Real estate contracts and electronic signatures

Real estate contract electronic signatures

Whether you are a property investor, buyer’s agent, or real estate agent at some point you have likely had to deal with the scramble of finding a printer and scanner in the middle of nowhere to execute a real estate contract that is time critical.

Fortunately technology solutions have progressed considerably in online document management and electronic signatures over the prior few years. To the extent that if you can receive a mobile signal, seamless curation and execution of real estate contracts can easily be achieved over mobile devices within minutes, not hours. 

 Is it legal to use electronic signatures?

In short, yes they are legal to use, however they aren’t always accepted or in some instances binding. Officially electronic signatures are valid and legally binding with Australia passing the Electronic Transactions Act in 2000. In brief, within Australia both on a federal and state level, usage of electronic and digital signatures are acknowledge and the general rule has been established that no transaction will be invalid simply because it was completed electronically.

Unfortunately there is not however a one size fits all approach to electronic signatures, with some legal documents having additional requirements such as being notarized or witnessed which can add complexities to the process – though these are not insurmountable. Some documents will also have a requirement that the signatures be handwritten, therefore only a handwritten signature will make the agreement binding.

If you want to know more always seek legal advice and you can also read about it here in section 10 (signatures) of the Electronic Transactions Act.

What to be mindful of?

Jurisdiction – Different states and jurisdictions may impose different laws (or application of these laws) in regards to the use of electronic signatures. What you should be aware of however is that the jurisdiction that governs the agreement is the same that applies to the usage of electronic signatures.

Your real estate or buyer’s agent  (or industry bodies) should be able to quickly inform you which states readily accept electronic signatures in relation to real estate contracts.

Allowable transactions – Building on the points in the jurisdiction section above, while a state may allow for the use of electronic signatures, in some instances the law will exclude particular types of transactions. If this is the case than hard copy signatures will be required.

Check with you legal counsel first however electronic signatures are now commonly used for:

  • Leases
  • Sales contracts
  • Housing agreements
  • Non Disclosure Agreements
  • Releases
  • Invoices

Consent – In the contract, unconditional consent to electronically sign is a pre-requisite. Parties to the contract should also agree that using electronic signatures for the agreement is acceptable prior to signing.

Should I be using electronic signatures in my real estate or buyer’s agency?

Speaking as a client, signing contracts electronically is a lot more convenient than the hardcopy process. The majority of agreements I have been party to of recent, I have had limited resistance to using an electronic signature, that said there have been instances where I have had to resort to providing a hardcopy with handwritten signature.

It is only a matter of time before all businesses move to electronic signatures, however if you are going to accept these you need to be comfortable of the following:

  • the method of attaching an electronic signature to a document was reliable, secure and fit for purpose in the context of the legal document; and
  • you are able to identify the person who has signed and can provide evidence that they knew and agreed to the documentation they have signed.

In order to facilitate and provide reassurances on the above I would highly recommend as a business using a third party tool, such as DocuSign or Signnow.

DocuSign

RP Data has teamed up with DocuSign within Australia to bring transaction rooms for real estate agents to manage the end-to-end process of a property transaction. See the video below for an overview walkthrough.

If you are also feeling particularly patriotic while DocuSign is a US based company, Telstra has recently made a strategic investment in the millions for a small stake of the company.

Try the demo here

 SignNow

Not as feature packed as DocuSign with similar pricing. That said I do prefer the user interface of SignNow in regards to core functionality – signing an agreement or contract.

Try the demo here

Personal Alternatives 

If you are a property investor just wanting to know how you can electronically sign agreements than,

For Mac Users read this tutorial (free method)

For Windows users read this tutorial (free method)

Or for gmail users you may want to trial this plugin (3 free documents per month)

Note. This article is intended as a general overview and discussion of electronic signatures. It is not intended to be, and should not used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation.

About the Author: David is an avid web, finance and property geek who decided to combine these interests and found BAG in his spare time. If you have thoughts, issues or questions you can find him at LinkedIn, Google+ or alternatively drop him an email david at buyersagentguide.com.au

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