At Berkshire Hathaway, our affliated title company is Fort Dearborn. See this article below published in Crain’s about how they are handling touchless closings.
Close on your house from your couch: It’s a COVID-era innovation
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, title companies launched curbside closings, but that still required a bit of physical interaction with other people. Get ready for the next frontier.
Closing on a home purchase has long required a notary public to be in the room with the buyers to confirm that the people who sign the documents are who they say they are. But this spring, being in the physical presence of unrelated people has become a potential health threat.
Some Chicago title companies are launching no-touch closings, where the notary public witnesses the signing via camera, which allows all parties to be in their own private space during the closing.
Curbside closings are a thing now in real estate
Early in the COVID-19 shutdown, closings went curbside, allowing buyers to sit outside in their car while somebody carried the signed papers back and forth between them and the office. “That still involved some touch or physical involvement with someone,” said Joe Stacy, senior vice president and sales manager of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Chicago. “We had to get away from that.”
The tightly regulated legal steps that closing a loan involves are already stressful and one of the least enjoyable steps in buying a home; making people feel safe during the process is essential.
In early April, Berkshire’s title company, Fort Dearborn Title, did its first no-touch closing, where the notary, a Fort Dearborn closing officer, watched as the mortgage borrowers, sitting at home behind their camera-equipped computer, held up their driver’s licenses and then pointed the camera at the documents as they signed. The notary then provided legal verification of what’s known in the business as “wet signatures,” and the borrowers sent the paper documents in via overnight delivery. The title company will keep the video of the signing for three years.
Later that week, on April 10, Chicago Title started doing remote, on-camera closings, Vince Hearn, the company’s vice president and sales manager, said in an email.
An on-camera closing is possible right now because of guidance issued by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office in the wake of Gov. Pritzker’s March 20 stay-home order. It temporarily allows Illinois notaries to use Remote Online Notary methods that notaries in 23 states were already permitted to use in the normal business climate.
Brokerages took a few weeks to roll out on-camera closings in part because of getting secure technology set up, and because all parties in the transaction have to agree. “Some lenders don’t want to do it,” said Grace Chakos, senior vice president at Baird & Warner, “and some county recorders aren’t accepting the documents” that have been notarized remotely.
As of late Tuesday, Chakos said, the recorders of deeds in DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will counties had confirmed they will accept the documents but the Cook County Recorder’s office had not yet confirmed.
Baird & Warner’s title company, Landtrust Title Services, will do its first no-touch closings within the next several days, Chakos said.
Stacy said Fort Dearborn has done four no-touch closings since April 6 and has two more scheduled. All are refinancings, which he said are one step less complex than home-purchase closings because they don’t require the presence of an attorney, as a home purchase closing does in Illinois. He said a home-purchase closing that was scheduled for April 15 has been postponed but that the firm expects to schedule one soon.
At @properties’ title company, Proper Title, it’s not yet possible to do a remote notarization, Kathy Kwak, Proper Title’s vice president of title and escrow operations said in an email. Proper Title is using curbside closings while it sorts out the secretary of state’s guidance, lenders’ requirements and other details, she said, but on-camera notarization is “coming soon.”