laden? into the ALTA [American Land Title Association] search engine yields zero matches, but that?s because the U.S. government spells his name ?Usama bin Laden? (which gets two hits)….. In the event of a match, the transaction must be immediately halted and a report filed with the Treasury Department. Failure of a title company to comply could result in fines of up to $65,000 under the Trading with the Enemy Act…..
Still, is someone like Osama bin Laden, who knows he is a wanted man, about to conduct business on U.S. soil without using an alias or establishing a dummy corporation? ?It?s rare that somebody of this type is going to do business as a name on the list,? says attorney Carl A. Valenstein, a partner at Thelen Reid & Priest in Washington, D.C. ?They?re very well aware. There are so many ways with offshore companies, with aliases, with all sorts of things to disguise this. I?m very skeptical that it works.?