Due to the pandemic, closings and signings have been facilitated via video. Georgia has put two separate emergency orders in to place to accomplish this.
Georgia is an “attorney state”, meaning that an attorney is required to be present when signing legal documents such as a deed. The emergency order issued by the Supreme Court of Georgia allows an attorney to be legally present via video. This was not the case pre-pandemic.
The second emergency order is from the Governor that allows an attorney to watch a person sign via video and notarize that document once the original is received. Georgia does not have remote notary laws yet, so without the Governor’s order, the attorney cannot legally witness and notarize a document unless they are physically present during the signing.
Origin Title & Escrow always keeps the best interest of our clients in mind. We will continue to adjust our processes to match the orders issued by the state.
Real estate transactions typically involve the execution and delivery of written documents that must be notarized in order to be recorded. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have put in place emergency measures to assist notaries in carrying out their duties. Georgia’s emergency order has been extended through July 12, which means Origin Title and Escrow can assist in notarizing and witnessing documents via video conferencing.
During this process, documents are physically sent to the buyer or seller, they sign during the video conference and then send the documents back for the notary to stamp and witness. Keep in mind that a borrower or seller should not leave Georgia during the transaction because a notary public’s power is confined to a specific state.
During the state of emergency, Origin Title and Escrow, Inc can provide notaries, witnesses, and be the closing attorney via video conferencing. As a buyer or seller, you can sign your closing documents with the notary, witness, and attorney present via video conferencing. Normally, the closing attorney also acts as the notary or witness.
You will need an internet connection, web camera, and microphone. Most phones and tablets have everything necessary.
Signors will receive the documents via FedEx or hand delivery before the scheduled signing time. We use Zoom pro and we share our screen to go over each document. We will send the Zoom invitation the day of closing. Please do not sign any documents before the video conference.
Origin Title will provide blue pens and a return FedEx envelope and label to return the completed documents. You will need to find the nearest FedEx drop box to deliver the completed signed documents. Once we receive the documents, we will sign as the notary, witness, and closing attorney.
Everything is still done with ink signatures, so this is not a true e-signing with electronic signatures.
Who likes going to office meetings? Frequent meeting attendees hope there’s a spread of food and drinks; if there’s not, then they’d prefer the conversation be conducted via email.
Real estate brokerages are shifting to virtual office spaces where there are no in-person meetings to attend. Some brokerages even have avatars for their agents to meet with clients or attend meetings.
Agents with virtual offices need a closing attorney with their own conference room to complete their closings and that’s where Origin Title & Escrow comes in. And yes, we will have a basket of candy on the conference table.
97% of home-buyers begin their search for a house online. 74% of people looking for a mortgage now find it online. Less than 1% of people shop for their closing attorney online.
This 1% is the main reason it’s important for closing attorneys to have a strong network of real estate agents that assist buyers. It’s also a big reason why home-buyers may not know what a company like Origin Title & Escrow actually does.
Our website has plenty of information to educate buyers and sellers, but it also provides closing costs, allows people to request title and to schedule a closing. We also have real live people clients can call with questions!
The Supreme Court order that was issued on March 27 concerning closing real estate transactions via video has been misinterpreted by some, so here are the facts.
As of March 27, closing via video conference is possible where the attorney and the signing party can see and hear each other, and the signing party is in the same room with a witness and a notary public. The original signed, witnessed and notarized documents would have to be overnighted to the closing attorney. This order provides for the attorney and the signing party to be in two separate locations, but does not comply with the social distancing order, since the witness and the notary public must be at the table with the signing party.
Governor Kemp is expected to sign an executive order making closing via video one step simpler. We expect that it will allow the signing party, the witness and the attorney (who will be the notary for the transaction) to be able to see and hear each other and witness the signing. Then the signing party will have to overnight the signed documents to the closing attorney to be notarized and witnessed. This does support the social distancing order, since all parties are in separate locations.
“E-signing,” “e-witnessing” and “e-notarizing” are not allowed in Georgia, and will still not be allowed, even if the Governor signs the emergency order mentioned above. If Georgia adopts a Remote Online Notary (RON) act and amends the recording statutes, then fully remote closings would be possible, but that can’t happen in time to help with COVID-19 isolation.
We perform a title search for every refinance or purchase closing. There was a time when someone searching titles could get all the needed information at the courthouse. That time has passed. Deeds, mortgages, and most liens are still recorded in the real estate records at the courthouse, but several other items also need to be checked before closing. Everyone knows to check property taxes, but what about other property charges?
Many municipalities in Georgia have ordinances that create liens on the property for unpaid water bills. There is no public index or record of water bills to search. Each county or city providing water service has its own process for getting the water bill. The City of Atlanta charges $10 per property to provide a water bill and accepts requests on-line. Dekalb County does not charge anything and accepts requests through e-mail.
OCGA § 36-60-17 was amended in 2016 to allow water-provider to charge up to $10 to provide water bill information. The same Code states that water-providers have 10 business days to provide a bill and payoff amount. Most providers provide the statement much quicker. The payoff amount is good for thirty days and once paid, extinguishes any lien rights. In order for a water bill to be a lien on residential property, the water charges must be incurred by the property owner.
Georgia Department of Revenue liens are another lien that is not recorded at the courthouse anymore. Effective January 1, 2018, the Georgia Department of Revenue has a separate statewide index for its liens that is only available on-line. The lien index can be accessed through the GSCCCA at: http://search.gsccca.org/LienSearch/StateTaxLienSearch.aspx
or through the Department of Revenue’s web site at: https://gtc.dor.ga.gov/_/#2
It was less time consuming and easier to check everything at the courthouse, but those days are over. After searching the courthouse records, we must get property taxes, request water bills, and search for Georgia Department of Revenue liens on-line.