Title and settlement companies across the country have modified their closing processes to serve their customers and keep everyone safe in a world of social distancing and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to safe closing protocols, companies have developed drive-through or curbside closings as a signing option to handle the near historic levels of business.
Inspiring his idea to keep clients safe, Rob Fricks, managing member of the Georgia-based law firm Fricks Bohan LLC, thought about fast-food restaurants and automated carwashes.
“We could close transactions that way,” he said. Starting on March 22, the firm started offering drive-through closings.
Sellers and buyers remain in their vehicles and an attorney goes to the seller vehicle and then to the buyer vehicle. The real estate agents remain in the parking lot out of the flow of traffic. Their checks and settlement statements are delivered after the closing to their respective vehicles.
“We have designated lanes for buyers and sellers,” Frick said. “We have two attorneys, so we can close two transactions at the same time.”
To comply with safety guidelines, the law firm’s staff wears gloves for each closing and masks/bandannas. The customers keep the pens and disposable clipboards. Post-closers handling the files also wear gloves.
“We wash our hands and use hand sanitizer constantly,” Frick added. “Everyone has been amazingly accommodating and understanding.”
California-based The Closing Exchange offers what it calls Curbside Closing, Alan Frelix, CEO of The Closing Exchange, says this concept is the same as a mobile signing, except the notary signing agent and the consumer will not conduct the signing or the notarization in the same room. In a time of social distancing, the notary signing agent will meet the signer(s) at the desired location, but the entire signing will be held with a barrier between the signer and the notary signing agent abiding by the CDC’s social distancing practices.
“Our Curbside Closing provides clients and their customers the peace of mind of a germ- and stress-free signing experience in a time where stress levels are high,” said Alan Frelix, CEO of The Closing Exchange. “Abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing guidelines, our Curbside Closing option allows the signer(s) to sign the documents at a convenient place and time without the need for a signing agent to enter the signer’s home or to meet face-to-face without a protective barrier.”
Covid conf room
At the law firm Khani & Auerbach in Hollywood, Fla., attorney Khila Khani said they created a safe space to conduct closings outdoors or via drive-through. Her staff wears masks and gloves during the transaction. The table is cleaned after every use. Only Khani, the law firm’s other partner and one other staff member is permitted in the office.
“We are trying as hard as possible to avoid face-to-face closings, but the lenders are not being very flexible about it, even though both my partner and I are capable of conducting e-closings and are both remote online notaries,” Khani said.
Curbside closings also have been implemented by Alyeska Title Guaranty Agency in Alaska.
“The process is still taking place,” said Chelsea Arthur, an escrow manager at Alyeska Title. “We want to make sure that the home buying economy doesn’t get affected here in Alaska as much as possible.”
The title company created a short video to highlight the new closing process, inform consumers that deals are still closing and that procedures have been implemented to keep the community safe. The title agency’s escrow officers wear masks and gloves when meeting clients in their car.
“We’re definitely still busy and believe it or not we’re actually busier than we have been all year,” Arthur said.
Connie Clancy, president of Legacy Title, developed the curbside and drive-through options after the governor in Minnesota issued a stay-at-home order lasting through April 10.
“We recognized immediately that this situation would cause a shift in the traditional way of doing closings and began implementing changes right away,” Clancy said. “We started with separating parties into different closing rooms, offering curbside service and then saw the opportunity to offer the drive-through option and acted quickly to make it happen for our customers.”
Executive Closer Carmen Jorgensen oversees the drive-through closings for Legacy Title. She says that clients appreciate the option.
“Some of our clients need to have their children with them because school is closed, Jorgensen said. “Doing this in the drive-through ensures we are adhering to the social distancing orders all of us have been given. A few clients told us they were considering canceling their closing for safety reasons until they found out about this convenient option.”
While this probably won’t be the new normal, Clancy is proud to work in an industry that supports working together to put the consumer first and keep everyone safe.
“Even in difficult situations, essential business like this must happen,” she said. “Whether someone is buying, selling or refinancing we recognize the importance of their investment and want to continue to make this experience as positive as possible for all involved.”
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