This year, we introduced Qualia LIVE, an in-person experience designed to bring title & escrow professionals together for dialogue about timely challenges the industry faces. In response to COVID-19, we moved these events to an online forum and still kept the “live” interactive format to encourage real-time discussion. 

This week, Perla Aparicio and Evan Worley of Qualia’s Industry Relations team joined Brian Phillips, CEO of Attorney Title Guaranty Fund (ATGF) and Kristen Jorgensen, State Agency Manager, Utah at of ATGF for a remote Qualia LIVE event. The group discussed how title & escrow professionals in Arizona, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, and Nevada are responding to COVID-19. 

Creative closings: how title & escrow businesses are handling transactions while maintaining social distancing 

Some of the states in which ATGF underwrites have passed remote online notarization (RON) legislation while others have not. In states where RON is not possible (or in cases when lenders or county recorders do not accept RON), title businesses are considering how to safely conduct in-person closings. 

Jorgensen offered a few solutions she’s seen among her agents in Utah. “A lot of people have gotten creative with their methods,” she noted. Some businesses are using picnic-style closings where all signing parties sit outside six feet apart to conduct the closing. Other businesses are allowing drive through or curbside closings. In these types of closings the signer drives up to the title office or into a parking lot  and completes the closing in their car while the signing agent witnesses through the window. 

Other businesses are limiting office traffic by locking the office or by allowing the public to enter the building by appointment only. Regardless of which method title & escrow businesses are selecting, ATGF’s title agencies are working hard to protect the public and their employees as much as possible while still completing important and essential transactions. 

COVID-19 regulations, challenges and solutions in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, North Dakota and Nevada

“One topic that I know is on everyone’s mind at the moment is remote online notarization (RON)” Aparicio noted before asking Jorgensen and Phillips how ATGF is handling RON with their agents in Colorado, Utah, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Arizona. 

“Unfortunately there is not a hard and fast rule in regards to RON for all of our states,” Jorgensen explained noting that a RON closing is contingent upon lender approval and the county recorder office’s ability to accept electronically signed and notarized documents. “In the event that RON can be completed, ATGF will insure those transactions in all of our states,” she said. 

In many states, the legislation surrounding RON is changing in response to COVID-19. For example, Phillips noted that the governor of Colorado (one of the states ATGF underwrites in) recently passed an executive order that removed the requirement for in-person notary. “The order did not go so far as to actually authorize RON in Colorado,” Phillips cautioned. Instead, Colorado enabled what some are calling AVON (audio video online notarization). In this hybrid RON format, the signer must wet sign documents while video conferencing a notary. 

Where RON closings are possible, ATGF requires agents to use an ATGF approved vendor platform. Aparicio noted that agents using Qualia’s platform can leverage a new Qualia Marketplace feature to easily search for notaries that provide RON. 

Beyond the closing: how title & escrow businesses are transitioning to remote work 

In addition to handling the complications associated with in-person and RON closings, title & escrow businesses across the country are also working through the challenges associated with remote work.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, many title & escrow businesses have switched to remote work when possible to protect employees from social contact. Aparicio went over some of the technology and tools title & escrow businesses can use for remote work. (To read more about the tools Qualia recommends read our earlier post “Technology and Tools for Remote Work Success”  here.)  

ATGF also provided some guidance for remote work based on what they’ve seen from their title agencies in the mountain west region. 

Jorgensen noted that many roles within a title organization are more difficult to conduct in a home office environment. “For example, funders need a wire token and a check printer,” she noted. Additionally, in states where RON is not possible, signing agents may need to interact with clients in-person. Employees in these types of roles have switched to more of a hybrid work environment where they work from home and in the office to conduct these essential activities. 

For partial and fully-remote employees, Jorgensen recommended the following high-level tips:

  1. If you’re able to fully move closings to a remote environment (or if you’re handling files remotely), ensure your business is still adhering to compliance measures through your software provider’s security features and internet firewalls. 
  2. If employees are handling physical files at home, ensure they are equipped with a shredder to properly dispose of sensitive and confidential information.

Jorgensen and Phillips also offered some remote work best practices that they’ve learned over the years from working on the road and from what they’ve heard amongst their agents during COVID-19. They shared a few of their tips including: 

  • Dress the part: wake up each morning and dress as if you’re going into the office. This will help you get in the right mindset for work.
  • Time block your work: set aside time for different tasks when you can to stay focused.
  • Maintain a routine: Phillips noted that some of his agents who have children at home during the school shutdowns are still walking their children to school in the morning and then coming home so the children are in the mindset that it’s time to learn. 
  • Be compassionate: each team member will likely react differently to the stressors caused by COVID-19. If you’re a manager be sure to check in with your employees and see how they are feeling. 

If you’re interested in participating in a Qualia LIVE event, submit a request to participate here