Author Archives: Hallmark Abstract Service

Hallmark Abstract Service

About Hallmark Abstract Service

Hallmark Abstract Service provides title insurance for residential and commercial real estate transactions in New York State and nationwide, underwriting through Chicago Title. HAS opened its doors in 2008 with two primary goals in mind! Number one was to create a title insurance company that would provide our clients with a superior finished product while affording them a seamless and stress-free process. Number two was to make the experience of working with Hallmark Abstract Service as easy and as pleasurable as obtaining title insurance for a real estate transaction could possibly be! From the sheer number of satisfied clients who keep coming back to Hallmark Abstract Service for their title insurance needs, I believe that we have accomplished our goals in the past, and we will continue striving to improve on them in the future! My Background In 1980 I earned an undergraduate degree in economics followed in 1984 by an MBA in finance with a concentration in the tax-exempt market. With this focus on the municipal market I became a municipal bond analyst at Shearson/Lehman Brothers tasked with following both general obligation issuers on the city and state level as well as housing bonds secured by mortgage pools. This experience at Shearson/Lehman Brothers followed by stints at PaineWebber and Citigroup provided a broad framework of understanding concerning the mechanics of mortgage debt in terms of prepayment experience, mortgage quality and the expected duration of a portfolio. Leaving Wall Street I started Exeter Commercial which funded commercial mortgage loans. Title insurance was a critical part of the underwriting and closing process. At the peak of the financial crisis, I recognized both an opportunity and need as many title firms, for a variety of reasons, closed their doors. Out of this, Hallmark Abstract Service was born.

Michael Haltman, Hallmark Abstract Service CEO, Is Interviewed By Douglas Elliman’s Vice Chair Dottie Herman On The Eye On Real Estate Podcast! (Audio)

Hallmark Abstract Service CEO Mike Haltman enjoyed some great radio time with Dottie Herman, on her podcast Eye On Real Estate.

The podcast airs Saturdays from 10 AM – 12 Noon on AM97 The Answer.

The discussion covered topics ranging from title insurance to the combat veteran Heroes To Heroes Foundation where Michael serves as its Board Chair.

This past Saturday, February 18, 2023, Dottie had as her co-host Steven Ebert, a real estate Partner at Cassin & Cassin LLP.

Mike Haltman’s segment begins at 38 minutes 53 seconds, but the entire episode is worth a listen!

Title Insurance Versus Attorney Opinion Letters (AOL’s)

Don’t be penny-wise and dollar foolish when it comes to protecting what may be the largest financial commitment of your life!

The situation: ‘Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now accepting written Attorney Opinion Letters (AOLs) in lieu of a title insurance policy under limited circumstances as a result of Equitable Housing Finance Plans announced earlier by the FHFA earlier this year.’

Comparing title insurance and AOLs, one protects property buyers while the other kinda/sorta protects them in some instances!

Risks to Homebuyers

– Should a title issue arise on a property covered by an attorney opinion only, the buyer would need to prove negligence on the part of the attorney to pursue the claim with them.
– If not proven, a claimant would likely need to pay the legal costs involved to litigate the title matter, posing a financial burden and a significant risk.’

A report from the American Land Title Association (ALTA) spells out the issues and risks facing homebuyers who opt for the Attorney Opinion Letter or AOL.


  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now accepting written AOLs in lieu of a title insurance policy under limited circumstance as a result of Equitable Housing Finance Plans announced earlier by the FHFA earlier this year.
  • Since before the announcement, ALTA has engaged with the FHFA and government sponsored entities (GSEs) to help them understand the differences between title insurance and alternative products in the coverage and protection they provide. 
  • ALTA continues to work with the GSEs to ensure that access to sustainable homeownership opportunities is available for all Americans in a way that does not increase risk or undermine the property rights of homebuyers, particularly low- and moderate-income and first-time homebuyers.
  • ALTA believes it is misguided for lenders to offer title insurance alternatives that provide less coverage but introduce more risk to lenders and consumers.

Who’s at Risk

Alternative Products Increase Lender Risk

  • Historically, lenders have preferred the protection of a title insurance policy because it provides the best mix of strong protections and low cost. Lenders considering the use of AOLs or other alternatives must understand the risks they are taking on by not getting title insurance since they will be on the hook given Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s life of loan representations and warranties related to title.
  • One sizable risk is related to items not discoverable in a public records search like federal tax liens, mis-indexed items or HOA liens. An attorney opinion letter does not cover items not shown in a public records search.
  • Another important example of the difference in coverage is fraud or forgery of title documents. Title insurance provides coverage when a seller’s deed was forged or there was fraud with the previous owner’s will. An attorney opinion letter does not.
  • Unlike an AOL, title insurance provides lenders with a defense—including all attorneys’ fees and costs—in a lien priority dispute or other matter covered by the policy.
  • Lastly, unlike title insurance, AOLs might push more consumers into foreclosure since that is a condition to making valid claim under the service provider policy wrapper.

Risks to Homebuyers

  • Should a title issue arise on a property covered by an attorney opinion only, the buyer would need to prove negligence on the part of the attorney to pursue the claim with them.
  • If not proven, a claimant would likely need to pay the legal costs involved to litigate the title matter, posing a financial burden and a significant risk.

Information courtesy of ALTA here:


For more information about title insurance, read the article ‘Are New York Title Insurance Providers All The Same?’ here,

Hallmark Abstract Service…You Buy, We Protect!

Have questions? Reach out to Hallmark Abstract Service at (646) 741-6101 or send us an email at

2022 National Association of REALTORS® Survey of Homebuyers!

2022 National Association of REALTORS® Survey of Homebuyers!

For homebuyers, much of 2022 was a frustrating time of limited inventory and sky-high prices, where the sellers controlled much of the narrative.

The scenario changed later in the year, and although a lack of inventory still prevailed, pricing power moved more to the buyer as an almost doubling of mortgage rates reduced home affordability even further than it had already been.

This NAR survey examines:

– Characteristics of Home Buyers

– Characteristics of Homes Purchased

– The Home Search Process

– Home Buying and Real Estate Professionals

– Financing the Home Purchase

– Home Sellers and Their Selling Experience

– Home Selling and Real Estate Professionals

– For Sale by Owner (FSBO) Sellers

Read the results in more detail here:


If you’re buying commercial or residential real estate in New York there is some good news…

Remember that all title insurance is NOT the same, and it’s your right to choose the company you would like to work with!

Hallmark Abstract Service LLC…You Buy, We Protect!

Read about key differentiating factors among New York title insurance providers, in the article ‘Are New York Title Insurance Providers All The Same?’ here

Have questions? Reach out to Hallmark Abstract Service at (646) 741-6101 or send us an email at

Recession? History Says…

Recession: Are past results useful indicators of future performance?

Consider A Recessions Length When Compared to the ‘Real Rates’ of Bonds on the Day the Treasury Yield Curve Inverts…

The current scenario does not bode well for the U.S. economy!


– An inverted yield curve exists when longer-term interest rates are lower than near-term rates.

– Real Rates are the bond’s yield – the inflation rate)

‘Fed researchers found ‘the length and severity of a recession was *inversely* correlated to the REAL 10-Year US treasury yield at the time of the yield curve inversion. i.e. the lower the real 10-Year US Treasury yield at the time of the inversion, the worse the recession.

In our current case, the real rate of the 10-year treasury (yield minus inflation) was a MINUS 5% at the time the yield curve inverted. In the prior cases, it had never been negative.’

This would indicate the economy is facing a difficult road ahead! (Puru Saxena


That’s the bad news, but if you’re buying commercial or residential real estate in New York there is some good news…

Remember that all title insurance is NOT the same, and it’s your right to choose the company you would like to work with!

Hallmark Abstract Service LLC…You Buy, We Protect!

Read about key differentiating factors among New York title insurance providers, in the article ‘Are New York Title Insurance Providers All The Same?’ here

Have questions? Reach out to Hallmark Abstract Service at (646) 741-6101 or send us an email at

NYC Apartments: Criminal Background Checks Yes Or No? (Poll)

You Are Currently Renting An Apartment in a New York City Building…

The question is whether building management and others in the building have the right to be aware if another apartment in the building is going to be rented to someone with a criminal record?

The NYC ‘Fair Chance for Housing Act’ will be debated on December 8th before the City Council’s Committee on Civil Rights…

It appears to have the votes for passage, and would prevent New York City landlords from doing criminal background checks on prospective apartment renters.

But should landlords have the option to run these checks if they choose?

Bottom Line

Is outlawing criminal background checks a good and fair idea as a potential renter has the right to privacy (and a second chance if they served their time for a crime), or do other tenants in a building have the right to know if a convicted felon will be living next door?

Have an opinion? Leave it in the comments below…

Some previous comments…

  1. Let’s have The Fortune Society and its members weigh in here.

    I’m going out on a limb by saying some things that will not sit well with many. Throwing the book at people has never solved problems. Let’s consider an operation from a space of empathy.

    Years ago, I saw the play The Castle. The story of Casimiro “Cas” Torres was particularly heartwrenching. If you haven’t seen the play, check it out.

    Until we deal with the issues that feed problems of this kind, the legislature will be forced to decide on the more significant issue at any given time. They want lobbying money or quick results to make them look good for the next election. The affordable housing issue has become so larger that lawmakers are forced to act fast.

    Who will be responsible for housing all the people that have become victims of the prison industrial complex? How will we discern between the individual who took a plea at age 18 because proving their innocence would have kept them in jail for decades?

    What about the nurse who killed her abusive husband in self-defense? Today, DA Alvin Bragg is seeking a dismissal. What about the Central Park Five?

    Can we trust landlords to make these distinctions?
  2. I honestly don’t think they should outlaw them, however I’m not sure if it actually matters. I worked in property management for 5 years and have run countless background checks and in NYC you see all kinds of things. Usually the property manager would step in to discuss with your leasing manager and possibly request more clarity on the matter from the prospective tenant if it raises red flags. But I have never seen anyone denied because of it alone, usually felons have a hard time finding high enough paying jobs so they are not necessarily moving into Soho, Williamsburg or any other well to do neighborhood. I have heard of more denials for tenant landlord court or for having a program voucher (not section 8) which is what they really need to look at. Also how can current tenants know their neighbors business? It’s not broadcasted on WHO did what.
  3. Most landlords do not run criminal background checks. However, I do not think they should be prevented. Under the Fair Housing Act a landlord must consider a applicant with a criminal history on a case by case basis taking into consideration a number of factors. I believe if weighed fairly this is appropriate. I don’t believe that tenants have a right to know all their neighbors business.

How much does title insurance cost in New York City?

Article in Brick Underground

Hallmark Abstract Service CFO Linda Haltman spoke with Brick Underground Founder and CEO Teri Karush Rogers about the title insurance for a New York City real estate property purchase, and things that buyers should consider when selecting the title insurance company to work with.

While the property buyers real estate attorney will recommend a title company, it is the right of the purchaser, if they choose, to pick the one that they would like to use. And while many consider title insurance to be of the same quality regardless of who is used, the fact of the matter is that significant differences, including cost, can exist (Are New York Title Insurance Providers All The Same?).

The article also includes the input of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas Partner Jeffrey Reich.

‘How much does title insurance cost in New York City?’ by Teri Karush Rogers

  • On a $1 million property with a mortgage, you can expect to pay 6 percent
  • You can save as much as $1,000 to $2,000 by negotiating extra charges

Question: How much does title insurance cost in NYC? And do I really need it?

The Answer: On a $1 million New York property with a mortgage, expect title insurance that protects you and your lender to cost around 6 percent, or about $6,000, our experts say. If you’re paying all cash, title insurance will be around 4 percent of the purchase price—and if you’re buying a co-op (versus a condo or house), you don’t need any at all.

When and why you need title insurance in New York

Title insurance protects you (and your lender, if you have a mortgage) against future third-party claims against the title to your property. These are claims against the legal ownership of your home that were missed during the initial title search when you bought your place. They might include tax liens or liens by contractors for unpaid or disputed debts. Or there could be a loan against the property of which you’re unaware.

“For example, if the county clerk recorded a mortgage under the wrong block and lot, it wouldn’t be discovered during the title search,” says Linda Haltman, co-founder of Hallmark Abstract Service, a title insurance agent in NYC and Long Island. 

In other cases, the seller doesn’t have the right to sell the property. That could be due to outright title fraud, an overlooked heir, or some combination of the two.

“For example, a parent dies and leaves the house to their four children, but three decide to sell and run away with the money. The fourth child has a claim for a quarter of what the house is worth at the time the claim is made,” Haltman says. 

Buying a co-op? You can skip title insurance altogether.

“Title insurance only covers real property, and a co-op is not real property—when you buy a co-op, you’re buying shares in a corporation,” Haltman says. Instead, “we do a co-op lien search which searches for all the liens against the co-op corporation and the original apartment,” at a cost of around $350.

Do you need title insurance if you’re paying cash?

You don’t have to buy title insurance if you’re paying cash, but most people do.

“It’s very rare that people don’t,” says Jeffrey Reich, a real estate attorney at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. While “the incidences of loss such policies protect against are exceedingly rare,” you may want it if you refinance later or sell.

“Having a title report and policy at the time of purchase will remove some of the unknown or potential issues that can derail a future sale closing,” Reich says. “Title defects will be brought to light, dealt with and insured. Thereafter, if the title defect is raised by a future purchaser, the owner/seller can raise the issue with their title insurer and the title insurer will likely issue a coverage letter, which would resolve the issue and allow the closing to move forward.”

Additionally, you may decide to unlock some equity in your home one day and take out a mortgage. 

“The lender will require you to get title insurance and give you a reduced rate if you’ve had title in the past,” Reich says. 

How to save money on title insurance: Negotiate ‘junk’ fees

In New York State, title insurance rates must be approved by the Title Insurance Rate Service Association (TIRSA), which is licensed by the state’s Department of Financial Services

These rates don’t vary that much, but title companies that perform the title searches and do other work on behalf of the insurer may tack on a number of extra charges that can add up to as much as $1,000 to $2,000.

Haltman calls these “junk fees.” They may show up on a title company’s bill—usually presented at the closing table, when there’s little time to review or question them—as “made up charges like ‘search fee,’ ‘administrative fee,’ or FedEx.”

Then there’s outright padding.

“Let’s say it costs $895 to record a deed,” Haltman says. “I would put $895 on my bill, whereas another might say $1,200.”

She recommends that buyers ask their attorney to send a copy of the title bill before closing day, and compare it to one or two quotes from other title insurance companies, which can be easily obtained with a phone call or online. 

“If there are excess fees on there, ask your lawyer to negotiate them out,” Haltman says. 

Most title companies will agree rather than risk losing the deal, she says. That’s because “title companies keep about 80 to 85 percent of the premium. The other 20 percent is remitted to the insurance company,” Haltman says.

Do real estate attorneys get paid by title companies?

Real estate attorneys typically work with two or three title companies that they trust to get the job done smoothly, and they’ll recommend that buyers use one of them. Sometimes, real estate attorneys also pocket a big chunk of your title fees. 

“In NYC, a lot of attorneys have ‘affiliated relationships’ with title companies,” Haltman says. The attorney does “none of the title work, but the title companies will open separate companies for each attorney and give them a large split of their fee. It could be 50/50.” 

Some real estate lawyers actually own the title company they recommend to clients. 

“If yours does, he’s making $4,800 on title insurance on top of a $2,500 transaction fee” on your $1 million purchase, Haltman says. 

In either scenario, “The attorney is legally supposed to disclose [their relationship to the title company] to the buyer—but it’s typically done in a form that’s presented at the closing table,” Haltman says, so ask up front if your attorney has any financial ties with the title company. 

Election Day, November 8, 2022! What’s Your Plan?

Election Day November 8, 2022…A Hallmark Abstract Service Poll

The question asked is whether you plan on casting your vote in the midterm elections on or before November 8th?

Voting is considered a right and responsibility, as it provides the opportunity to vote for leaders who we feel will best represent our ideas and interests.

Yet in the 2018 midterms less than 50% of eligible voters cast a vote, and in 2014 only 36%.

What will the percentage be this time?

Judging by members of LinkedIn who cast their vote, turnout in 2022 could be quite large!

Do you plan on voting? Yes or No let us know your reasoning in the comments section below.

How Is Inflation Impacting Your Life?

Are Rising Prices Forcing Tough Decisions?

You don’t need this email to tell you that rising prices in all aspects of the economy creates great difficulties for many consumers!

We hear horror stories all of the time about decisions needing to be made about what to buy and what can be done without.

At the same time there are people who may not like the higher prices, but who have the ability to pay them.

Hallmark Abstract Service asked the question…How, if at all, has inflation impacted your life?

The results speak for themselves, with nearly 85% of respondents indicating that it has indeed had an impact on their lives.

What do you think?

Leave your comments below.

Higher Commercial Mortgage Rates + Higher Cap Rates + Lower Building Valuations = Refinancing Problems And Finally, Distressed Commercial Properties!

Distressed Commercial Real Estate

With interest rates spiking, cap rates moving higher and building valuations therefore trending lower, commercial building owners may be facing some significant headwinds when the time comes to refinance the mortgage on their building.

In business, finance and the economy the John Templeton phrase ‘this time it’s different’, is typically invoked to justify situations that may not in fact be sustainable. For instance the wildly narrow spread between junk bonds and treasury yields that had existed in a 0% interest rate environment, needed in some way to be justified. Insert ‘this time it’s different’. So too did real estate prices that in some cases doubled or more due to the demand created by Covid. Insert ‘this time it’s different. You get the idea.

Well because what goes up must come down, or rather interest rates artificially held down must at some point move back up, borrowers who entered into loans at lower rates will now be facing higher rates and higher cap rates leading to lower building valuations, all when it comes time to refinance.

The result will not be pretty for many, as banks may only offer them a loan amount (based on LTV and other factors) that’s less than what they owe, requiring owners to come-up with the difference to make the lender whole.

This leads us to the article below written by Bruce Stachenfeld, Chairman of the firm Duval & Stachenfeld. It describes what had been the case in some past market ‘crises’, and then what will likely be the case in the near future when borrowers face reality with their lender, in this case called ‘Fulcrum Capital’.

It is definitely worth the read!

Distressed Real Estate and Fulcrum Capital

Let me get right to it.  There is going to be distressed real estate – I mean it is already here.   Here is the background and some thoughts about what to do:

First – some history – during the Global Financial Crisis, many thought there would be tons of real estate distress.  I recall meetings and seminars planning for an enormous wave of distressed real estate.  However, the Fed and other governments printed a lot more money, which lowered interest rates.  This permitted most of the cans to be kicked down the road.  There was some distress for sure, but not nearly the expected level.

Second – came COVID – and there was again a major expectation of distressed real estate.  However – other than retail, hotels, and a few other places – the crash and distress were a flash that lasted a little over 60 days, and the dip quickly disappeared to be replaced by a boom.  This was again due to interest rates continuing to fall – plus the government continuing to print dramatically more money. 

However, this time it is quite different. 

Let me start with a ridiculously simple hypothetical, and I do apologize for insulting everyone’s intelligence that this hypothetical is too simplistic.  I want to set the table here, and I promise more intellect later in this article:

The borrower owns a building – e.g., multifamily – worth $100M as of the end of last year – with that valuation being based on trading at a 3-cap, which was pricing at the time.  It had a nice safe 70% LTV mortgage on it for $70M. 

However, now due to interest rates rising, the 3-cap is now a 4-cap or even a 5-cap, so the valuation is no longer $100M.  Maybe it is worth $80M, and now the mortgage comes due. 

The lender can hardly extend (whether or not it pretends) because it would now be $70M out of $80M, which is an 87.5% loan to value.

To stay at 70% loan to value (i.e., 70% of $80M), there needs to be a pay-down to $56M to get to a 70% loan to value, which requires a $14M payment to the lender.  I am going to call this “ Fulcrum Capital.”

There are solutions, of course that could avoid the need for Fulcrum Capital, but they may not be easily palatable.  Obviously, the borrower could just reach into its pocket and make the payment; however, the borrower might not have the dollars and/or might not want to make the payment.  Equally obviously, the lender could foreclose, but the lender might not want the property, or the borrower might not want to give it up so easily.  Or maybe the borrower could just walk away and give the keys to the lender despite the lender not wanting it. 

This is a classic distressed real estate situation.  It is the simplest one I could devise, and of course, there are super-complicated situations where there are multiple tranches of debt, preferred equity, different investors, and other stressors on the system.  Sometimes it is a true Gordian Knot to figure it all out.   

However, one way or another, there is often going to be a need for Fulcrum Capital, based, quite simply, on the property valuation adjustment, which makes a previously healthy property become overleveraged. 

Notably, some irony here struck me that the erstwhile safest assets are the ones most likely to be in this situation.  This is because super-safe assets – e.g., multifamily, industrial, SFHR – were trading almost like bonds on a cap rate basis.  Yet those are the ones where the valuation hit is most obvious because – just like a bond – when the interest rate goes up, the valuation goes down. I may be missing something, but the safest funds – i.e., core funds – may take some of the biggest hits here.

Having said that, of course, rents can potentially rise faster than inflation, so to some extent, this result may not be as bad as it seems.  My crystal ball has a cloud for this specific question. 

So I have set the table – now what happens?

First – non-bank lenders will eagerly step into this kind of situation.  It is essentially their raison d’etre, to provide – expensive – Fulcrum Capital in these situations.  From their perspective, if they provide the missing $14M, they will be paid extremely well for these dollars.  I won’t specify a number, but it is a heads-they-win-tails-they-win investment as it is largely equity returns with a solid equity cushion.  Indeed, depending on the level of distress, sometimes the Fulcrum Capital primes part of the first lien debt at heady interest rates.

Second – making it even more interesting, is that the parties providing this capital will only partially be non-bank lenders.  This is because many non-bank lenders that provide high-yield debt don’t want to go up to 87.5% in the capital stack as it is too risky for them. 

However, since the returns for this Fulcrum Capital are equity-like, the many private equity funds in the business will be putting in the dollars instead of the non-bank lenders.  From the point of view of private equity funds, Fulcrum Capital is not a (bad) over-leveraged loan but a (good) equity deal with a nice equity cushion that they typically don’t get. 

Notably, many non-bank lenders are also private equity providers, so it just may be one pocket of funding versus another.  Either way, you will see real estate private equity funds providing this Fulcrum Capital through their debt funds, equity funds, or both. 

As an aside, Fulcrum Capital will have various guises, including:

  • A new mezzanine loan
  • New preferred equity
  • Splitting up the debt into an A and a B piece
  • New common equity
  • Foreclosure and a new loan
  • A recapitalization
  • A deed-in-lieu with a new loan and the lender potentially converting a portion to equity
  • More bespoke structures

I sense that a large amount of money is available to provide Fulcrum Capital, which will keep a (moderate) lid on the pricing of this Fulcrum Capital.  I predict that initially, the pricing of this capital will be very high; however, over time as Fulcrum Capital becomes more de-rigueur and the markets stabilize, pricing will settle into a place where it is high but not crazy high. 

Now I am trying to simplify things in this article; however, these deals are rarely simple.  There are many concerns since the parties have so much at stake. 

The borrower might lose its property which could be a calamity

The lender – if a regulated bank – may find itself in a desperate situation with its regulators depending on how it handles the workout.   

There are potential litigation risks if any of the parties become hostile – as opposed to analytical – and distressed situations sometimes bring out the worst sides of parties. 

And, let’s not forget the tax implications of a foreclosure or workout or bad outcome.

To conclude, I urge the following:

Dispassionate and unemotional analysis of how market conditions brought the asset in question to the situation it is in;

Assessment of whether the troubled situation is due to just a change in market sentiment with interest rates rising or whether the owner’s lack of competence caused the trouble;

Assuming the counterparties are competent, they should start out by trying to work together – borrower and lender and Fulcrum Capital provider — to achieve a win/win/win result, utilizing the different guises of Fulcrum Capital to mutual advantage;

Be creative.  This is a time when brainpower and creativity can make a major difference. Fortunes can be won – as well as lost – in turbulent times; and

And no matter what, don’t blow your reputation up.  I guess a little chest-beating and brinkmanship is okay, but that old saying about a lifetime to achieve a reputation and fifteen minutes to lose it is apropos.  Further to that point, during good markets, new partners or investors typically do their due diligence for your track record in the last downturn.  Your future self will thank you if you always act with honor and integrity.

I wish everyone the best possible outcomes as the markets have changed.