Logo for The Security Title Guarantee Corporation of Baltimore

As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to turn the real estate market on its head, curbside and remote mortgage closings have become a logical extension of signing loan documents and distributing money at the office of a title company or escrow office.

Title companies are adjusting to new protocols to ensure safe closings, according to Diane Tomb, CEO of American Land Title Association

“During this health pandemic and social distancing, we’re seeing title companies across the country get creative to offer safe and secure closings for their customers,” she said. “In addition to drive-through closings and implementing safe closing protocols, companies are closing transactions through remote online notarization, which uses audio/visual technology to complete a notarial act when the customer is not in the same physical location as the notary public.”

Notaries and signers are justifiably concerned about being exposed to someone possibly infected with COVID-19 when meeting face to face during loan signings and notarizations, according to Notary Bulletin, noting: “In response, some closing companies have recommended a process called window-separated signing or porch signing, in which loan signings are conducted through a window or doorway at a safe physical distance.”

National Notary Association has published guidelines for performing window-separated signings. For example, a notary must follow all federal, state and local guidelines for social distancing, health protection and sanitization when meeting with signers and handling documents, IDs or other materials. When items are passed between the signer and notary, one person should place the item in a neutral area and then step back and provide safe distance to allow the other person to pick it up.

Mortgage title closing held outdoors
Attorney Patrick McLister with Salisbury, McLister & Foley in Frederick, Maryland, signs closing … [+] VICKI FRENCH

Notarize, a platform for digital notarizations, saw real estate volume increase by 400% in March and has $23 billion in real estate transactions ordered for April. To support the surge in demand, Notarize is hiring 1,000 notaries in Texas, Florida, Nevada and Virginia to join its team in a role that allows notaries to work remotely, safely in their homes. 

Knight Barry Title Group in Milwaukee is offering remote closing solutions whenever possible for the safety and convenience of its customers.

In a Facebook video, chief operating officer Craig Haskins explained that Knight Barry has implemented a work-from-home plan for employees who are able to handle their jobs remotely. “But mission-critical jobs like our closing department and our closers, they’re here, and they are closing your transactions right now in our closing rooms,” he said. “With some of our employees allowed working remotely, it’s allowed us to create a safer social-distancing environment. It allows us to keep clean, stay organized and be prepared for the next set of closings that come through our doors.”

Haskins said the company has put into effect safe plans for its office to make sure it is sanitized. The guidance is published on Knight Barry’s website. For example, the company has bought hundreds of pens so that after the signing, the signers can take their pens with them or dispose of them on the way out. After the closing, the staff wipes down all touched hard surfaces. 

Knight Barry also can handle document signing online and give customers their proceeds in a way they prefer.

“The remote online notarization allows us to keep our offices free of unneeded visitors,” explained Haskins. “While we love to have you in the closing rooms, at this point in time, we’d like to limit the number of people coming into the room and limit those closings just to the people who need to sign the documents when possible. We’ve also had many requests for in-home closings. While it seems like a great idea, those are becoming harder and harder for us to plan around and organize.”

Rocket Mortgage states on in its website that it is taking “extraordinary measures” to complete customers’ real estate transaction in a safe and secure manner, including: 

  • Actively engaging with appraisers and signing agents to ensure that no one is conducting inspections or closings who shouldn’t be – based on their recent travel, interactions, showing signs of symptoms, etc.
  • Working to ensure that our team members and partners understand and follow all CDC guidelines and best practices.
  • Encouraging appraisers and signing agents to take proper sanitary measures the entire time they are at your home.

“Even though shelter-in-place orders are in effect in many areas of the country, the mortgage process can still continue,” Rocket Mortgage states. “Appraisers, closing agents and other people who need to enter your home can still do so under the shelter-in-place order. In some cases, we even have alternative ways to complete these parts of the process that don’t require entering the home.

“To make these precautionary measures as effective as possible, we need your support. When the appraiser or signing agent arrives, they are going to ask to maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet, and they will not shake your hand. This isn’t because they’re unfriendly, it is because they’re following CDC guidelines to maintain proper safety. They may even arrive wearing rubber gloves or a face mask as an added precaution. We respect their choice to do so, and ask that you respect it as well.”

Kathy Kwak, vice president of title and escrow operations and counsel for Proper Title in Chicago, told Chicago Agent magazine that in order to ensure the safety of her staff, the second-largest title agency in Illinois is encouraging buyers and sellers to provide a power of attorney to their lawyers so that they don’t need to attend the closing at all. 

In a typical curbside transaction, the magazine reports that buyers and their agents show up in separate cars and are met outside by a title company closer, who will collect the buyer’s driver’s license, signature and cashier’s or certified check. Before the closing, the buyer’s attorney must review the loan and closing documents.

Kwak pointed out that although the overall process is much safer, the excitement of closing on a home is somewhat diminished. “This is a big moment for many buyers,” she said, noting that the pandemic has “taken away that whole ceremony. … All of that now has been removed. It’s so robotic and routine now.”

Click on the link below to read the complete article online @www.forbes.com.