The adoption and implementation of remote online notarization (RON) received a tremendous boost during the COVID-19 pandemic. Buyers, sellers and title agents are looking to close transactions in the safest way possible. According to the American Land Title Association (ALTA), “Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have either passed a RON law or issued an executive order pertaining to remotely notarizing documents. Some have done both.”
In December of 2020, ALTA reported that RON use had increased 547 percent during the year compared to 2019. If you are a “Star Trek” fan, the lightning-fast adoption of RON – as well as alternative remote closing methods such as Remote Ink-Signed Notarization (RIN) – has felt like the title industry has gone from cruising to warp speed in a nanosecond. It can even feel tempting to utter one of the show’s classic lines like “Beam me up, Scotty!” when thinking about such transformative change.
But let us back up a bit. As the automobile was invented and became a commonplace form of transportation, society built an accompanying infrastructure – including roads, highways, bridges and tunnels. The same is needed for RON. However, it takes time to develop secure and accessible technology that everyone can use. It requires effort to garner the acceptance of the county recorders who must be ready, willing and able to record native electronic instruments. Creating uniform laws to ensure interstate legal recognition and consumer confidence is also no easy matter.
Properly building out RON infrastructure necessitates the continuous collaboration of numerous parties, including individuals, industries and organizations. For example, MISMO, the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization, has been working on standards concerning credential analysis, borrower identification, audio-visual requirements (including the recording of the electronic notarization process) and audit trails. PRIA, the Property Record Industry Association, has been developing national standards and best practices for the land records industry. ALTA and the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) have also joined forces to establish model RON legislation. Finally, there are numerous other stakeholders not identified here who have, and are, tirelessly working to enable the requisite RON infrastructure.
Currently, the federal Senate bill (SB) 3533, the Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020 (otherwise known as the SECURE Notarization Act), is pending. If passed in 2021, the SECURE Notarization Act will permit RON across the nation and provide for minimum standards and interstate recognition. To track the progress of the SECURE Notarization Act, click on the link provided for SB 3533.
With many states choosing to lift their stay-at-home orders, many people are left wondering how to move forward in this new and uncertain landscape. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that there is no real “going back to normal.” A new normal will be achieved, but the idea that things will return to the way they were across the board is wishful thinking.
The notion of forming a new normal can be overwhelming on both a personal and professional level, but it’s something we find ourselves obligated to do in order to keep our businesses moving forward. Adding in the fact that everything feels topsy-turvy at the moment doesn’t help, either.
As an example, March and April were two of the heaviest order months in the history of title insurance. That influx is in direct conflict to the majority of other industries, many of which are struggling to stay afloat until whatever “new normal” can be achieved. Opening large numbers of orders is always exciting, but it’s critical that we realize this isn’t an evergreen influx of business.
It’s also important that we find a way to handle the large volume of orders in a way that keeps customers satisfied. Normally, the industry response to such a deluge of business is to hire more personnel. However, several large companies have, in fact, reduced staffing levels despite record orders and near record revenue. In the current COVID-19 world, it means learning to adapt on a company-wide scale.
As we all adapt, keep in mind that there will be very real pressure to reduce or even eliminate some risk management procedures in an effort to save costs. This is a dangerous time to consider such a reaction for either independent agents or underwriters. Many of the normal processes for risk management are difficult to maintain as a large percentage of employees are now working remotely. However, staff being remote does not remove the fiduciary responsibility we have to safeguard the public trust.
Another area of concern for the future is that governors and elected officials across the country are suspending laws and regulations, which continually move the regulatory goal posts. RON, RIN, Mobile Notary statutes, and recording regulations have all been changed using “executive orders.”
What will happen when creative plaintiffs’ attorneys challenge foreclosures, loan defaults, etc.? Underwriters will be called upon to defend lenders under their loan policies. Are courts and juries more likely to side with borrowers? Will foreclosures spike with dramatically increased unemployment? These added complications make it more important than ever for title agents to remain focused on the details, no matter how small they may seem. Be sure you have an underwriter who will stand behind you as an agent, and who can keep you up-to-date on regulatory issues.
While we will gradually return to whatever is the new normal, bear in mind that the surge in orders is a temporary reaction to low interest rates and the need to access equity that is currently locked into homes. These high numbers now don’t guarantee high numbers in the future. Be mindful of the regulatory adjustments that affect your role in the title and closing process, and adjust to the new work-from-home landscape as best as you can.
We have a lot of tools in our respective tool-belts. We just have to use them wisely and correctly.
During these uncertain times, Alliant National seeks to support our independent agents, helping to chart a path forward for continued business growth. Agents can access a wide range of tools and up-to-date Covid-related information at https://alliantnational.com/coronavirus/.
Feel free to reach out directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-293-8067.
Is your agency set up to close transactions using remote online notarization (RON)? If so, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) is encouraging you to let lenders know by updating your ALTA Registry listing.
“RON is in high demand and lenders are actively looking for title and settlement companies that can close their loans using this technology,” the association said in a recent post. “Being RON Ready could lead to new revenue during these difficult times.”
There is no cost to be included on the ALTA Registry.
Right now, even the most seasoned experts find themselves unsure when we’ll be able to return to some semblance of normal. To add to that, it’s projected that it could be months or even years before we’re able to return to business as usual across the board. Now that most states have found themselves in over a month of their shelter-in-place orders, real estate experts have started compiling tips to try and help their fellow agents navigate these uncertain times.
A group of marketers came together for Forbes to offer twenty tips on how to seize the day until our day-to-day gets familiar again. Included in the tips are bits of advice like how to avoid being too aggressive while buyers find their footing, and to offer virtual product training to your agents.
Allie Beth Allman, Realtor to former President George W. Bush, spoke about the importance of not panicking and learning to adapt during an uncertain market. Allman also discusses the importance of remaining calm and not acting reactively here.
Meanwhile, New York broker Eric Benaim offers tips on winning business and staying positive while we find ourselves in a downturn. After starting his firm in 2008, Benaim has experience in working through economic anxiety. You can check out Alliant National’s COVID-19 Resource Page for more information on how you can keep your closings safe and your business moving forward during these tumultuous times. We also recently hosted a national webinar with many more tips on how to stay engaged with your Realtor clients.
Being mindful, being aware and noting odd happenings in our digital lives can help stop these fraudulent maneuvers.
Every day, as consumers and as business people, we are confronted with obvious and often not-so-obvious attempts to steal our information, our identity and our money. Scammers have been particularly busy in recent weeks as businesses and individuals shift their activities online in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
We are not powerless against these criminals. Being mindful, being aware and noting odd happenings in our digital lives can help stop these fraudulent maneuvers.
Here are six tips for staying safe.
1) Online purchases should be made with PayPal or with a credit card. The reason is that debit cards take the money immediately. If fraud is in progress, the delay of a credit card transaction affords the card holder a better opportunity to catch the fraud and get it corrected.
2) If it looks odd, it likely is. Sometimes, something doesn’t look or feel right. While many shoppers stick to large, legitimate shopping sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, shoppers also seek deals. Unfamiliar web sites or mom-and-pop sites have become adept at mimicking their supersized competitors.
See an odd “o” in Amazon that looks like a zero? Don’t buy from it. Does the eBay purchase you’re about to make have a legitimate looking url? Double check it. Make sure it’s not a fake or altered web site; pop around online and be sure the purchase comes from the authentic retailer.
3) Go slowly when responding to or clicking through eNewsletters. A sophisticated and effective way scammers can get buyers’ money is by building authentic looking eNewsletters that provide click-thrus for purchasing or for personal information confirmation. One real-life scenario involved a well-known university credit union that sends out eNewsletters regularly.
One day, the eNewsletter showed up in members’ inboxes. The eNewsletter asked the recipient to confirm their name, social security number, address and phone. When the recipient complied and clicked, “done,” all that information went to a database controlled by scammers. The bogus eNews was so well designed, it was virtually impossible to know it was fake.
4) Create new passwords and do it often. Create different passwords for different web sites and make a habit of changing them regularly. Make the passwords sophisticated. If eight or more characters are required for the password, you might consider taking the extra time to make a 16-character password that makes use of supported combinations and special characters (i.e, #,S,<, numbers and letters). There are apps that help keep passwords organized and stored. Use one.
5) Enable fraud protection. The good news is that when fraud is detected, reputable companies help make it right. The credit union fraud caused the card owner to incur over $500 in unauthorized charges. The card holder had all the money put back into her account. Enable fraud protection on all credit cards. Most banks that hold credit cards will work with the cardholder to identify the fraud and reimburse the charges. Fraud protection makes the correction easier to catch and quicker to remedy.
6) Beware of phone scams. Fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated every day in order to get you to hand over your personal information over the phone. This is true not only with voice calls, but with text messages, and smartphone apps as well.
Generally speaking, if you get a request for personal information via your phone and you did not initiate the request, chances are the request is fraudulent.
This is especially true for scam calls purportedly coming from the IRS. The IRS will always notify you by mail first if there are any issues. Then and only then will they communicate using other means to resolve the issue in question, and that is usually only when you initiate the communication with them in response to a letter you may have received.