The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the real estate industry to lean more heavily on a digital notary process to close transactions.
Some banks are accepting digital signatures but others are refusing, possibly jeopardizing pending sales.
The state started allowing online notary services in January 2020. Since then, South Florida realty firms have been relying on local attorneys and title insurance companies to process the transfer of a deed and ensure the parties signing and requiring financing are committed to their home.
“Things were moving in that direction before the coronavirus. This is just pushing the wave of the entire closing process to online,” said Joe Hernandez, attorney and chair of the Coral Gables-based Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman.
“Most closings for the residential condo 5350 Park at Downtown Doral at 8551 NW 53rd St. have closed through digital services since early 2020, when the project received its temporary certificate of occupancy,” said Daniel Guerra, vice president of sales for Fortune International Realty. “There have been 46 closings of the 230 units.”
Fortune International also used a virtual notary service to close a deal on a penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton Residences Sunny Isles Beach at 15800 Collins Ave.
“Online tools save time,” said Nicole Miller, a Coral Springs broker associate with Keller Williams Realty.
Miller, who completes the entire closing process online, uses several platforms, including Dotloop and DocuSign. Her clients are over 55 years old and she’ has taught buyers and sellers in their 80s and 90s how to virtually sign documents.
“It’s about coming to terms with technology and making our jobs easier,” Miller said.
“A problem arises when lenders refuse a virtual notary,” Guerra said. “This will either postpone, delay, extend or, in some cases, accelerate a sale. We are just starting to feel the effects of this.”
A solution that one online notary service is using to curb fears is talking directly to attorneys and lenders. Kevin Tacher, founder and chief executive officer of the Fort Lauderdale-based digital notary firm Independence Title, describes how online signatures and saved video recordings of these proceedings are legitimate in a court in case of a foreclosure proceeding.
“Still, the majority of banks are not accepting the online services,” Tacher said, “We are seeing several cancellations because a bank is refusing to lend, people have lost their jobs or people are afraid of losing their jobs.”
Business has decreased for Tacher’s firm amid the coronavirus shutdown.
“Independence Title averaged 80 to 100 closings per month prior to the coronavirus,” Tacher said. He had 55 closings in March.
Some businesses are seeing a boost in activity. Wynwood-based Expetitle, a one-stop digital shop for the entire closing process, including the notary process, saw business increase by 30% since March.
“We built an Uber Eats for the entire closing process,” said Sean Daly, the company’s chief executive officer and founder.
Daly established the start up January 2019 and overseas a 10-person team.
“There’s little innovation in the closing space. Now with coronavirus, some title companies are trying to figure this out,” Daly said. “Some are going out of business because they rely on paperwork.”
Source: Miami Herald
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