Case studies of paperless success

October 19, 2005

Part 1: Paperless real estate milestones

By Janis Mara
Inman News

Editor's note: Innovative technology can help simplify the home-buying process, eliminating unnecessary paper and making the transaction less cumbersome and easier for everyone involved. In this three-part series, we spotlight progress in the trek towards a paperless real estate transaction, and talk to early adopters, technology developers and standards gurus about how far we've come and how far we still have to go.

For Kim Weinstein, a Realtor and single mother of three, time is a precious commodity, and that's one of the things she likes about her REDtablet PC – its timesaving capabilities.

"I'm a single mom, and maximizing my time has always been a huge challenge," said Weinstein, a Realtor with Keller Williams in Pismo Beach, Calif. "This gives me more free time and allows me to have more clients."

Weinstein, who has been a Realtor for 10 years, is a self-described "tech geek" and was enthusiastic about the REDtablet PC, a flat, portable computer operated with a stylus, from the get-go.

"My boyfriend knows I'm into technology. About eight or nine months ago he brought home this flyer for a demonstration for the REDtablet. As soon as I saw it, I was hooked," said Weinstein.

Because of her tech skills, Weinstein had an easy time learning to use the REDtablet and the software, which features transaction, document and lead management applications.

"The one thing that was challenging was that I couldn't buy the keyboard right away because they were on back order," Weinstein said. "So I had to tap the letters on the screen," where a virtual keyboard appears, "and that was my biggest challenge," Weinstein said.

As far as sending e-mail and taking notes, Weinstein said, there was no problem, because it is possible to do so by writing on the screen in freehand using the stylus. With e-mail sent via REDtablet, which was purchased by software company VREO in April, e-mail recipients get a conventional e-mail except that the body of the message is in the sender's handwriting.

Though it's possible to take notes freehand as well, it's difficult to send them to others because of software compatibility problems, Weinstein said.

The REDtablet is a regular computer that uses the Windows XP operating system, Weinstein explained. The difference is in the hardware, which is slim and flat (hence the appellation "tablet"), and the software that's installed.

Using the tablet saves time, Weinstein said, because she can send and receive faxes from it.

"Before, if I was on the road, I would have to drive to a fax machine. Now I save time and precious gas money," the Realtor said. "I can be at a client's house or on the side of the road. They can sign the contract and I send out one e-mail so they can get a copy. Or I can fax it out to them. I e-mail it to the listing agent, if I'm representing the buyer, and it's done."

Weinstein's comment brings up another key element of the tablet – software that makes it possible to write contracts and perform other transactions. The Realtor is beta testing Real Estate Dashboard, electronic signature and document management software released by the company in September.

Real Estate Dashboard is optimized for use on VREO's REDtablet, but will run on any tablet PC hardware. Its major features include easy e-signatures and paperless document management capabilities.

Weinstein has been using the various elements and telling the company how well they work or don’t work, passing on suggestions for fine-tuning the new software, she said.

"The main purpose of Dashboard is so we can sign contracts. So you can have your client sign the actual contract and you can go in and sign where you need to sign as a agent," Weinstein said. This is one of her favorite timesaving features, the Realtor said.

The REDtablet has an unexpected application as a prospecting tool, she said.

"I go into coffee shops, Internet cafes and bookstores working and people come up to me and say, 'Wow, what is that?' all the time, so it's a great prospecting tool," Weinstein said. "I always give them my card."

While Weinstein sunk $3,600 into her REDtablet, Memphis, Tenn., military couple Cathy and Matt Simmons went even further with their technology investment. They closed the sale of their home using electronic closing platform eClosingRoom.

Cathy Simmons said she initially found the idea "scary and weird" when Randy Schaffner, president of Stewart Title in Wichita Falls, Texas, broached the subject with the couple. But after the closing at Stewart's office, she said, "It was easy, especially compared to signing for the house when we bought it three years ago."

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The Air Force couple, who were being transferred to Memphis from Wichita Falls, sold their traditional brick home themselves for an amount in "the lower six figures," according to Schaffner. They used Stewart Title for the closing because the company had handled the closing when they bought the house.

Schaffner suggested using eClosingRoom, Stewart's electronic closing platform integrated into the company's SureClose online transaction management system. After some discussion, the two decided to close electronically on May 13.

Schaffner presided over the closing. The eClosingRoom user interface is familiar to most people who have used Windows: a series of choices followed by rectangular icons saying, "Submit," or boxes to the left to be clicked on. Following the prompts, the couple approved the settlement sheet and internal documents required by the closing.

For the signature, a graphic appears on the screen with a blank space in the middle for the signature. After signing, the two typed in their names.

"There you go. And now it's going to run through all the documents and place your signatures everywhere they're needed," Schaffner said. "Congratulations, folks!" The two burst out laughing.

Earlier, Schaffner had joked, "In your next closing, you might be able to close in your pajamas and slippers."

Copyright 2005 Inman News

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