Brokerage

Paperless real estate — an epic fail

You can only be paperless in your own space

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Takeaways:

  • Being able to use electronic documents with electronic signatures saves time and money.
  • A┬ácouple of months ago, I became aware of the fact that each document that I send to agents at local real estate companies gets printed by an office administrator.
  • I realized I have no control over how many times a 25-page contract gets printed.

I was so proud of myself about the way I could get through an entire real estate transaction without ever printing anything on a piece of paper. Being able to use electronic documents with electronic signatures saves time and money, too.

Then a couple of months ago, I became aware of the fact that each document that I send to agents at local real estate companies gets printed by an office administrator. The contracts end up getting filed, but before that happens, managers review them.

Some of the contracts I send to other real estate agents get printed and then signed by the agent’s clients and then scanned and sent back to me. I realized I have no control over how many times a 25-page contract gets printed.

Contracts sent to me for review are sent electronically, and I read them on the screen and file them electronically without ever printing them. No one in my company ever needs to print anything before turning it in.

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When I go to the closing, my clients are usually sitting with piles of paperwork in front of them, as are the closers. My clients end up leaving the closing with printed copies of everything that we worked on electronically.

And I end up with several pages of settlement statements, a copy of the deed, a certificate of real estate value, and other assorted and relevant documents.

I take my documents to my office (home) and scan them and add electronic copies to the file that I am required by law to keep for seven years. And then I shred the documents and put them in a brown paper bag that my husband carefully puts on the curb every Friday morning so that it can be picked up for recycling.

The top drawer of my file cabinet is where I store camera lenses and assorted photography stuff and boxes of business cards. The lower drawer has some files in it, but I am afraid to open it to look at them, so I’m not sure what’s in there.

I have asked around out of curiosity, and most of the paper that I generate electronically gets put in file folders that get put in drawers for a long time. The drawers are in cabinets that are inside buildings.

Paper is a good thing — it creates jobs. Without the paper created by my electronic documents, there would not be as vast of a need for file folders, and file cabinets and the big truck that picks up the paper and takes it to be recycled.

The contracts also create a need for file cabinets, printers, scanners, paper and toner. Offices create jobs for carpenters and cleaners — not to mention electricians, plumbers, office managers and more.

Let’s not forget that wood is an ingredient in paper and it grows in trees as part of the timber industry. Trees need to be planted and chopped down and hauled away to saw mills and turned into paper, and that creates jobs, too.

When I look at the big picture, the paper that I don’t use doesn’t have much of an impact on anyone but me. Even when I don’t use paper, others generate paper from the contracts I generate.

Deforestation, energy consumption and greenhouse gases are going to be problems with or without my contribution of printed real estate files.

Some call it an injustice, but I am among the 17 percent of the world’s population responsible for consuming 80 percent of the world’s resources.

Water is also an ingredient in paper. While some do not have water to drink, we have enough water to make paper and to recycle it, which is nice for people who work in offices where they need to print electronic contracts and file them.

Agents might be attempting to work without using less paper or being paperless, as some call it, but other parts of the industry are using a lot of paper.

I have concluded that it is best not even to think about how many times my electronic files get converted to paper during a real estate transaction.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker-owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

Email Teresa Boardman.