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Home Closings in the Age of COVID-19

Jun 4 2020

This installment is part of an ongoing series about the challenges buyers face during COVID-19 and how the homebuying process is adapting to meet their needs.

You’ve already been through quite a journey by the time you get to closing on a home, and you still have a complicated day ahead of you. The challenges added to the process during COVID-19 are the last thing anyone needed. But there is good news! Steps are being taken to keep closings rolling. 

The “close” of a real estate transaction is when the sale is finalized. The seller signs the deed to the property over to the buyer, and the buyer signs final mortgage documents.   

In the past, most closings were held in person. The actual signing could happen in an office, someone’s home, or anywhere else. Both the buyer and seller might be present, or just one party, along with an escrow or closing agent (often a representative of the title company) who notarizes their signatures.  

In some cases, the buyer and seller might receive and sign portions of their documents electronically and meet with a notary in-person for a photo ID verification and a final signing (called a hybrid closing).

Along came COVID-19 

During the COVID-19 quarantines, many real estate pros are working with fewer people in the office and are available by appointment only. They’re using social distancing and other physical protective measures as well. For a closing, they might ask everyone to wear masks, sit in different rooms or areas of a room, wipe down pens between signings, and establish a safe protocol to exchange documents. 

Some offer drive-through or curbside closings, in which parties remain in their cars during the signing.

In some cases, professionals involved in the transaction will go up to the buyer and seller’s car windows to deliver documents. They often wear protective gear, use disposable clipboards and pens and watch as you sign. In others, closing parties meet at outdoor table areas where they can maintain 6 feet of distance while conducting business. 

The state of virtual closings

So much of the homebuying process can happen online, but technology in loan closings is still trying to catch up. One holdup is the notarization of the document signatures.

For a notarization to be legally valid, a notary must physically witness the signing of a document. However, thanks to computer cameras and virtual meetings, online notarizations were becoming increasingly common even before COVID. Online notarizations (technically called Remote Online Notarizations, or RONs for short) were legal in 24 states as of May 2020.

However, it still gets a little more complicated. Though states can legalize RONs, it’s actually up to the county government office to decide whether they’ll accept them.

For more on this topic, head to our post on notarizations during COVID-19.

Put your safety first

Closing can be complicated and stressful in the best of times. Stay in touch with the pros on your homebuying team and get yourself ready in advance (see our post on preparing for closing in six steps for tips).

If you’re concerned about an in-person signing, ask your real estate agent and mortgage lender about a curbside or outdoor closing, or any other options to take precautions.  

In ‘closing’

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath. You can do this, and we’ll be here for you along the way!

   

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