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The Rise of Digital Real Estate Closings

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The COVID-19 pandemic has effected changes that cut across a wide swath of businesses. As of the middle of March, according to USA Today, among the industries that have been most adversely affected by the pandemic are:

  • Gambling
  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • movie theaters
  • live sports
  • Cruises
  • Shipping
  • Automakers
  • oil and gas
  • Retail
  • food service.

Residential real estate is one more business that has been greatly affected by the pandemic, from the new prevalence of virtual home showing videos to an emerging trend that allows for digital real estate closings. By early April of 2020, the residential real estate industry had begun to offer and incorporate accommodations such as curbside and remote closings as an alternative, to the extent possible, to  traditional onsite office closings, according to an article published at that time by Forbes.com.

Among the hurdles that must be overcome in order to allow for a completely digitalized closing is the notarized signature requirement. Generally, a requirement that a signature be notarized requires the signatory and the notary to be physically present in the same place in real time. In some states, notaries can witness and document signatures online, without the need for the signatory and notary to be physically present in the same place at the same time. As reported by Forbes.com in late April, more than half of the states in the country do not allow notaries to notarize signatures remotely online.

Remote Online Notarization Allowed by Florida Law 

In January of this year, the state of Florida first began allowing for online notarization. Since that time, according to the Miami Herald, the residential real estate closing process had been tending towards accomplishing more of the transaction online, with the COVID-19 pandemic moving that trend along even further.

Fla. Stat 117.021, which became effective on January 1, 2020, is the law that allows for online notarization in Florida. This law applies to “any document,” so that any document that must be notarized can be notarized electronically.

The law imposes specific requirements on notary publics and their signatures if online notarization is used. For example, the notary public’s electronic signature must be:

  • unique to the notary public
  • capable of independent verification
  • under the notary public’s sole control (including using access protection devices such as passwords or codes under control of the notary public)

In addition, the notary public’s signature must be attached to or logically associated with the document so that any alteration to the document made after its notarization will be evident.

In some cases, documents that need to be notarized must be accompanied by the notary public’s seal. In the case of electronic notarization, the law provides that the seal requirement is satisfied if the notary’s signature contains:

  • the notary public’s full name
  • the words “Notary Public State of Florida”
  • the expiration date of the notary public’s commission
  • the notary public’s commission number

For more information about remote or virtual closings, or if you would like to discuss a potential or pending residential real estate purchase or sale, contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale real estate attorneys at Sweeney Law.

Resources:

leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0100-0199/0117/Sections/0117.021.html

usatoday.com/story/money/2020/03/20/us-industries-being-devastated-by-the-coronavirus-travel-hotels-food/111431804/

forbes.com/sites/brendarichardson/2020/04/01/from-curb-service-to-porch-signings-title-companies-get-creative-with-social-distancing-options-for-closings/#394cedd92192

miamiherald.com/news/business/real-estate-news/article241752086.html

https://www.sweeneylawpa.com/real-estate-markets-and-coronavirus-some-facts-and-current-trends/

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