How COVID changed real estate settlements

Nothing’s changed, right? Wrong.

Real estate settlements used to involve the gathering of buyers, sellers, real estate agents and sometimes even lender representatives in a large conference room. This would be either at the offices of the title company or one of the agents. Parties would sit on opposite sides of the table. Coffees would be poured and snacks circulated. Sellers would sign the deed and various affidavits. Buyers would sign loan documents. Once everything was signed, sellers would deliver keys. Then everyone would wait for copies of their paperwork, take their sales proceeds or commission checks, shake hands and depart. Settlement used to be an event, a celebration to remember. That all changed with COVID.

Here is the new normal: Buyers and sellers never meet one another in person throughout the entire transaction. All communication is through their agents (if represented) or via email with the title company as intermediary. Agents confirm commissions electronically prior to closing. Lenders send instructions via email and funds via wire. The parties are definitely not meeting up on settlement day… they close separately. Once the buyer signs (remotely, or alone in the title company office) and sends the title company any additional funds due by wire transfer, the seller is then contacted to finish the closing process. The seller signs (again, remotely, or alone in the title company office) and the deal is closed. Commissions, sales proceeds and other payments are made by wire or checks are sent out via overnight courier. Copies of fully executed documents are then delivered by secure email. Rather than settlement being an event, it’s now just about getting the deal finished as safely and as conveniently as possible for the parties. It’s hard to celebrate alone!

Even though COVID fear seems to have decreased considerably of late, things are not going back to “normal” anytime soon (if ever). COVID certainly has left its mark on this industry.