Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

COVID-19 will expedite the legal and real estate transformation process and question some of the practices that have for the most part, been static over my 15-year career.  On the surface, if two people agree in principle to sell a home for an agreed upon amount, why should they then be required to potentially take a day off of work, travel to a title company to execute documents and prove their identity all to have someone witness this process. Some of the more paper intensive tasks like recording documents have gone digital over the last few years. With these incremental advancements, I s till believe that our industry lags in regards to digital and technological advancements. Remote On- Demand Notarization (RON) is a relevant topic in our industry and companies like Notarize and NotaryCam  Blog-1are poised for exponential growth.  A few days ago, Notarize said they were going to add 1,000 more online notaries to keep up with the demand.  There are still many moving parts; underwriters and lenders have to wrap their arms around it. However, when they do, this will undoubtedly change the dynamic and the processes we’re accustomed to.  Soon, that face-to-face contact can be satisfied online using audiovisual technology such as a webcam. The signer can be in another town, another state or even another country. Title companies and real estate lawyers may have to upgrade their technology to include hardware equipped with web cams. Title companies can utilize a third-party vendor until their current staff is trained.

Naturally, many questions have been raised about this change. If you aren’t face-to-face with a signer, what is the accepted process to authenticate identity? How do you meet other specified requirements? Does this mean that that title company of the future will require less office space and closing rooms?  Will closers work remotely? An undeniable reality, however, is that this is a lot safer and can make companies more efficient.

 

This means more productivity for a select group of closers, in less time, and in some instances, not having to drive around. .  For those positioned properly and those leaders with an eye for a more efficient and leaner business model, there may be a more tactical adoption.

In a similar way, will smaller law firms or sole practitioners transition to a home office? Aside from the camaraderie and collective brain-storming on problematic files, is the rent worth it? Zoom makes it easier to communicate and does, some argue, capture the feel and intimacy of a face to face conversation.   Friends of mine in other industries have been utilizing instant messaging platforms like Slack and Google Hangouts, for some time now, to organize communications for group discussions, private messages and to share information, files, and more all in one place.

There are applications out there for real estate attorneys, like Wyzewaze, with a real-time collaboration portal and the ability to review/e-sign documents using the available cameras on the attorney’s existing PC or laptop.  Wyzewaze has a foresight to go all digital and create real-time collaboration platform for its customers (attorneys and title companies) – unique in the industry. I never thought to stop and think, until now, about all the homes I have been to, visiting friends and family, and how many utilize the seldom used living room as a converted home office. Some lawyers already utilize a third-party paralegal, working remotely, to help ease the workflow and scale up during the peak months. Has the work from home evolution already begun and is this pandemic the cause for a tipping point? For Starbucks, the appeal of these coffee shops is more for the mobile office space/flexibility then it

is the expansive coffee menu. Over the years, I began identifying those Starbucks that were routinely the most crowded and avoided them for the fear of not being able to have a conversation. That also brings up the point of commuting.  I have noticed in the last couple of weeks from working at home that I am hardly ever late for a meeting or a conference call and that I don’t miss sitting in traffic. I haven’t bought gas in two weeks and I hear the price per gallon has dropped considerably. I can listen to podcasts from my home office during the day instead of in my car. I can even answer emails and texts immediately, without having to pull over or risk replying while driving.

Before our lives changed in the past month or so there has been hints of disruption in the real estate space.  Statistics about Millennials doing their due diligence and home shopping online, from the comfort of their sofa.  Zillow and Redfin, among others, providing data, pictures and tours that used to be exclusive to the local MLS. Some homes are showcased with high quality 4K HD pictures and home tours.  Drones doing aerial fly overs to capture the home and the entire community. As a buyer, if you know which school district you want to be in, how much you can afford and the home is in a desirable neighborhood where say friends and family already live, can you make an offer, “sight unseen?” I can’t speak for others, but it certainly narrows down my potential pool of homes to choose from and will limit the amount of time my agent and I spend driving around. There have also been some conversations centered around, and rightly so, the safety of open-houses. As a homeowner, do I want people coming into my home, touching things, potentially coughing on my belongings? Recently, the physical safety of an agent at open-houses and showings has been a growing concern. I have seen some intricate virtual reality options, where you can put on a pair of VR goggles and walk through every room of a home, from your couch. Certainly, as we look at today, it is a much safer option. Will this marginal trend in our market see a higher adoption rate in the post Covid-19 era? Aside from the obvious safety risks it can potentially eliminate, it would seem to save time and help to scale an agent’s business.

If some lawyers and title companies begin to readily adopt the work from home dynamic, what happens to commercial real estate, in particular, office space. Like those elaborate shopping malls and Blockbuster Video stores, do they become re-purposed or absolute? This phenomenon has started already with Universities and Colleges that are offering more and more online classes. These are less costly for students and can cut down on future student loan debt. Students can also learn more in a shorter amount of time and use that saved time for more social activities like going to the gym or practicing a particular sport or hobby they enjoy.  My gym has sent emails with work-out at home videos and how to stay in shape at home. These unsettled times have forced many businesses and entrepreneurs to adapt and change their message to remain relevant; customized for the temporary stay at home culture.  It is certainly too early to determine which practices are temporary and which will be tagged the “new-norm.” If we step back and take a look, some of the foundation for ingenuity has already been in place. Whether we adopt more readily to save time or save lives is yet to be seen.

There will be some who will hold to the anticipation that these times are merely temporary changes. Many of us lived and worked through the 2008 global recession and are reminded of how we bounced back.  This time seems different, though. Technology is as an everyday part of our culture and is more advanced than we were in 2008. Those Consumers born in the early 2000’s have grown up relying on technology and therefore have a different approach and a greater need to solve these complex challenges, more quickly. The potential of technology and its ability to support new processes and standards has already been perpetuated. The future generation is already shaping the future. COVID-19 may yield many causalities in our business, however, those that embrace the challenge will always remain relevant.

Working from home takes a certain adjustment and is not for everyone. There are other variables that are determining factors. We are innately social creatures and interacting with others is in our DNA.  The kids running around in the background, the barking dog(s) and the makeshift workstation may be the cause for added frustrations, no doubt, but we learn to adapt and make the necessary changes to remain safe.

In the course of writing this, words and concepts like saving time and becoming more efficient resonated over and over again.   Like every catastrophic event we’ve experienced, we emerge triumphant and we adapt and change to the circumstances and become better because of it. Through these temporary modifications comes a permanent and triumphant evolution.

Joe Mainolfi 3/31/2020

Joe is an Advisory Board member for Wyzewaze. He is currently the VP Sales for Landtrust Title Services, a Chicagoland based full-service title company working with residential and commercial real estate attorneys.

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