Sign Here, Online

Electronic signature solutions make their way into mainstream.

May 1, 2004

Two companies’ announcements last month place renewed focus on how electronic signature technology can streamline the document approval and signing cycle, which often slows the completion of a real estate transaction. Although the two companies’ intent and approach to digital signatures differ, the end result is the same: to make it possible for paperless applications and contracts to be securely signed and shared electronically, in real time, over the Internet.

Notarizing Mortgage Applications

With many consumers now investigating and applying for mortgages online, the National Notary Association just unveiled an integrated hardware/software solution that can be used to electronically notarize mortgage applications and other documents viewed online. Consumers still will need to have their signature witnessed by a notary, but that signature and the notary seal can be stored electronically and permanently embedded in the document file, which then can be transmitted via e-mail, for example.

NNA’s solution is based on the Enjoa system, developed by Interlink Electronics last year, and software from SafeDocs, a developer of electronic mortgage document delivery solutions. To “sign” an electronic document, consumers use a stylus pen to write their signature on an input device. The touch-sensitive graphics pad is similar to those used in many retail stores to record signatures for credit card transactions. In addition to the signature, the device records the signer’s fingerprint and embeds these into the document, along with an electronic version of the notary’s seal. SafeDocs software seals the file to render it tamper-proof. Then this binding legal document can be transmitted electronically and posted to a secure SafeDocs site for viewing.

Sign Documents Electronically

You may realize more immediate gains in your productivity from an alliance just announced between DocuSign Inc. and RE FormsNet LLC, provider of the ZipForm electronic forms widely used in this industry. The partnership integrates DocuSign Express service, an electronic signature solution, into the ZipForm program, enabling ZipForm users to have documents and contracts signed electronically over a standard Web browser. This capability is already available to users of ZipFormOnline and will be integrated into a subsequent version of the ZipFormDesktop software.

At DocuSign Express’s core is an electronic repository for storing and processing electronic signatures and documents. All parties to a document create a secure account on the company server, where the electronic equivalent of their signature, a signature “stamp,” is stored.

You can prepare a document in ZipForm for an electronic signature by placing it in a DocumentExpress Instant Envelope ($5.25 per recipient), an online “envelope” that holds up to 30 pages. Once you’ve set up the envelope, insert “Stick-eTabs” into the document wherever a signature or initialing is required. The completed documents are then encrypted and transmitted to the secure repository on a central server. Those authorized to view the contents are notified by e-mail and given an access code they can use to review and sign the document.

A signer would simply click on the Stick-eTab and his or her electronic signature stamp is automatically applied. The time and date also are recorded. With the required signatures in place, all parties can print or download a copy of the signed document.

Implications for the Industry

The straightforward approach to signing and the content available in ZipForm give real estate professionals a practical way to incorporate electronic signatures into their day-to-day activity, says Tom Gonser, DocuSign founder and executive vice president.

Lisa Mihelcich, chief operating officer of RE FormsNet LLC, believes this could be a solution many have been awaiting: “It’s going to save real estate professionals and consumers a ton of time and help get transactions to closing a lot quicker than normal,” she says.

Once proven, results like that can make the strongest case for adopting a new technology like the electronic signature.

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