Back in the early ‘nineties in the office of 30 agents where I began my career in real estate, we shared a single computer with a dot matrix printer to access the latest listings, and we had to wait for the MLS book which would come out every two weeks to see a single grainy black and white picture of what the home looked like from the street. Quite the contrast from today, where virtual tours and 3D floor plans make it possible to get a pretty good idea of a place without ever having set foot inside.
For communication, I celebrated the purchase of my Motorola flip phone which made it easier to stay in touch with my clients instead of having to rely on a landline, a pager and a voice mailbox, and texting added a whole new level of accessibility. Things became even more convenient when we were allowed to have clients sign contracts by fax, and I remember at one point owning a few extra fax machines that I would loan to clients in remote areas to eliminate the need to travel back and forth to get things signed every time a counter offer or a disclosure needed to be reviewed.
The next step in the evolution of real estate technology saw the advent of email and scanning documents as PDFs, and from there we were able to save even more time once electronic signatures were allowed, with DocuSign and electronic transaction management platforms making the process even more streamlined. Cloud-based storage also made it easier to share detailed property information, including reports and disclosures with a single keystroke and to keep interested parties informed of any important updates or additional disclosures.
Remote transactions just took another big step forward this week when measure SB 696 was signed into law, allowing California notaries to offer remote online notarization services. This represents a culmination of an increasing trend towards making it possible for people to buy and sell property without undue time away from their daily activities, whether at home, at work, or on vacation, since they will no longer need to be in the same room with the escrow officer or even a mobile notary handling their transaction.
California wasn’t a pioneer in this practice, since the majority of other states had already started allowing remote notarization services during the pandemic, but it is certainly a welcome improvement that helps further eliminate unnecessary delays and costs by enabling fully digital real estate closings. I haven’t confirmed to what extent it allows them, but my hope is that it will even make it possible for our international clients to no longer have to designate a specific power of attorney, travel to a consulate or pay for international delivery of the originals to close their transactions while they are away.
I can only imagine looking back in another 30 years on the way things are done today with the benefit of additional hindsight, but I can say from personal experience that the way we handle transactions now is a vast improvement over how we used to do things back in the day.