Expanding the discussion about online notaries and remote online notarization
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Expanding the discussion about online notaries and remote online notarization

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As a follow up to a recent story on online notaries and remote online notarization, we received several letters and have some more information for our readers.

Reader comment: I understand the need for online notaries. However, I would like to note that my attorney for my refi came to my house and we finalized the documents on a card table in my garage (I am 75). We were going to use my porch, but it was very windy that day. My attorney said that there was a way in Connecticut to accomplish a signature online. He told me that it was easier for him to drive to my home and have me sign the documents in front of him. My son in Seattle closed on a table in his front hallway with a notary. So, there are other ways to safely finalize closings without online notaries.

Reader comment: 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 all have notaries. You just have to call ahead to confirm.

Our take: We recently focused on how the COVID-19 virus started to change the way real estate transactions are handled. In particular, some settlement agents are taking advantage of remote online notarization systems to limit the number of people at a real estate closing.

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that the real estate community in different parts of the country is handling the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways. On the 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, as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread over the past two months, buyers and sellers (and real estate professionals involved in the transaction) are looking for ways to avoid contact with others, which is why 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 COVID-19, 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. It was convenient for the borrower and a pretty efficient system.

Unfortunately, the new social distancing rules (and our own innate sense of preservation) has 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. So, while that system can still work, 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 quite handy. Just as you would sign the documents when the lender or notary comes to your home, you can sign the refinance documents in your home while an online notary watches you and sees you sign the documents from another location. One of the drawbacks to 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.

These days it’s pretty common to hear of parents or grandparents asking their tech-savvy kids or grandkids how to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other conferencing 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 as well as let the notary watch you sign the documents, talk to you, and record the interaction.

Sometimes it’s easier to do something in person if someone might have technology issues. 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 that 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.

Thank you for your comments and letters. We really appreciate hearing from our readers.

(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.)

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