What to expect from next-gen paperless platforms

Go paperless with eyes wide open to security issues

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a four-part series about security issues and paperless transaction management platforms. See part one, part two and part three.

Suppose you are an agent in California who is bumping into usability issues with your current digital signature platform.

You decide to see if you can fix it, and when you show the solution to other agents, they actually write you a check for several thousand dollars and tell you, “You have to go develop this!”

User friendly image via Shutterstock.
User friendly image via Shutterstock.

This is how an entirely new, simpler way to conduct your paperless transactions was born.

Imraan Ali, an agent with Keller Williams in Hancock Park, Calif., describes himself as someone who “chases comfort.”

Ali showed me a lengthy video he created showing how long it took to complete all the required digital forms (28 pages) to submit an offer in California.

This issue came to a head when he took some much-needed time off to visit Manhattan with his wife. The first night they were in town, three offers came in on one of his listings. It took him more than five hours to handle these offers, even though he was paperless.

The result: He literally left his wife standing in the rain because the restaurant where they had reservations wouldn’t seat them until he arrived. This was “not comfortable,” and spurred Ali to create NuOffer, a new app for the iPad that may very well revolutionize the paperless transaction.

Regardless of the risks on the paperless transaction highway, all of the digital platforms reviewed in this series are infinitely more secure than old-fashioned paper and ink.

Simplifying paperless

Ali’s goal was to simplify the paperless transaction process, reducing the amount of time and effort it takes to negotiate a paperless transaction.

Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Teles Properties has been paperless for five years. The brokerage’s president, Peter Hernandez, described the process his agents follow to create a paperless offer within their system:

1. They download the required forms from zipForms.

2. They check the MLS in order to verify all the required property data.

3. They open DocuSign or Digital Ink to digitally sign the offer.

4. They upload all the transaction information into the PlanetRE transaction management platform.

Additional steps other agents have noted include:

5. Creating a cover letter in a word processor.

6. Emailing the documents to the parties.

7. Depending on whether the other agent responds using the same digital platform that the buyer’s agent used, the agent may have to reopen the seller’s counteroffer using Adobe PDF Reader.

In states that allow their forms to be licensed, NuOffer enables agents to access all these functions from the NuOffer platform. It takes about three minutes to complete an offer using the Texas State Promulgated Purchase Contract.

‘Terms sheet’ simplifies the process

NuOffer’s features were designed from the perspective of the Realtor. At the heart of simplifying this process is what Ali calls a “terms sheet.”

Instead of having to work through page after page of forms, the agent completes all the terms on a single page and NuOffer populates the actual document for you, providing prompts and cues as needed. The system advises you as to the date that you are closing, letting you know if you have selected a weekend closing date, for example.

If you’re doing an FHA or HUD loan, the system asks for the down payment percentage, calculates the amount for you, and then enters it into the terms sheet as well.

NuOffer has just finished building an additional upgrade that will be released later this year. In the next version, the system will extract the data in the counteroffer and it will appear on the terms sheet as well. This means that you will not have to wade through every page of your documents to see whether someone missed a signature field.

Another powerful feature of NuOffer is that it not only aggregates the offer data, but allows you to track your email and text communications with your client in a single place.

You can also upload all of your brokerage or other disclosures into the system as well. When you receive an approval letter, take a photo with your phone or iPad and upload it to the system.

Digital notary

As noted in parts two and three of this series, knowledge-based authentication is a huge issue industrywide. Is the person signing the document really that person? Did the agent log in as the buyer and sign the documents on the buyer’s behalf?

NuOffer is currently PDF-based (and in the process of moving to smart forms, which are PDF documents that employ tamper-proof digital seals embedded in the documents). Nevertheless, they provide agents and their clients with several extra layers of security that are unavailable on other platforms. Their ultimate goal is to move to biometric data (i.e., thumbprints or other biological identifying data).

First, before an agent can access the NuOffer system, he must enter his state license number. Only active Realtors may access the system.

Second, once the client is ready to sign, NuOffer sends the buyer or seller a text message asking if he is ready to sign the document. The client must reply with a “yes” before the app will display any of the signature fields.

At this point, the agent now has a text message confirming the time, date and location where the offer is being signed. To increase security, the agent should also take a photo of the client. This approach provides the most robust level of multiple-factor authentication currently available.

Learn as you sign

Ali envisions a future version of this platform where clients can actually learn about the various parts of the transaction as they go through the process.

For example, when a buyer is filling out a purchase contract and reaches the financing contingency, the client could click on a link and hear a mortgage broker describe the process, the terms and other relevant mortgage information.

He believes this education process can ultimately result in fewer claims and less expensive errors and omissions insurance.

NuOffer is currently being beta-tested in Texas and has proven to be extremely popular with the agents using it so far.

In fact, this is what Mark Willis, the president of Keller Williams, had to say about NuOffer:

“Since Imraan Ali created NuOffer and the project was partially funded by other Keller Williams agents and team leaders, we are in the process of exploring how we may begin using this powerful platform inside our company.”

What road will you choose?

In terms of what’s right for your business, the three key questions you must answer regarding the risks and benefits for your business include:

1. Do you want the maximum amount of security provided by a digital signature, or are you willing to settle for an e-signature?

2. Do you want a platform that tracks the changes within the document itself (a smart form) or are you willing to settle for tracking your documents using the e-signature provider’s PDF trail on its website?

3. Will you opt to use multiple-factor authentication? If so, will you settle for an email and a password, or something more robust?

From my perspective, I would want nothing less than the maximum amount of security available: locked down digital signatures; multiple-factor authentication; and smart form technology as provided by DocuSign, Instanet or ZipLogix (Digital Ink).

If my state permitted me to use NuOffer with my state’s required forms, I would be using that system to write all my offers from my iPad.

As mentioned in part one of this series, regardless of the risks on the paperless transaction highway, all of the digital platforms reviewed in this article are infinitely more secure than old-fashioned paper and ink.

While there may be bumps and detours along this road, the time saved, the tracking, and security available make closing paperless transactions easier and more secure than ever before.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success.” Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named “new and notable” by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com.


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