Your Ultimate Guide to Electronic Signatures for Real Estate

E-signing can help make real estate transactions easier than ever. Find out how to make it work for you and your clients.

Your Ultimate Guide to Electronic Signatures for Real Estate

Of the many game-changing technologies that have revolutionized the process of home buying and selling over the last decade, perhaps none have been as profound as the advent of electronic signatures. By streamlining the process of signing and accepting offers, filling out forms, and verifying contingencies and addenda, electronic signature platforms bring unparalleled speed and convenience to every step of the transaction.

However, as with all new technologies, electronic signatures come with their own pitfalls and problems. The same speed that makes e-signatures so convenient can also result in a sense that they are not “real” or that signatories have been somehow rushed through the process. This can result in misunderstandings and even legal liability.

Find out how e-signatures can benefit you and your clients and how they are viewed under the law. In addition, we’ll give you some insight into the information your clients need before they sign on the virtual dotted line.

The Upside of E-Signing

Electronic signatures became so popular so quickly because they offer a number of significant improvements over old-fashioned, real-life signatures. These include:

● Consistency

You’ve seen it time and time again. When a client is signing a stack of papers -- whether at the initial listing appointment or when making an offer or at closing -- their signature starts to vary wildly, from fatigue, boredom, or sheer repetition. An electronic signature offers the opportunity to use one fresh, official signature, then repeat it at will throughout the document or document packet. That consistency makes the signature more uniform and therefore more reliable.

● Permanence

As a real estate agent, you are required to keep documents on file for years. Electronic signing and filing saves storage space and is far more reliable than trying to keep track of every piece of paper associated with dozens or hundreds of transactions. In addition, there’s no worry about a coffee spill or accidental damage to a document. An e-signature is always fresh, always legible, and always available.

● Speed

Everyone is so busy these days, so it can be difficult to nail down a time to meet with clients for signatures. With e-signatures, everyone can sign as soon as documents are prepared, then electronically transmitted to the other agent saving time for everyone.

This is especially helpful for you as an agent or broker, since it frees you up to keep the transaction moving while you are on-the-go. In addition, when you are dealing with a short turnaround in a multiple offer situation, an e-signature can be the difference between your clients offer being considered or being too little, too late.

● Convenience

Clients on vacation. Relocating clients searching from out-of-town. High-powered couples with demanding careers requiring long hours. All of these types of clients can be difficult to nail down and getting real life signatures from them can take days. The convenience of e-signatures can make a positive difference for them and for you, reducing stress and streamlining the process.

● Integrations

If you use an electronic transaction management platform like HelloSign, zipLogix, or Form Simplicity, an e-signature platform can be integrated to streamline every transaction. That means that every aspect of your sale or purchase process, from document prep to sharing, signatures, and storage can be handled in one easy, convenient electronic platform.

● Security

E-signatures provide additional security features like timestamps, serial numbers, and other elements to ensure the reliability of the signature. When integrated with a transaction management system, they also automatically remove signatures if later changes are made, ensuring that the client’s intention is clear.

Laws Related to Electronic Signatures

Clearly, there are many great reasons to use electronic signatures. However, all of that convenience and speed has brought about the passage of new laws related to the use of e-signatures in legally binding documents.

In 2000, the federal government passed the ESIGN Act (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce) in order to help implement the adoption of e-signatures as legally binding. This has been followed by state-level laws to further define and, in some cases, limit the use of electronic signatures.

In addition to ESIGN, UETA (Uniform Electronic Transactions Act) has been passed and implemented in 47 states and a number of territories. The purpose of ESIGN and UETA is to:

● Establish the validity of an electronic signature for any law requiring a signature.

● Allow e-signed agreements to be presented as court evidence.

● Prevent the denial of an electronically signed document on the basis of its electronic signature.

In the real estate industry in particular, NAR has supported the ESIGN Act and urges regulators and lenders to “facilitate and widen the acceptance of electronic signatures.”

Ways to Make e-Signing Work on Your Next Transaction

If e-signatures are so convenient, what possible drawbacks could they have? Without proper guidance from you, the same speed and convenience that makes electronic signatures so convenient can leave clients feeling confused and, in some cases, a bit uneasy about virtual signing.

Some real estate agents send along documents with little or no explanation, then the e-signature platform speeds clients through the signing process, often without the ability to easily review and discuss the contents.

How can you ensure that your use of the e-signature is in the best interest of your client and that they are clearly informed throughout the sale or purchase process?

1. Discuss the purpose for e-signatures and the legislation related to their use.

Make sure that your client understands the laws relating to e-signatures and the fact that e-signed documents are legally binding. Let them know that the law also provides them with the opportunity to choose paper contracts and that they are not required to sign electronically. Reassure them of the security benefits of e-signing, including dedicated serial numbers and time stamps.

2. Make sure you review all documents with your clients and, if possible, get confirmation from them that they have discussed the documents with you and are ready to sign.

It is your responsibility to ensure that your client understands what he or she is signing. Don’t let your clients sign something they don’t understand. Ensure that they have the opportunity to go through the document and ask questions before they sign.

3. Explain how the e-signature platform works, including how clients can review and revisit the document along the way.

Part of the problem early e-signature clients identified was the platform’s auto-scroll feature, taking the client from one signature space to another. While this may speed up the process, it may also confuse clients unfamiliar with the platform. By clearly explaining how the platform works, you can be assured that your client is fully informed.

4. As always, remember: Communication is Key.

The best way to make e-signing work for you and your clients is to clearly communicate. When a document is sent to your client, follow-up with them to ensure that they have received it and to field any questions they may have. Follow up again after they sign, just to ensure that everything has gone smoothly. The more you let them know you are there, the more comfortable they will feel with the e-signing process.

As with so many aspects of real estate, clear communication and a focus on the client can help you to circumvent problems and protect yourself when it comes to the use of electronic signatures. Up-to-date technology is a tool that helps you exercise greater control over your transactions. Open the door to the time-saving and stress-reducing use of electronic signatures to streamline your transactions and simplify your systems and processes.

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