SAN FRANCISCO — Great strides are being made toward the paperless real estate transaction, but standards must be developed so different transaction managers can talk to each other, a panel at Real Estate Connect 2005 in San Francisco said today.

The goal, panelists said, is for all the players in the real estate process – the broker, the real estate agents, the buyers and sellers, the mortgage providers and the settlement office – to handle the documents and procedures electronically. This would bring down cost, time and hassle.

Developing standards is key to that process, panelists said at the conference, which examines innovation and technology in the real estate industry.

“Exchange of data is important,” said Josh Sharfman, CEO of the California Association of Realtors’ Real Estate Business Technologies subsidiary. “If we are able to establish standards, if I adopt the standard then my product will work with all transaction managers.”

Expanding on the concept, Kelly Pantis, senior vice president of the First American Residential Group, said, “I want the Stewart system to work with the First American system, the Relay system to work with another system, and so forth. We need to make all our systems talk with all the platforms.”

According to Sharfman and fellow panelist Darren Ross, director of electronic commerce for Stewart Information Services, some progress is being made. “RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standards, a group working to establish standards in the industry) is enabling some companies to share standards,” Sharfman said.

MISMO, the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization, is also working to establish technology standards in the industry.

While the move toward standards continues, companies are making progress on other fronts. Ross described a paperless home sale closing that took place in May using Stewart’s electronic closing platform, eClosingRoom.

“They (the home sellers) were laughing, they weren’t intimidated,” Ross said of Cathy and Matt Simmons, who closed their home in May at Stewart’s Wichita Falls, Texas office.

Consumers can sign the vast majority of the documents prior to closing online, from any location with Internet access, Ross said.

Sharfman and his colleagues have been developing the Relay transaction system, a Realtor-centric transaction management platform for the real estate industry, this year. The project depends heavily on input from agents, brokers, participants in the MLS and transaction brokers, Sharfman said. The CEO said 342 individuals have subscribed to the system. Anyone who is interested in can go to the site at www.rebt.com and sign up, Sharfman said.

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