Unfortunately, in the ensuing 12 years, real estate transactions in many parts of the country, including the District and Maryland, are still being recorded the old-fashioned way. That is, with paper, blue ink pen, a notary stamp and one or more trips to the courthouse or recorder of deeds. Each trip requires a wait at one or more windows, the payment of the necessary fees and presentation of the original documents for recording.
According to Tom Kennedy, acting director of records, taxes and treasury for Broward County, only about one-third of the Florida counties have now adopted some level of electronic recordings.
In Virginia, Fairfax and Loudoun counties have adopted and are using electronic filing systems for land records. Their systems permit anyone who pre-registers to electronically deliver documents to the courthouse for recording. Electronically delivered and recorded documents are verified and returned in one to two business days.
Jurisdictions vary in how quickly they can manually process, image and return the original documents. According to Susan Simpson, director of operations at Passport Title Services, LLC, in Rockville, “Montgomery County, Md., and most Northern Virginia counties return manually processed originals in approximately two weeks. The recorder of deeds office of the District of Columbia is now taking approximately four weeks to return original recorded documents. Prince George’s County, Md., returns original documents in approximately eight weeks.”
But there is still some hope that fully paperless real estate transactions will become a reality nationwide. Leading the way are members of the National Association of Realtors who have been using several different digital signature programs for several years. These programs permit Realtors to have their clients sign, initial, date and otherwise legally complete the purchase and sales contract from the comfort of their computer, tablet or smart phone. Some of these programs also provide signature tracking, automatic notification to all parties when additional signatures are affixed, contacts management, long-term storage and retrieval of the digital documents.
The benefits of digital signatures to Realtors and their clients are obvious: The purchase and sale contracts no longer need to be driven around town; and the buyers and sellers need not gather together in one place and time. The days of the illegibly re-faxed contracts, containing hand-made strike outs, insertions and endless initials, will be over once digital signature programs are universally adopted. One other significant benefit is that the purchases and sales documents and all related disclosures, certifications and addendum can now be permanently signed, stored and retrieved in electronic format. Buyers and sellers can take their time, in the comfort of their own homes (or wherever they may be), to review these documents, or with a click of a mouse, send them to their attorney for pre-signature review.