Technology is becoming increasingly central to every aspect of our lives, and the buying and selling of homes is no exception. Not long ago, brokers had to convince agents to include photos with their online listings, and communicating with clients using video and text message was unthinkable. However, the proliferation of smartphones and advancements in web-based technology over the past decade dramatically changed how the real estate business is conducted. Real estate agents and consumers are now armed with a device that is a phone, a computer and a camera, right in their very own pockets.
As a result, Realogy Holdings Corp. has been working diligently to digitize the real estate process, seeking to streamline its many moving parts for all those involved in the transaction: buyers, sellers, brokers, agents, lenders, mortgage investors, title companies, government entities, and more.
As the leading and most integrated provider of residential real estate services in the United States, with more than 190,000 affiliated agents, Realogy has impressive access to data and assets that can translate into tools and innovation. Realogy spends more than $200 million annually on technology and is laser focused on its strategy to build, partner and buy best-in-class solutions designed to optimize agent recruiting and productivity by providing a more seamless user experience for agents.
“We have always been dedicated to creating exceptional real estate experiences for our customers,” says NRT President and CEO Ryan Gorman. “While we place great value on personal and face-to-face communication with our customers, we want to lead the industry with digital solutions that elevate and simplify the process of buying and selling.”
As Title Resource Group (TRG) Chief Strategy Officer Walter Mullen aptly puts it, “It takes a village to make a real estate transaction come together. From looking at homes with a local agent to securing the mortgage loan to the transfer of legal title, a mound of paper requiring signatures stands between the purchase agreement and the closing of the deal.”
As the real estate transaction forges ahead into the digital age, an increasing number of busy consumers are more empowered thanks to the ability to have required documents not only signed, but now also legally notarized online, as an increasing number of states pass legislation allowing digital remote notarizations.
In February 2018, the National Association of Secretaries of State adopted nationwide standards for online notarization. In June, Texas became the third state to authorize its commissioned notaries to perform online notarizations for signers from around the world who appear live before the notary on a screen via real-time, two-way audio-video conference software. According to Notarize, the first notary public platform to enable legal online document notarization, eight states have now passed laws allowing online notarizations (at press time), with additional states considering laws this year.
In a move to advance the digital real estate experience for its affiliated sales associates, mortgage and title companies and its customers, TRG’s parent company, Realogy Holdings Corp., has now made an investment in Notarize. The expected addition of digital notarization to Realogy’s suite of offerings will advance the company’s goal of providing agents with a completely digital real estate transaction.
“Notarize technology will allow TRG to better serve the growing number of customers who prefer online digital solutions,” says Don Casey, president and CEO of TRG. “Moving toward a full digital closing has been one of our strategic objectives for some time, and Notarize has helped tackle the legal and technical barriers to help make the digital real estate transaction a reality. Realogy’s investment in Notarize positions us at the forefront of change as the industry takes a step toward making buy-sell transactions, refinancing a home or executing a lease 100-percent digital.”
“We believe that remote notarization will provide a timely and distinct advantage for today’s mobile buyers and sellers and for military stationed abroad,” adds Casey. “The enthusiasm for the technology is company-wide.”
“We expect this online option will provide security and technical flexibility to our customers, who would no longer have to find babysitters or take time off from work to sign before a notary,” says Scott McCall, CEO of Title Resources (TRG’s Underwriter). “We are excited to continue to move toward modernizing the closing process and bringing the chore of signing paperwork into the 21st century.”
“From a title perspective, it’s a great tool for people with daytime conflicts,” Casey explains. “They can come to the virtual closing table long after business hours or even while they are traveling.”
The electronic option brings state-of-the-art efficiency to the traditional real estate transaction and helps eliminate potential failure points, explains Gorman.
“It has long been a logistical challenge—and a pain point for buyers and sellers—to have to drop everything, drive to an office and sit before that notary to sign real estate-related documents,” says Gorman. “We are always looking for innovative technologies, such as those offered by Notarize, to make the home-buying and -selling process seamless.”
Realogy mortgage partner Nik Athanasiou, COO of Guaranteed Rate Affinity (GRA), is glad to see the practice gaining momentum.
“There is no question that remote notarization puts the customer in the driver’s seat,” he says. “It streamlines the mortgage process, eliminating the need for overnight mail service, fax or hand-carried paperwork—and provides absolute transparency because customers input their own information at the time and place that works best for them.”
Government entities will also benefit in this further digitization and streamlining of the real estate transaction. “Freddie Mac is proud to be one of the early pioneers to accept electronic loan documents,” says Sam Oliver, vice president of Major Project Execution for the Single-Family Business at Freddie Mac. “We’re excited to continue working with Notarize to make 100-percent online e-closings a reality. Their partnership with Realogy and Freddie Mac via Guaranteed Rate Affinity will provide a more convenient, secure and end-to-end solution for borrowers today.”
The rapid acceptance of remote notarization comes as no surprise to Adam Pase, co-founder and COO of Notarize.
“We are taking a historic process into the present,” says Pase. “So much of the real estate transaction has been conducted the same way for decades, but customers are expecting a new experience that empowers them on their terms, anytime, anywhere. Now, Realogy’s companies will have the opportunity to be the vehicle to provide this solution to its customers.”
Founded in 2015, Notarize serves a national audience, empowering notaries in Virginia, Texas and Nevada to serve customers online in all 50 states on a 24/7 basis, with new states expected to come online soon.
“Our goal is to provide our brands and agents with leading-edge technology to help customers overcome last-mile problems,” Gorman adds. To him, Realogy’s investment with Notarize validates the company’s longstanding commitment to industry-leading technology solutions and leveraging these tools at scale.
Realogy has been demonstrating its commitment to far-reaching digital solutions with recent innovations such as ZapLabs, an IT transformation project designed to keep agents and consumers better connected throughout the real estate transaction, and its FWD Innovation Summit, which brings technology start-up companies focused on real estate in front of the company’s decision-makers. The company’s lead management program is also leveraging AI to increase lead quality and conversions.
Just this past February, Cartus, the company’s relocation arm, launched its Leading Edge Analytics Practice (LEAP) platform, using predictive analytics, data science and artificial intelligence to drive improved levels of service.
The program’s interactive timeline, for example, uses advanced analytics and data acquired over millions of moves to help human resource and mobility managers predict and update employees’ relocation journeys as each move progresses.
A 2017 report from the National Association of REALTORS® on real estate in the digital age confirms that while the initial search for property may have begun online, 88 percent of buyers in 2016 worked with an agent to find their home. But as digital devices play a larger role in every phase of daily life, and consumers continue to seek out new ways of doing business, maximizing technology can be a challenge.
It is a challenge Realogy, NRT, TRG, Guaranteed Rate Affinity, Title Resources and Notarize take on with enthusiasm.
As Mullen says, “We are going where the consumer is heading.”