"Great day. The closings went smoothly. All the customers are happy - and have left our office. The money is being dispersed to everyone. We're finished, right?"
"Almost. All we need to do is get the documents recorded, returned to us, and then sent off to ABC Mortgage. Based on my past experience, that process will only hold us up, oh, say, 10 days to two weeks. Why can't the recorder do it faster?"
Ever have that conversation, or one similar to it, in your office or with your customers?
What does happen, anyway, when the document gets recorded?
Well, let me tell you the tale. The paper(s) arrive, usually with a check and sometimes with "just-in-case" cash. They come to the recorder's office by runner, by express mail couriers, or by regular U.S. Postal Service. Someone scans the document trying to decide what it is and if it meets the "can-it-be-recorded?" standards of that particular office. Then, that same person ? or another person ? decides if there is the right amount of money to record the document. They "cash-it-in." Then ugly numbers get stuck via hand-printing, label, or imprint on each page of the document. Then another person indexes the parties, the document type, maybe a short legal description, and other "find-it-later" identifying numbers. Then another person checks the data that has been entered (typically by "blind key stroke," meaning the second person can"t see what the first person entered).
If the data being entered matches in every particular, indexing is complete. If not, ah well, then it has to be redone, reviewed, discussed, and a final decision reached (again, often following the "how-to-index" standards of that particular office). Then another person archives the document (could be by making a paper photocopy, shooting a microfilm copy, scanning it, or any combination of these options). Then another person has to figure out to whom to return the documents, find the incoming envelope, or make one, stuff the papers inside, seal the envelope, and hope the office runner shows up to get the envelope(s) to the mail room.
See why the process of recording takes so long?
Should it take this long? Easy answer: NO!
So, how do we change it? Where are the recorders heading and why? What role(s) can or should the title companies, titles searchers, title underwriters, title plants, title closers, Realtors, mortgage brokers, and mortgage bankers play?
There are many answers to these questions, from many perspectives. I'd like to focus on a particular future view, and I challenge you to help make that view, or a variation of it, reality.
A customer (Realtor, mortgage broker, Joe and Sally Buyer, the XYZ Company) contacts you. A property is identified, and your customer wants to change who owns that property. You jump on the Internet, pull down the information already provided by your customer to the financial institution, or you help your customer load in the data for a financial institution. The financial institution qualifies and then confirms that the loan amount is a go - within hours and certainly within 24 hours.
You find the statewide Official Records Index site, pull up the name(s) of the current property owners (or the existing cross-reference to property/parcel location), click once, see the actual title and lien documents connected to that owner and that piece of real estate. You print out whatever copies you want/need, sending a copy via e-mail to your title underwriters, the surveyor, the pest inspector, the bank/mortgage company, and anyone else you can think of. Your title search is completed in two to four hours. Okay, resolving discrepancies or problems and examining or evaluating the title might take another day or two.
You also check out MERS and within an hour or two confirm final payoff of any existing mortgages.
Draft deeds, closing documents, mortgage papers, etc. are prepared via e-mail. Surveyor and pest inspection reports are received via e-mail. Details of what is, or isn"t, included in the sale are confirmed via e-mail, and the corresponding closing documents are adjusted. Allow two to three days for this part of the process.
Closing happens, maybe in your office with everyone face-to-face, maybe via Internet with secure passwords, maybe via teleconference video. Documents are signed and notarized by a person authorized/certified to perform electronic notarial services. Closing takes, oh, 30 minutes. At the click of a button, the money moves electronically among the parties. With a second click, the satisfaction, new deed and mortgage are sent electronically to the recorder. The recorder opens the e-mail message, confirms receipt of electronic money, types in a few codes to register/record the document, adds the recorder's electronic version of a seal, and ships the documents back to whomever or wherever the incoming e-mail said they should go. Oh, and by the way, since the documents were received electronically, they are already scanned and archived, and indexing took only a few seconds. Total time from sending to the recorder until the documents are "back" to you? Let's say 12 hours (just in case your document arrives after 5 p.m., and the night shift isn't working that night).
Is this scenario too far-fetched? No.
Could it become a reality? Yes. In fact, multiple parts of this scenario are already in existence. Quick financing approval is happening. MERS is beginning to compile the data on mortgage assignments. Georgia has created a statewide Official Records Index site. Individual counties have made their index accessible via the Internet (check out Orange County, Florida). Counties that are imaging documents are lifting them to the Internet (check out Maricopa County, Arizona). Electronic notaries are already provided for in Florida law. Electronic transfer of funds is certainly a reality. Maybe every piece is not yet in place in every state, but the edges of the title industry envelope are being pushed everywhere I look.
What part do you intend to play? All of us (title searchers, title companies, title underwriters, title plants, title closers, Realtors, mortgage brokers, mortgage bankers, recorders, and anyone else I forgot to name) need to shake our thoughts, our policies, our procedures, our staff, our customers, our vendors, and our laws from the "I've always done it that way!" mode and refocus on the "why can't I?" mode.
?Proposing legislation to make electronic commerce and notaries a reality;
Don't be overprotective of your job or your turf. EXPAND IT. The future has challenges and is exciting. And it is ours for the taking!
Carol Foglesong is Assistant Comptroller, Records Administration Division, Orange County Comptroller's Office in Orlando, Florida. She is responsible for overseeing and managing the Official Records process from start to finish: receiving the documents, collecting the fees, recording, indexing and archiving, as well as public and professional research of the Official Records from within the office and outside of the office. When not at the office, Carol can be found either volunteering at various arts and community organizations or sailing with her family on their 27" sailboat. Carol may be reached at 407-836-5695 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org