Post-Pandemic: The Virtual Home Buying Process is Real and (Probably) Here to Stay
Wendy Kedzierski
February 23, 2022 — Read in 4 mins

Flash back to the typical lifecycle of a real estate transaction pre-21st century: phone calls, in-person visits, letters. And at the closing table: people, paper, pens.

Some of this face-to-face interface has been replaced by technology over the years: emails, text messages, social media, DocuSign, Dotloop, 3-D walkthroughs, 360-degree pictures. But nothing took it to the next level of “virtual” than the pandemic.

“The pandemic has made buyers more comfortable with virtual showings and meetings. There are less in-person meetings,” says Suzanne Parisi, a REALTOR® with CENTURY 21 Redwood Realty. 

Even an introduction between a real estate agent and a prospective client tends to be virtual these days according to Suzanne. “Buyers are not going into REALTORS’® cars anymore. They’re much more comfortable looking at virtual tours, photos, and floorplans to determine whether they want to go look at a property in person. Even hardcopy brochures are not as important as they used to be. The online material is more important.”

And just as much of the workforce has learned to work remotely and wants to continue to work at least in a “hybrid” capacity, post-pandemic, Suzanne says real estate is the same. “A lot of the changes will stay post-pandemic because people are now more comfortable working in a virtual environment. Buyers are more comfortable using DocuSign than they were in the past. Almost all contracts are being written and signed electronically. Sellers and buyers are not attending settlements at the same time. Almost all earnest money deposits are being handled electronically and not with a personal check.”

The upside of a downturn in human interaction: “We are using less paper,” says Suzanne. “The emphasis on online marketing will continue. Electronically signed contracts will continue. I expect that we will continue doing split settlements.”

While Highland Title + Escrow – a settlement company with offices in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. – already had much virtual technology in place pre-pandemic, they quickly pivoted to accommodate both CDC requirements and clients’ levels of comfort once COVID hit.

Closing options include:

In-person with social distancing and masks

In addition to daily cleaning, Highland uses a service that specializes in cleaning medical offices for a weekly deep cleaning. They also sanitize conference rooms between each use. They require masks to be worn by all participants in the settlement and limit the number of persons in the conference room at settlement. Buyers and sellers are asked to sign documents separately. 

Designated signing agent program

Highland Title also allows you to approve and sign settlement documents without attending settlement. You can appoint one of their “signing agents” to sign your documents at settlement. A Highland Title attorney will discuss the settlement papers with you over the phone or by video conference and upon your approval, they will be signed by the designated signing agent. (Lenders must approve the use of the signing agent, and you might need to pay a nominal fee to the signing agent.)

E-notary

Remote Online Notarizations (RONs) are a way for you to sign settlement documents without appearing in person for settlement. Highland Title partners with a company (Notarize) that enlists the services of e-Notaries (“electronic” Notary Publics). An e-Notary will engage with you through video conferencing as you review and sign settlement documents. You will then be able to sign settlement documents electronically, and the e-Notary will digitally notarize your signatures. If requested, a Highland Title Settlement Attorney will also be available to explain the settlement documents to you remotely.

This is a great option for clients who are not local, but prior to the transaction, all parties must consent to use of the e-Notary. There also must be written consent from the purchaser’s lender, even if you are the seller. Some lenders do now allow the use of RONs.

Remote vehicle signing

You can also stay in your car the whole time and avoid the conference room person-to-person scenario – and the digital signing. If you would like a remote vehicle signing, you can drive to one of Highland’s offices to meet with a settlement attorney who will bring settlement papers to your vehicle. You can discuss the settlement papers over the phone with the car windows up or down. The Highland settlement attorney will wear a mask and will be prepared to answer questions and notarize settlement documents without you ever having to leave your car. 

But what about the human interaction and connection component? Will the entire lifecycle of a real estate transaction remain virtual?

“Eventually buyers will probably start being chauffeured around by their REALTORS® again, post-pandemic,” says Suzanne. “There is a valuable exchange of information that can occur during that driving time.”

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