The spread of COVID-19 and ensuing statewide lock-down orders have upended residential real estate from home search to closing. Don Casey, the CEO and president of Realogy Title Group, has seen first-hand just how much the closing process has changed, and he believes a lot of those changes are here to stay.
When shutdown orders started coming in, Casey said it felt like a rolling blackout.
“We just went around the country and each of our operations had to make local decisions quickly,” Casey told Inman. “The closer you were to North Jersey and New York the more critical and concerning it was.”
The title business is broken into two components, and for the most part, the title search side of the business has been unaffected. Many county offices already have digitized their records and some came up to speed quickly, according to Casey. Other markets that require physical search, ran with limited hours and employees.
“I can’t think of any instances where we missed a closing due to search work,” Casey said. “The whole ecosystem did an incredible job.”
From the recording side, a lot of the work was dependent on the mortgage lender. Realogy Title Group has an in-house underwriter, so they provided gap insurance, but each lender they worked with has different technology capabilities.
“We have to operate at the lender’s discretion on how many of the closing documents can be signed electronically,” Casey said.
Realogy Title Group, a few years back, made an investment in Notarize, a digital notary service, and has been going the way of digital closings for a few years now, which prepared them for this crisis. With participating mortgage lenders, the company can close completely digitally. Roughly 100 of the company’s own employees got certified to become digital notaries.
It’s not just the lender that determines whether the closing process can be completely digitized, but the states as well. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, roughly 25 states allowed for remote online notaries, and Casey estimates roughly 17 or 18 more states have adopted policies around online notaries.
In states — or dependent on the lender — that require a physical signature, Realogy Title Group’s offices set up curbside or valet closings. Casey said a lot of offices had fun with them, with an office in Idaho adding a fire pit outside, for example.
“At some of our operations around the country, we’re seeing 90 percent of our transactions coming through these valet closings,” Casey said. “[Clients] sign the majority of the documents at home, they bring them in, we certify them all, we take a picture of their identification through their car, we give them documents to sign, they sign them, then we either send them a completed package via FedEx or electronically if they want and they close — literally in the comfort of their car.”
Casey told Inman that being part of Realogy has been a huge advantage for the company. They can leverage the company’s scale and technology, but it also gives them a strategic advantage from a planning standpoint, being part of a “one-stop-shop,” company.
“There’s just been a great working relationship we’ve had, from real estate all the way through mortgage and closing. I think that the real power of what we created from start to finish really came through over the last six weeks,” Casey said.