Notary signing agents play a crucial role in many real estate transactions, as they facilitate the last step between the lender and the borrower to complete a mortgage loan. Like all parties involved in the real estate transaction, notary signing agents have also had to navigate through in-person, hybrid, and remote signings since the onset of the pandemic.

NEMA Online Signing Solutions & Consultants, LLC is a nationwide remote and electronic notary signing agency. To prepare for electronic and remote online notarization (RON), NEMA offers consulting, platform implementation, training, and recruiting services. NEMA’s CEO, Melissa “Missy” Johnson Eldridge, recently hosted the company’s first virtual RON Spring Summit. It was a virtual gathering of RON software experts, vendors, and notaries. 

The event’s keynote speakers were Max Lamb, Director of Partnerships and Integration at Qualia, and Kristin Horne, Chief Operations Officer at Flagship Title. In the session, The Digitally Connected Real Estate Ecosystem, they explored how the pandemic brought about greater consumer demand for remote and hybrid closings. 

Consumers want to close “where I want, how I want” 

Flagship Title, a Florida-based company, works with a national as well as international client pool of buyers and sellers. Within the past year, they have witnessed an increasing trend of out-of-state buyers. For example, a recent CBRE Study showed relocations from the San Francisco metro area to Florida jumped by 46% in 2020. 

Consumer demand for properties in Florida does not show signs of slowing down any time soon. According to the Florida Association of REALTORS® February 2021 housing data, single-family existing-home sales rose 15.7%, year-over-year. In fact, there were more closed sales, higher median home prices, more pending sales, and increased pending inventory compared to the same time last year.

In addition to an influx of buyers in the Florida market, these buyers also have higher expectations. Horne recognizes the effects of today’s Amazon-influenced lifestyle in her clients who often want immediate satisfaction. As more consumers become self-educated in the homebuying journey and how the process works, it’s only natural that they want to be in control of their closing as well. They want it “immediate, convenient, and quick,” Horne said. Flagship Title’s customer-centric approach meets the end-consumer when and where they want, whether it be in their homes, at work, or online, in addition to providing convenience to out-of-state buyers. 

Digital capabilities for growth 

When Lamb asked what digital capabilities made a difference in Horne’s business over the past year, she listed eChecks to agents and lenders, messaging capabilities through Qualia’s secure portal and mobile app, mobile deposits, and RON signings. Flagship has relied heavily on this combination of capabilities and digital tools during the pandemic. “It has pushed us forward as an industry, especially here in Florida,” Horne said. 

Flagship Title is future-focused when it comes to implementing new technology or practices. “We want to grow and accommodate more closings and more clients,” Horne said. To accomplish this, Flagship Title is harnessing its technology to create a premium customer experience. It started with the integration of Qualia nearly 4 years ago. Being able to streamline the process and ease the complexity of the transaction saved time and money. It also allowed for opportunities to grow and scale. By streamlining their workload, and time saved by limiting the need to rekey data, their closers have been able to nearly triple their processing power. Regardless of fluctuations in volume, the platform provides agility so Flagship Title’s business can operate at maximum efficiency at all times.

Manage vendor relationships all in one place

Consistent and streamlined operations with outside vendors are important to Flagship Title. They achieve this by leveraging the Qualia Marketplace. Marketplace is a vendor portal providing a single network of all the services needed to close a transaction. All the closing services outside of Flagship’s domain are in one place. For Flagship Title, Marketplace provides time savings and accountability for their staff. “We don’t have to second guess if [i.e., notaries, estoppels, lien searches, title searches, surveyors, etc.] got done,” Horne said. Marketplace makes fulfillment tracking, record keeping, and accounting simpler.

Notaries can join Qualia Marketplace by either signing up as an individual or as part of a notary signing agency that is already a Marketplace member, like NEMA Online Signing Solutions & Consultants, LLC. 

Improving customer engagement with RON eClosings

When Florida implemented RON legislation on January 1, 2020, Flagship Title quickly acted to get its RON notary license and Horne herself secured her remote notary certification. This provided a deeper understanding of the process and the ability to walk their clients through the transaction and address any questions they might have. 

Flagship Title also leverages notary signing agencies to provide them with qualified RON-enabled notaries at a moment’s notice. A signing agency can help manage high volume and can also provide reassurance that their notaries are vetted and trained for closings taking place in any city across the globe. “A notary is an extension of our company. We want to ensure that our clients are getting the same level of service as if that person was sitting in front of me,” Horne said.

For both in-house and vendor notaries, RON is another excellent tool to add to their offerings. It provides more opportunities to tailor to consumers’ needs of how and when they want to close. RON transactions save notaries time (no travel) and money (no printing or traveling costs). Plus, it allows them to get in front of even more people with greater scheduling flexibility. 

Horne offered a few tips for notaries looking to get RON certified: 

  1. Work with a signing agency that can provide you training. Title companies look for notaries that are knowledgeable and can provide a great experience. They will be more apt to use signing agencies over and over again if they can consistently deliver expertise and a good experience. 
  2. Be familiar with your RON platform. Horne advised that notaries should anticipate questions from consumers during the RON signing. The more familiarity the notary has with the platform, the more confidence the consumer will have in the process as a whole. Both Horne and Lamb recommended that notaries take advantage of the demos and test signings to get as much training as possible. Lamb suggested, “click around to make sure you know what everything does.” These test runs will help notaries to be more comfortable and confident when the actual RON signing event occurs. 
  3. Be personable. Horne emphasized, “even though you are on video, pretend you are in person.” Be personable and do your best to read people’s facial expressions and tone of voice to get a sense of any potential confusion or concern. You are there to guide them through the process and provide comfort along with notary expertise.

Closing options post-pandemic 

Horne doesn’t see Flagship Title’s closing options changing once the pandemic is over. The company’s philosophy is “to meet people where they are,” so clients can choose between in-person, hybrid, or completely online.

She predicts that RON will be an option that they continue to offer for the long term. Many people have shifted to remote and hybrid workforces, so she believes RON signings will continue to provide an “immediate, quick, and convenient” option for customers.