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No Contact Closings: The New Normal for Real Estate?

Sep 2, 2020 12:00:00 AM

COVID-19 has changed the way realtors sell houses. Due to pandemic precautions, real estate tech solutions for every stage of the selling process are now standardized practice. Video conference calls with clients and apps that notify prospective buyers of suitable new properties are in full force. And according to a Showing Time survey, in June 2020, 52,000 showings were conducted entirely online. A big part of this tech-driven shift is no-contact signing and it’s become an imperative step in digitizing deals.

What is No-Contact Signing?

Often referred to as electronic signing, no-contact signing involves authorizing actions or taking responsibilities by providing a recognized electronic signature. This is in lieu of a so-called “wet-ink signature” signed with ink on physical paper in the traditional way. The popularity of this practice has skyrocketed and eSignature transactions have increased from 89 million to 754 million over 5 years.

Accepted forms of e-signatures include anything from executing a smart contract via blockchain to clicking “I agree” on a Terms and Conditions page. Other formats include printing, signing, and then scanning or faxing a document, using AdobeSign, DocuSign, or similar technology.

You can also sign electronically by typing your name in an email or on a form in your web browser to confirm that you’ve seen the documents. The United States eSignature legislation defines them as any electronic sound, process, or symbol that shows intent to sign an associated contract or record.

US Laws on Electronic Signing

There are two main legislation governing eSignatures in the United States of America; one federal and one state act. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). The UETA was passed in 1999 and has been adopted by the District of Columbia and 48 US states.

The only states not to have adopted the UETA are New York, which passed the Electronic Signatures and Records Act (ESRA) in 2000, and Illinois, which passed the Electronic Commerce Security Act (ECSA) in the same year. Federal law supersedes state law, but the legislation is so similar that the Acts usually stipulate the same regulations and requirements.

The guiding principle is that unless the circumstances are exceptional and all parties to a contract have agreed to use electronic signing and the eSignatures are known to be valid, they must be accepted as wet-ink signings would be. Therefore, if you and your client both agree to eSignatures, you can go ahead and close your real estate transactions this way.

It must be noted that certain agreements and contracts are not recognized by the UETA, the ECSA, the ESRA, or indeed the E-SIGN Act. These include specific deals under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which has its own eSignature regulations, and domestic and probate law documents. In terms of realty, the Acts don’t govern foreclosure proceedings and wet ink signatures are required to make these documents legally binding.

Real Estate in the 21st Century

There’s no doubt about it – technology in the real estate industry is here to stay. That’s partially due to lockdown restrictions currently in place, and because Millennials and Gen Z-ers are entering the housing market.

The next generations are buying and selling homes now, and they’ve been exposed to technology and internet connectivity since the day they were born. Growing up in this digital world, it’s estimated that 74% of Gen Z spend more than an hour daily on their mobile phones compared to Gen Y’s 66% and Gen X’s 55%. This makes them more at ease with doing business online.

Online real estate reviews and other examples of social media marketing are among the main platforms that allow realtors to stay relevant in the 21st century - with or without COVID-19. Generations Y and Z demand their information faster than Generation X ever did, and as a real estate agent, you’ve got to be able to step up to the plate.

Research shows that Gen Z or the so-called Net Generation has an average attention span of no more than eight seconds. You need to get in there with punchy advertisements, reviews, and virtual tours and listings that have been optimized for mobile devices. And, you need to be fully equipped to offer secure no-contact contract signing facilities.

Bring Hi-Tech and Personal Touches Together

If you’re involved in any other part of real estate besides foreclosure, you’re good to go when it comes to sealing deals digitally. This is important in our current and future post-COVID-19 realities. At the same time as you’re wrapping your head around signing contracts differently, you need to keep incorporating digital elements into the rest of your business.

But that doesn’t mean that personal service and the fostering of close relationships with clients should take a back seat; if anything, they’re more important than ever.

Millennials and Gen Z-ers both say that they’re more likely to choose agents who’ve been recommended, or who receive good online reviews from fellow homebuyers and sellers, as long as they seem authentic

In a world where those who are less tech-savvy are being almost forced to conduct business online and use devices more often, this blend of digital and personal is equally important in dealing with older generations.

Use email for your communications, but make sure you don’t stick to important business information. Send emails to celebrate a successful property purchase, and to say thank you to clients who used you or recommended you to others.

When you send the electronic contracts to be signed, add clear, concise instructions on how to complete them and explain what they signify in simple terms. Additionally, make yourself available via telephone at reasonable hours as 60% of customers still prefer to contact a small business directly.

Younger people will expect that personal attention as a way of keeping up with your competitors, and older people will appreciate the input as they deal with new technology. Either way, it’s an important habit to cultivate and can only benefit you in the long run – and will no doubt end up landing you with a whole lot more of those eSignatures.

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Marina Copeland is part of the editorial team over at Homestack, where she covers topics from real estate financing to home staging tips. She brings years of experience to delivering content that inspires real estate professionals to close perfect property deals.

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