This past week I had the honor of attending a 100th birthday party. It wasn’t mine, although it might as well have been. I am feeling that world-weary.
The reality is that I will probably not enjoy my own induction into the centenarian club. Standing between me and mid-century is Bank of America, clutching desperately to my pant leg as I attempt to continue my forward march.
In all fairness, my beef isn’t only with Bank of America; it is with all lending institutions — all "institutions," really — that refuse to acknowledge and embrace change.
Like my birthday honoree, these institutions were established in a different era. The only difference is that Uncle Nick isn’t stuck in a 1900s time warp. I am starting to wonder if that Wells Fargo stagecoach isn’t so much a logo intended to suggest longevity and solidarity, as it is a picture taken in the executive parking lot on Tuesday.
My daughter and I were reflecting on the changes Uncle Nick had seen since his birth in 1910. Imagine going through your first nine years of life without the pop-up toaster — or the arc welder. Frozen food? That didn’t come along until 1928, and I have several examples of the original production run in my freezer to prove it.
He was 42 years old before the debut of what was arguably the most important invention of the century — Mr. Potato Head. And as difficult as I might imagine life was before the plastic spud with detachable body parts (body parts perfectly engineered to go up a child’s nose), what I find most unfathomable is life before the microwave oven.
I have read that the first commercial microwave stood 5 1/2 feet tall and weighed more than 750 pounds. And I have heard that it was often mistaken for the paper file generated by a single real estate transaction.
But much like the microwave has been refined over the years to become more efficient, so have been our methods for managing our real estate documents.
Thanks to the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), which became law nationally in 2000, and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which has been adopted by nearly every state, electronic signatures and document delivery should be replacing the steaming mounds of formerly majestic Sequoias that comprise our "files."
The problem is that the photocopier was invented in 1937 followed by the patent of the ballpoint pen in 1938, and the banks haven’t looked forward since.
If one more lender calls me this week demanding "wet" signatures on my previously electronically signed contracts, I am going to shoot myself with both barrels of my two-hole punch.
Three times in as many days, I have been advised that the lender won’t accept electronic signatures. In one case, the lender was Wells Fargo’s Greenpath Funding, leaving me to conclude that the "green" in their name wasn’t exactly born from environmental concerns.
National and state laws have established the validity of electronic signing in the real estate transaction. Both the National Association of Realtors and my state association support it; they support it to the extent that they have partnered with Docusign to encourage all agents to adopt the practice.
So, what gives with the lending community? …CONTINUED
There is more than a little irony in the banking industry’s reluctance to accept e-signatures as a matter of policy. The underlying impetus for UETA was to ensure that electronic records would be recognized as the legal equivalent of paper documentation, particularly as these records related to check retention.
Prior to UETA, most states required banks to keep physical, paper copies of all checks they processed. This was cumbersome from a storage standpoint; it cost them money.
So, the punch line is that what we now tend to think of as a law legalizing electronic signing was initially conceived to allow electronic storage. It was to benefit the banks, making them more efficient and, therefore, more profitable.
How soon we forget. I can "write" an electronic check to purchase the Boston Red Sox using Paypal with nary a real signature, but too often my clients can’t accept a liquidated damages clause online.
And, now, every transaction is like a turkey shoot. We continue to use electronic signing because it is responsible and efficient, not to mention because our clients dig it. Yet we never know from one transaction to the next what will be acceptable to the lender. Sometimes, "acceptable to the lender" is dependent on the weather and the time of day.
This past week, we closed an escrow with "Lender A" in which every piece of paper except the grant deed was signed by all parties, both principles and both agents, electronically. It was a religious experience.
This same week, in another transaction, "Lender A" informed us that our entire digital file was the work of the devil and would have to be recreated using a photocopier and a ballpoint pen.
So offensive to some lenders are the electronic stamps, that simply signing around them after the fact is not sufficient. Contracts must be recreated and signed anew.
I am waiting for the day soon when I am presented with an Affidavit of Signer’s Blood Type for signature. Or maybe there will be a new requirement that all contracts be accompanied by passport-sized photos of the principles standing in front the property address placard with their Rolling Writers hoisted proudly skyward.
Even where "wet signatures" are concerned, the potential for fraud is just too great.
It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but give Uncle Nick credit. He didn’t arrive at his party wearing rompers and a Buster Brown tunic.
It was an event for which guests received e-invitations, one where he enjoyed a Power Point presentation on his life and was driven home afterwards in a motor-powered vehicle — things all quite unimaginable in his youth.
So why can’t our lending institutions adopt this one modern convenience of electronic signing?
Electronic signatures, after all, are legal, and the efficiencies are patently obvious.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.