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How Are Real Estate Agents Using E-Signatures?

Mobile technology has streamlined nearly every facet of the real estate industry. Buyers can peruse real estate listings on tablets. Brokers can upload photos and videos directly from a smartphone to the MLS. Thanks to a myriad of carefully-crafted apps, information flows seamlessly from buyer to seller to agent.

But until recently, one key piece of a real estate transaction still needed to be conducted the old-fashioned way: the signature. Not anymore. Innovators like DocuSign are blasting that notion out of the water, and enabling agents to conduct more business, better business, and quicker business with a nifty little invention: the e-signature.

DocuSign Leads the Way

Real estate transactions once hinged on a client’s access to a fax machine. But today, out-of-town clients (or just busy ones) only need a smartphone/tablet and a wireless connection to "ink" their signatures on real estate documents.

Through an e-signature provider like DocuSign, real estate agents can obtain instant electronic signatures on:

  • Offers
  • Contracts
  • Negotiations

More and more agents are nodding their heads in agreement. In 2010, approximately 20,000 real estate professionals reported using DocuSign for business documents. That number has since jumped to more than 130,000 real estate professionals. DocuSign reports that as of October 2012, more than 4 million real estate transactions have been completed on DocuSign.

As the official and exclusive signature provider to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), DocuSign is certainly the biggest paperless player in the real estate industry. But it’s not the only paperless option. Other providers include DotLoop (which has been embraced by several REALTOR® associations and MLS services) and PaperlessPipeline.

How Does It Work, and Who Pays?

Good questions. Membership in most electronic signature networks belongs to the professional. So there’s usually not a cost passed on to the “signer.” The process typically flows as follows:

  • Member uploads a document (can be Word, Excel, PDF and many other file formats).
  • Member highlights areas in need of signatures.
  • The signer receives the document as a PDF by email.
  • The signer creates an electronic signature (via smartphone, tablet or desktop computer).
  • The signer applies the electronic signature where needed.
  • The document is returned electronically to the member.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Surely something this wonderful can't be legal…can it?

Legality of Electronic Signatures

There’s no need to fear a legal nightmare by going the electronic route. Electronic signatures are legally binding in the U.S., and DocuSign “warrants federal ESIGN and UETA Act compliance,” which offers solid legal protection for its members.

Pros of Going Paperless

DocuSign extols the virtues of paperless transactions well:

“No more printing, scanning, faxing, overnighting documents or driving across town to get a signature.”

That means signatures can move at lightning speed. In fact, more than 60 percent of documents are signed within one hour of sending with DocuSign.

Don’t forget the money you could save on transportation, printing and postage costs. It’s been estimated that some real estate companies could “save $20,000 a year in printing, gas and document storage costs” by going paperless.

Cons of Going Paperless

There is a membership fee associated with electronic signature providers. DocuSign is $180 per year for NAR members. Cloud-based rival DotLoop offers a free version and a premium version for $20 per month. Pricing for e-signature/storage provider PaperlessPipeline varies according to usage.

There’s also a learning curve that goes along with any of these technologies. But DocuSign in particular is a simple, user-friendly tool, which bodes well for the tech-averse.

So there’s your list of cons.

It’s a short list, and one that is easily outweighed by the convenience of paperless transactions. As agent Shannon Williams King says, “Now I can get a contract ready in minutes, and get it signed just as quickly – without having to drive around town or be tethered to a fax machine…it’s made such a difference in the quality of my life and the results of my business.”

Do less paperwork. Sell more real estate. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.