James Hsu’s recent Bloodhound article on (nearly) paperless transactions using a Tablet PC, PDF Annotator, and Microsoft OneNote showed an ingenious self-cobbled-together solution to a vexing problem in real estate: how to stop killing so many damn trees every time we sell a home! Purchase contracts and disclosure documents get longer each year, usually driven by the industry’s need to protect itself from lawsuits from people seemingly too stupid to be buying homes in the first place (”Mr. Jones, did you not notice that the new home you were buying was on a golf course? Why then were you surprised when a golf ball came sailing through your window?” Voila — the new Errant Golf Ball disclosure.)
James’ solution, and others involving Tablet PC’s — such as Vreo’s Dashboard — have the virtue of simplicity and ease-of-understanding: signing your name on a Tablet PC precisely mimics the act of signing your name on a piece of paper. No real learning curve, no complicated explanation of what it is you’re doing. This solution is perfect if two things are true: 1) You have a Tablet PC; 2) You do most of your deal paperwork in the same room as your clients.
Requirement 1) is becoming easier as Tablet PC’s drop in price. Requirement 2 is necessary because it’s unlikely that your clients have a Tablet PC of their own.
What if your clients are like mine — busy executives constantly traveling? More often than not, one of the parties needing to sign a document is out of town, and even if everybody is in town, it’s usually pretty inconvenient for me to drive to wherever they might be just to get a signature. In that scenario, a fax machine still beats a Tablet PC hands-down. Vreo’s Tei Baishiki and I discussed precisely that at the last Inman.
Enter Docusign, a Seattle company with a neat e-signature solution. (Full disclosure: I don’t work for Docusign. I’m not on their payroll. I don’t earn a nickel for any referrals I send their way. I simply love their product and am very loyal to my vendors. The only “compensation” I’ve ever received is that they’ve sent some reporters my way and I’ve gotten some free publicity for my business.)
Though requiring some re-assurance about the method and legal validity, Docusign’s product has been my lifesaver over the last three years. The first time my clients touch a piece of paper in a real estate transaction is at the closing table, and that’s because I have no control over the workflow processes of the title company and the mortgage company. All of the documents coming from me — contracts, disclosures, and all — are 100% electronic.
Need to write up a contract at midnight for presentation at 8am, though signer A is in New York, and Signer B is in Germany? Piece of cake. Need to submit a counter-offer in 10 minutes? Again, no worries.
Questions about its legal validity? I can’t answer that, but I can point to two facts:
- Winforms, officially sanctioned by CAR itself, has a handy little “Electronic Signature” button on the toolbar. This button automatically sends the documents into the Docusign signature system.
- CAR’s legal services department created a document on December 7, 2004, entitled, Electronic Signatures and Records in Real Estate Transactions. Said document clearly indicates — at least to my interpretation — that the large majority of real estate-related transactions can be legally consummated electronically. (Exceptions include things like evictions, utility disconnections, and seller financing disclosures.) In fact, both E-Sign and UETA — California and Federal government acts, respectively — state no signature, contract, or record relating to a transaction can be denied legal validity or enforceability solely because it is [in] an electronic format, or solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.
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