Invariably, buyers or sellers are faced with important decisions at the most inconvenient times. They may be on vacation or on a business trip. Even if you’re in town, you may be tied up in meetings and unable to take time to drive to your real estate agent’s office.

There are ways to deal with this that will minimize the hassle and enable you to respond in a timely fashion. Timing is essential in the home-sale business. If sellers have to wait too long for a response, their enthusiasm might wane. Buyers, on the other hand, could find themselves bidding against another buyer if they make an offer on a hot new listing and can’t respond to a counteroffer in time.

Invariably, buyers or sellers are faced with important decisions at the most inconvenient times. They may be on vacation or on a business trip. Even if you’re in town, you may be tied up in meetings and unable to take time to drive to your real estate agent’s office.

There are ways to deal with this that will minimize the hassle and enable you to respond in a timely fashion. Timing is essential in the home-sale business. If sellers have to wait too long for a response, their enthusiasm might wane. Buyers, on the other hand, could find themselves bidding against another buyer if they make an offer on a hot new listing and can’t respond to a counteroffer in time.

Often negotiations are handled verbally when buyers or sellers can’t be present to sign a purchase contract or counteroffer. But oral agreements to buy and sell real estate are not binding. That’s why it’s important to have a procedure in place that enables you to sign any pertinent documents as soon as possible, no matter where you happen to be. If you’re leaving town, let your agent know the dates you’ll be gone and how best to reach you.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Many homes are bought and sold using a combination of phone, e-mail and fax. Recently, electronic signatures have become popular. In order to use an electronic signature, you need to sign up with a company that is equipped to provide e-signatures on documents. Use your search engine to find an online provider, or ask your real estate agent, attorney or closing agent for a recommendation. Then, your agent can send you documents; you sign with your e-signature and e-mail the documents back.

Most lenders won’t start processing the buyers’ loan until they have a signed purchase contract. However, they will start the process if the contract is signed with e-signatures. They are likely to require that you add wet signatures to the contract before closing. The buyers or sellers might also request this.

A downside to e-signatures is that anyone who has access to your computer might hit your designated e-signature key on your keyboard. Keep this information confidential. …CONTINUED

Faxed signatures are binding as long as this verbiage is included in the purchase agreement. Documents can be faxed or scanned and then e-mailed to you. You print the documents, sign them and fax them back to your agent.

If you won’t be staying at a hotel that provides business services, find a company like FedEx Office or the UPS Store that can fax or scan and e-mail the signed documents back to your agent. Otherwise, ask a friend or real estate agent in the area if you can use his or her fax machine.

Another possibility is to grant power of attorney to someone you trust who can sign documents for you in your absence. The power of attorney should be specific to your home purchase or sale. If someone is going to sign documents that will be notarized and recorded at closing, make sure that the power of attorney document will be acceptable to the buyers’ lender and to the title company. It’s not a good idea to give power of attorney to your real estate agent.

Sellers who hold title to the home they’re selling in a living trust won’t be able to use a power of attorney unless the trust documents specifically provide for this. Some sellers who know they will be out of the country when closing occurs arrange to sign documents early. Overnight mail can be used if necessary.

THE CLOSING: However, any documents that need to be notarized in a foreign country must be signed at an American consulate.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."

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