Similar to most every business, COVID-19 continues to impact the way in which real estate transactions are handled. Last spring, when the quarantine was imposed, real estate settlements were allowed to occur. However, people were not allowed to come in to buildings or offices, and therefore, we did our closings in our parking lot. Basically, all parties would stay in their respective automobiles and we would deliver the documents to them. We would then return to our office and call them on their cell phones to review the documents before they were signed. Once completed, we would reverse the procedure and retrieve the documents from them, after which checks would be disbursed.
Once the quarantine was lifted, many law offices and title companies revised their traditional methods of conducting closings to ensure the safety of all participants. Some offices are limited by physical space and strive to keep the participants at a safe distance from each other.
If you are expecting to attend a closing in the near future, you should inquire in advance as to the procedures. Some of the new procedures are as follows:
- Physical attendance – Because some offices have limited physical space and rooms, those offices often require people to stay in different rooms during the closings. In cases where there are not sufficient rooms, they will require parties to come at different times. For instance, the seller may come a half hour earlier to sign documents, after which the buyer will come to sign their loan documents. Once concluded, checks will be disbursed in some fashion. Unfortunately, this makes any discussion of issues awkward. It also makes the exchange of information about the property, such as the furnace and utilities, somewhat difficult.
- Document signing – Some offices have gone as far as forwarding the documents to the sellers and asking them to get the documents signed beforehand, which can be difficult because of the need to have certain documents, especially the deed, notarized. This can be a bit of a burden on sellers.
- Purchase Money Checks – Some offices are prohibiting the exchange of paper checks. They will often require that the real estate office holding the down payment wire the money to the office, or just have it deducted from the commission. Some also require that the purchase money needed from the purchaser be wired. Again, this can be difficult, since the purchaser needs to go to a bank and make arrangements for the wire. Oftentimes, the exact amount is not known until the day before closing. This can also be a problem if the amount changes at closing, or if the purchaser wants to pay the seller for some furniture or other items. However, the closing office will usually issue a paper check to the seller, which can be mailed, picked up or wired.
All of the above issues present difficulties and certainly a change from the traditional real estate closings. However, like the rest of the day-to-day activities in our present world, we need to adapt and be flexible to ensure the safety of others.