After our story on online notaries and remote online notarization, we received several letters and have some more information for our readers. Here are two reader comments:
My closing was early April and while I e-signed most documents, a notary was necessary for about 12 of the documents. Because of the coronavirus, my bank was unable to provide a notary. My son reminded me that UPS stores have notary services, but it is good to call ahead to confirm.
Our take: We recently focused on how the coronavirus pandemic started to change the way real estate transactions are handled. Some settlement agents are taking advantage of remote online notarization systems to limit the number of people at a real estate closing.
The real estate community in different parts of the country is handling the coronavirus pandemic in a variety of ways. On one hand, you have traditional document signings with traditional notaries. In these situations, the person signing the paper documents signs them before a notary and the notary acknowledges the signing with the notary’s signature and stamp. These are also known as “wet” signatures.
The traditional notary system still works and works well for most real estate transactions. However, during the stay-at-home guidelines in the past months, buyers, sellers and real estate professionals involved in the transaction have been looking for ways to avoid in-person contact, so the option of remote online notarization is growing quickly.
And, yes, the UPS Store, currency exchanges, many banks, many attorneys and accountants, and even some property managers can notarize documents for you. Before the pandemic, the bank or lender might come to your home and have you sign all the documents you might need for a refinancing. The lender would also bring a notary to notarize the documents to make it efficient and convenient for the borrower.
The new social distancing rules have translated into finding other ways of doing business. You may be unable to find a lender or notary who is willing to make a house call. If the professionals in your transaction are unwilling to be in close contact, you might have to find an alternative method to get your refinancing documents signed.
This is where remote online notarization can be handy. Just as you would sign the documents when the lender or notary comes to your home, you can sign the refinancing documents in your home while an online notary watches you and sees you sign the documents from another location. One of the essential parts of this system is making sure that the person signing the documents has enough knowledge about computers and Web-based programs to use the online notary system. People who are unfamiliar with the technology may feel it would be easier to meet the notary in person.
These days it's common to hear of parents or grandparents asking their tech-savvy children or grandchildren how to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other videoconferencing software systems. For online notary systems to work, the person signing the documents must feel comfortable with the signing process.
If you plan to use an online notary, you’ll need a computer with a camera and microphone, plus reliable Internet service. Make sure you know how to turn on the camera and microphone and you understand the program used by the online notary. This program will allow you to view the documents and let the notary watch you sign the documents, talk to you and record the interaction.
We suspect that our first reader signed the refinancing documents before the coronavirus quarantine. These days, most settlement agents and title companies will try to limit the number of people who come to closings, or have buyers and sellers sign documents through their car window (with new pens); or if the closing can be done remotely, the settlement agent may try to push all parties to get the deal done that way.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her website, ThinkGlink.com.