When it comes to the New York City real estate market, most processes have moved online. This means less paper, faster turnaround times, and smoother transactions for everything from appraisals to closings. For example, the process of finding an in-person notary to sign documents is a thing of the past. Gone are the days when one would need to visit a local notary during regular business hours. Online notarization now allows for buyers, renters, and sellers to have their documents officially notarized without having to leave their homes.
Online trends have become so entrenched in the real estate space that Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel Inc. Real Estate Appraisals and Consultants says there is no going back. Online notarization has become the “core” of his business efforts. After using Notarize’s services, Miller says his company will not be returning to the “old, inconvenient way of trying to find a notary.”
Miller explained how online notarization became popular during the beginning of the pandemic, along with virtual appraisals. Most appraisers did not want to inspect properties out of safety concerns. Instead, inspections were based on photos and FaceTime walkthroughs.
Appraisals aren’t the only real estate process that became virtual. eClosings continue to improve outdated processes in the increasingly-digital real estate industry. Closings often involve many stakeholders including the buyer, seller, broker, lender, and title agent. There are a lot of moving pieces and involved parties. eClosings help keep track of the many required documents, plus those that need to be notarized. Lenders and title agents can quickly spot errors and make corrections in digital documents, which keeps the eClosing timeline on track.
If you are ready for your first eClosing, but still want to ensure some of the process remains in-person, hybrid eClosings are an option. These types of eClosings allow for borrowers to sign documents in advance, with the exception of those that require notarization. But with the majority of papers signed ahead of time, the in-person process still becomes quicker and easier.
“During certain market conditions, property transactions of condos by international buyers and sellers can be represented by as much as 50% of all sales,” says Miller. Therefore, it doesn’t matter where the buyer or seller is from. Any attempt to make the transaction process more streamlined is a win for the New York City real estate market.
Appraisers and lenders aren’t the only ones who must evolve in an increasingly digital landscape. Real estate agents are embracing online notarization, which makes the entire real estate journey easier for their clients. Triplemint’s Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Suzanne Adler reports that many of her clients feel stress around the process of finding a notary. She has even considered becoming a notary herself. But with an online notarization platform that's available 24/7, clients can conveniently get documents notarized and send them to their agent online. Keeping everything digital makes storing and accessing documents easier for agents who have to keep track of all their clients' records.
In addition to online notarization, eSignatures have made it possible to sign documents online.
Douglas Elliman Luxury Real Estate Advisor Evangela Brock says, “Sending listing agreements via e-signatures is one of the many wonders we experience now.”
Clients no longer need to print out paperwork and mail it. Nor must they go to a physical location to sign time-sensitive papers. eSignatures provide an environmentally-friendly way to speed up the process. Online signatures also allow clients to bypass postal-related delays and office-related costs like paper and ink.
New York City is known for its fast-paced rental market. Renters in more suburban areas may start looking some months before their move-in date. However, those looking to rent in Manhattan or any of the surrounding boroughs need to wait closer to their expected moving date, as landlords typically want a tenant to move in as soon as possible. This means that time is of the essence — especially in today's busy market.
Leases often require guarantor forms for renters who are looking to sign with a guarantor. The Notarize platform can help agents give their clients a faster and simpler way to get these documents signed and notarized. This is especially true if the tenant’s guarantor lives in a separate city, state, or country. Being able to notarize a guarantor form 24/7 means tenants have a higher chance of securing their first-choice apartment. The quick turnaround time is also helpful for agents, management companies, and landlords who are looking to fast-track the lease signing process.
In addition to clients being able to step into a space virtually without having to visit in-person, consumers are becoming more educated. Buyers and renters have more access to online listings that include price comparisons, amenities, and property photos. Prospective buyers and renters reach out to agents armed with knowledge about what kind of properties are within their price range. Many clients are coming into the market having already consulted digital resources (for example, mortgage monthly payment calculators). They know what they can afford and have a general idea of the processes involved and what's on the market. This means the agent needs less time to educate the client, and can spend more time showing them prospective properties.
With greater digital aid within the real estate space comes increased challenges. Not everyone is comfortable with learning and adapting to new technology. Adler reminds us that age and socioeconomic status can both play a part in a client’s comfort level when it comes to using an online notary application. This could be the case especially among older renters and buyers who may not have access to a computer, or know how to navigate an online contract. Adler also mentions how those who are in shelters seeking new homes may not have the technology to search and engage with online eSignatures or notarization applications.
Agents also need to constantly learn and adapt to marketing themselves – and their listings – online. Writing listing descriptions that are suitable for social media platforms, for example, is a different process compared to writing for newspapers or print magazines with limited character space. This may become another item on seasoned agents’ already long to-do lists, as learning how best to market oneself online can take time. And an online presence is crucial even for lenders and appraisers, especially when working with out-of-town properties.
There is something special that may be lost in online-focused transactions. An in-person meeting is a chance for realtors to strengthen trust with their clients. It’s also a chance for agents to profile their personality and what makes them unique to work with, especially when competing with other agents in a high-stakes market like New York City. Brock says that although much can now be done online, it does not take away from the human experience.
“Seeing a property live is different from a virtual showing," she says. "The benefit of person-to-person contact is crucial to a realtor for them to provide great service and really get to know their client.”
Real estate professionals need to find a balance between in-person and virtual business, especially when it comes to how they communicate with their clients.
Another challenge that comes with an increased online presence is clients’ concerns over cyber security. Real estate fraud can take many forms: property fraud, identity theft, and account takeover are just some of the threats clients may face. For example, lenders’ highly sensitive information about their borrowers is especially valuable to cyber thieves looking to make a profit or resell information on the black market.
Although real estate professionals and clients must beware of these potential cyber threats, there’s no slowing down the digital advancements from online notarization to eClosings. As the real estate industry continues to see, technology can help turn the often emotional and stressful customer journey of renting or buying a home into a smooth and seamless experience.