The closing table: it’s the final touchpoint before a homebuyer receives the keys to their new home, and arguably one of the most memorable and lasting experiences in the entire transaction.
Now, the signing experience is taking on new meaning in light of COVID-19 as businesses look to deliver the most professional, calm, and helpful closing experience to consumers who are facing out-of-the-norm circumstances (e.g. drive through closings, picnic-style closings, or fully-remote closings).
We sat down with Chuck Haney, President and CEO of Sign X, a national mobile notary signing agency, to discuss the importance of the signing experience (whether done remotely or in-person) and how businesses can maintain a personal touch via their notary partners.
The real estate transaction’s digital transformation
Over the past few years, lenders, real estate agents, and title & escrow businesses have adopted technology to appeal to consumer demand for instant access to information and streamlined communication. Today, nearly every stakeholder in the real estate transaction uses digital touchpoints to streamline the transaction and to connect with consumers.
In the current environment the need for digital tools is especially pronounced. During COVID-19, real estate professionals are reducing in-person contact through rapid adoption of digital tools such as virtual home tours, digital loan origination platforms, secure communication portals like Qualia Connect, e-signing tools like Qualia eSign, and remote online notarization (RON) where possible.
Businesses that had planned for gradual implementation of different technology and paperless operations are now quickly adopting these tools and practices. When social distancing ends, digital technology will have made an indelible mark on the industry.
Digital’s impact on the closing experience
The growing use of digital tools throughout the real estate transaction only underscores the importance of a positive closing experience which could be the only (and is certainly the final) face-to-face interaction a homebuyer will have.
“Some of our title company clients have talked with us about how a buyer may be with the real estate agent in person, then transition to a loan originator, loan processor, and escrow officer remotely only to see a human at the closing,” Haney said of the transaction experience even before COVID-19. “The importance of that individual conducting the close can make or break the experience for the consumer and potentially taint the viewpoint of the performance of all the unseen faces in the chain.”
Discovering and selecting the best notary partners
When considering the significance of the closing experience, the value of a knowledgeable notary professional cannot be understated. Regardless of whether the closing takes place fully-remote, in a title office, in a parking lot, or in the signer’s home, Haney said that personalization and service should be “heavily weighed” when selecting a notary partner.
Haney offered the following criteria title & escrow businesses and lenders should consider when selecting a notary partner:
Notaries are an extension of the title or escrow business; therefore, they must operate with the same level of client attentiveness. This means the notary signing agent should be available and capable of responding to any questions or concerns by the signer and address hiccups that may arise during the closing. It’s critical for the notary signing agent to be responsive and help direct any questions they are not allowed to address back to the proper contact (such as the title agent or escrow officer).
Haney noted that notary agency partners should also identify and fix problems quickly. “We regularly respond outside of normal business hours to take care of specific concerns or needs by the title client, notary or signer,” he said. “The best notary agencies work with clients to take care of issues immediately and with the utmost care for their client.”
Performance Ratings Count
Reviews can be a quick way to determine the credibility of a particular signing agency and how responsive they are. Haney said his team is proud of the consistently high ratings that Sign X receives from clients they work with on Qualia Marketplace. “We strive for excellence, knowing perfection is unattainable,” he said. “I believe the best test of a great company is how they handle a problem when it occurs.”
“We only use NNA (National Notary Association) Certified Notary Signing Agents,” Haney noted. This criteria is especially important because it ensures that the notary has taken the proper coursework, exams, and passed annual background checks to perform notary work closing transactions. Sign X takes this a step further by interviewing each notary and vetting them with reviews.
“In today’s age [of increasing fraud incidents], there is a concern over the safety of nonpublic personal information,” Haney said. He recommended that businesses look for signing agencies that provide three layers of protection with coverage of at least $1 million for:
- Errors and omissions (E&O) protection and general liability insurance
- Fidelity and crime bond coverage
- Cyber crime insurance
Best-in-class security practices
“With all the security protocols mandated these days, a title company is only as strong as their weakest link,” Haney said. “Often that weakest security link in the chain is an outsourced vendor such as a notary.” Haney recommended that title companies use notary agencies with security protocols and platforms in place.
Additionally, technology integrations between vendors and the title or escrow business can help improve security. Signing agencies that are integrated with Qualia (such as Sign X) can securely access closing documents and information from title & escrow businesses directly through Qualia Connect without needing to email sensitive information.
The signing agency should have the ability to deploy notaries nationwide who can execute on specific instructions from the title or escrow business. For example, if the signer is a first time home buyer, the notary should be prepared and capable of talking through the transaction in more detail. Additionally, for in-person signings, the notary should be able to work with the home buyer’s preferences for location and time, yet still allow for document scan backs as needed and overnight drop-off in a timely manner so the lender and title company can still meet their deadlines. Haney noted that it’s important for the signing agent to be able to follow the specific processes and practices of the title or escrow company.
Regardless of whether the signing agent conducts an in-person closing or fully-remote closing over video on a secure, approved platform, the signing experience leaves one of the most lasting impressions on the home buyer. As the homebuying experience shifts to a more digital experience, the final closing experience can make-or-break the homebuyer’s perception of the title or escrow business.
To learn more about SignX and other notary services available in Marketplace, click below.