I’m paperless, but the world is not

Realtor Notebook

From the day I got my first iPad, my goal has been to have every real estate transaction be paperless, and to be able to write offers from anywhere.

When I started down that path in 2010, it was an enormous amount of work to cobble apps together and test each one to make sure they would work with each other. It’s much easier today, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Now that our MLS is using Instanet forms with Authentisign, I no longer have to convert blank forms into PDF files and send them to DropBox or Evernote so that I can access them from anywhere.

The toughest situation today is when I’m representing a buyer and we meet in person to write the offer.

Most first-time homebuyers prefer to meet in person so we can go over the forms together. Getting a signature on an initial offer is simple when meeting in person and using paper forms. But electronic signatures are easier to use over the Internet than when meeting in person.

When it’s time to sign the initial offer when meeting with a client in person, I have buyers sign with a stylus right on the iPad, bypassing the fancy apps. 

After the initial offer, when I need more signatures or initials from them, I use electronic signatures.

Today it’s possible to grab all of the documents I need for a buyer to make an offer on a home, write the offer, and have the buyer sign it in person without ever using any paper. But only because I have put together a system that works.

The offers I get on my listings are usually handwritten, and manually signed.

There are some things I have learned from actual hands-on experience working in paperless and virtual environments with clients:

1. There are people who want paper. I always give clients a choice and am prepared to produce paper if needed.

2. Being able to use electronic signatures is a customer service issue. When meeting with clients in person, they don’t care if I use paper or not, as long as it doesn’t take any longer.

3. Do some practice runs before trying to write offers and have them signed in the field without paper forms. It’s never a good idea to experiment with apps while clients are watching and waiting.

4. I have procedures that I follow to be efficient and minimize the risk of losing or deleting my electronic forms. I find that I am less likely to make a mistake if I follow them closely.

5. I have two mobile devices that have data plans from different providers. I keep both with me at all times, so I’m able to create a Wi-Fi hotspot with either of them. But I know I may still find myself in a situation where there is no Internet access, making it necessary to keep a set of blank forms handy.

6. With first-time homebuyers, it’s nice to have two iPads or an iPad and a laptop so buyers can read along.

7. Always charge and test mobile devices before meeting with clients and check for software updates. Never accept an OS update on the way out the door unless you have time to test it.

8. While it would be nice to use an off-the-shelf solution and let someone else figure out the best way to use electronic documents, to date there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Real estate is local, and so are the forms and business practices.

In the 1960s a Minnesota purchase agreement was one page long. Today the purchase agreement is seven pages long. By the time I add the minimum contingencies and addendums, there will be at least 13 pages (11 for a cash offer). When I add in the contract I have with the buyer and disclosures, I’m looking at a minimum of 22 pages of paperwork — and that doesn’t include the sellers’ disclosures and inspection reports.

There are situations where paper is unavoidable. Home buyers expect the flyer boxes outside of my listings to be filled with paper and the city requires that I leave a copy of the truth in housing report in the home even though there is one available on the Internet.

I will never give up the dream of having all of my transactions be paperless. And I still hold out hope that the number of forms I need to use will decrease.

But I suspect that the number of forms will continue to increase. And I won’t hesitate to use paper if I need it to get the job done.

I am happy to have offers on my listings even if they are handwritten and delivered on paper.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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