RON and Other Creative Ways Notaries are Working During COVID-19
Can we all agree that this has been one of the most interesting months in history for notary signing agents? And, of course, by “interesting,” what I really mean is it’s crazy out there. The topics that I said we would cover this time hardly seem relevant to our world today. That was on March 9, 2020 in a pre-national COVID-19 emergency where the phrase “keeping social distance” held no meaning for us.
Here we are three weeks later, my local FedEx station has pastel blue boxes for people to stand in so that they stay six feet apart. For grins, go back and look at the article from the 9th (Remote Online Notarization – Positive RON News) and the topics that I planned to cover in our second March article. No cares about those topics now! We have uncharted territory to discuss.
So, let’s go!
Creative Ways to Complete Loan Signings During COVID-19 Times
Since mid-month, notaries have seen unusual suggestions from hiring parties regarding creative ways to complete loan signings. One minute, things look quite promising for notary signing agents. Thirty minutes later, all may seem to be grinding to a halt. I personally feel as if I’ve been chained to the front of a sinister runaway roller coaster ride in an amusement park. There are countless highs and lows each day.
For a couple of days over the last 3 weeks, I scrapped planning another article on RON because it seemed almost irrelevant. But, we’ve rounded another steep curve on the roller coaster’s rickety tracks. As we look ahead, we see that citizens and industry stakeholders look at RON differently. For months, notary discussions on RON were a snooze fest. However, over the past several days, RON is creating excitement because independent notaries are being contacted about RON services by hiring partners. I thought that I was seeing a lot of tire-kicking going on–notaries being probed for availability and urged to be on standby, but not much actual work materializing. However, just before publishing this article, I learned that title companies really want to try RON but they are encountering a brick wall. Borrowers and signers are not technology-savvy and don’t have what’s required to get through the signing appointment.
On the other hand, the reluctance to test the RON waters has sparked another type of service proposal from various companies. I call this “Notary at the Window” or “Porch Document Drop.” The signing appointment begins with a notary on one side of the window peering through at ID credentials. Next, the notary drops documents on the porch for the signers. The signers execute the document package, drops the documents back on the porch, and the notary retrieves them, looks them over and notarizes them out of sight of the signers.
We will cover that topic next. Afterwards, we’ll run through an updated list of RON topics. Forgive me if my opinions and answers to questions notaries have on their minds don’t pan out to be the right ones. They are simply my opinions, observations, and the conclusions that I have reached logically. (None of my remarks should be considered advice–legal or otherwise.)
New Loan Signing Service Model Proposed – The Porch Document Drop
Some companies have asked notaries to conduct a notary appointment in which the notary hands off documents by dropping them on the signer’s porch and picks them back up after the documents are signed.
As previously mentioned, the ID is viewed through a window while the signer holds it up to the glass for the notary to see. Finally, the signers go through the documents while the notary waits for the documents to be signed being physically located on the other side of the door or glass, or even in the notary’s car. The notary is available by phone or video chat to answer questions.
Once the documents are signed, they are placed on the porch by the borrowers/signers. The notary reviews the documents and completes notarial certificates.
There are several versions of this type of service being suggested. Here’s my input.
Relating to ID. Originally, I thought I would be okay with viewing an ID through a window for a loan signing since I am aware of the thorough vetting of signers by title companies. I would not be okay with it for general notary work where no one else has worked with the signers. Although I did feel okay about it initially, after discussion with other notaries and additional consideration, I agree that notaries can’t be separated by a partition of glass and unable to examine the ID closely. Per the excellent recommendation of Austin notary Valerie Dennis, I suggest that notaries use thin, inexpensive sandwich baggies over their fingers as makeshift “mittens” to handle the ID so that any raised characteristics can be felt through the baggie. That way, notaries are more apt to know that the ID is authentic. (As an aside, if you are interested, take a look at this guide book that describes the characteristics of IDs throughout the U.S. and Canada. It can be viewed here.)
Relating to Notarial Acts. I don’t feel it is acceptable to allow signers to take the documents into a home where notaries waiting outside cannot observe the actual document execution taking place. This poses a significant problem for notaries who understand that “Subscribed and sworn to before me…” means seeing the signer execute the document, as well as hearing the signer swear or affirm the document’s content is truthful.
Notaries are duty bound to conduct a verbal ceremony for each notarial act in most states. Sworn statements are particularly sensitive! They must be accompanied by the signer’s swearing or affirming that the statements within the documents are truthful. So, in my view, notaries should identify ways that this can be managed.
Popular RON Topics
Next, let’s cover several RON topics that notaries discuss frequently on social media.
1- In a “shelter-in-place” world, are notaries considered to be essential or non-essential?
Notaries are certainly essential to the closing process and many financial transactions. However, each notary should read the guidelines of their localities to determine their essential or non-essential status.
2- How much should I charge for a RON loan signing appointment? It is rumored that the platforms who perform closings while paying notaries an hourly wage are charging around $150 to the signers. To be competitive, services that will hire RON notaries will be charging around $150 or less. If the rumored amount is true, you can be certain that you won’t be able to pull in more than $150 per signing. Of course, mileage and paper will not figure into your bottom line, so taking a lower figure won’t hurt quite as much.
I suggest becoming obsessed with the wonders of spreadsheets and learning about expenses vs. income. Knowing your costs and aiming for a decent profit per transaction is the way to go. Figure out how much each signing is costing you and what profit you will be able to make if offered in varying amounts. One size will not fit all.
3- Should I become a RON notary now that COVID-19 is here? If you are not a highly seasoned notary, you should not. You are more likely going to set yourself up for a bad experience, failure, or even losing your commission over breaking rules you are not aware of.
You are better off learning all aspects of your traditional (non-RON) notarial laws before you apply for a RON commission. For instance, know the difference between e-notary/e-notarization (electronic notary/electronic notarization) and RON which is different. Know what you may charge. It’s really important that you understand that the fees for those three types of notarial acts are not the same.
Take a notary skills course and exam (whether your state requires it or not). Then, take those skills on the road and get practical experience before you become an online notary. To do otherwise, is like having no experience whatsoever as a driver, going to a five-hour course to learn to drive and then, on the first day you are licensed, getting a commercial driver license and climbing behind the wheel of a school bus, mover’s van/truck, or or an 18-wheeler. You are almost certain to hurt yourself, hurt someone else, cause damages to other parties, and to get fined, sued, or even charged with a crime along the way.
4- I am a seasoned notary, should I become a RON notary? As a seasoned notary, you already know various types of documents that might work well as a RON document. Not all documents will! I make that distinction because, for instance, if you receive a speeding ticket in my state, you can usually swear in an affidavit to certain things and not receive a ticket on your record. Imagine if you have that affidavit notarized online. How to do you send that to the judge? You could put it on a thumb drive or email it if the judge would accept it like that. But, when you print it out, you are sending a COPY of the affidavit to the judge. I am not going to argue about RON or original notarial seals with city clerks or judges. I want them to see that the ink signature is still fresh where the notary signed and stamped it.
RON documents are only in their original state while they are in an tamper-evident electronic format. When printed out on paper, they are just copies! Some states have made new laws to allow a notary to print out and record documents that were notarized online in order that they can be recorded in small, paper-based counties. However, even that isn’t the most welcome in all rural corners of the U.S.
If you can think of documents that never need to be a paper document, you could be on to something. Next, you should ask yourself, “How will I market to people who needs those documents notarized? If I can reach them, will they pay the RON fee?” If you can answer those questions affirmatively, you might have a niche to serve and becoming an online notary worth might be worth it.
Independent notary signing agents who become online notaries can support cash transactions and seller packages fairly easily using a RON platform. Full refinance packages are too much for me at this time. One to three notarial acts per package would be more along the type of work that I would want to do.
5 – How many RON transactions (how much business) are independent notaries getting? Before COVID-19, very little. Most got none over a year; a few received one transaction over the same period.
6 – What amount of time is involved in each transaction? I do not speak for title companies or signing companies, but as an independent online notary, you need to have a routine mapped out. You’ll need to walk your clients through what you need from them, what they will do while you are waiting, and you need to know how to use your platform. You are responsible for the correct language on the certificates (more serious than paper transactions) and you will likely go through the entire package to mark up documents electronically so that the platform you are using knows where the signature lines are, etc. I would probably schedule 45 minutes for a small package to mark up the documents.
7 – Aside from the platform, what other expenses are there? You may want to consider having —
- A program called Adobe Acrobat Pro (about $10 / mo.)
- A website that is created for the purpose of bringing clients to you with keyword rich content (about $10 – $50/ mo.). The price will depend on features and your own skills.
- A Zoom account for meeting with your clients face-to-face before the actual notarial acts to prep them for the notarial acts (this will run $0 – $15 / mo.) You can also use Zoom to make your own recordings.
- Storage and storage backup. All online notaries must have a way to store their recordings securely and so that they are backed up. (about $5 – $50 / mo. depending on number of recordings)
8-If RON is so great, why was it catching on so slowly before the buzz brought on by COVID-19? In a word, “marketability.” There is a lack of national legislation to ensure that a RON transaction will be accepted in every state of the U.S. Most loans are originated and sold to investors. If banks do not have assurance that loans handled by remote online notarization will be as marketable as a loan package that was signed while in a traditional paper format by a traditional notary, they won’t use RON.
When independent notaries become commissioned to do RON for dealing with COVID-19, they might be able to make back their expenses over the next few weeks. This will be a real test to see if independent notaries can handle loan signings correctly using RON.
I still believe that notaries who have a strategy mapped out to tap into a niche market will be more successful than those who have no plan when launching a RON business.
Niches are there, folks!
Find a problem that many people or businesses struggle with and develop a solution to make life and business easier for them.
Stay healthy and take care of yourselves!