Like many other businesses, the team at StoneBridge Title Group had to pivot and adjust very quickly in response to the restrictions and safeguards put in place to protect people from COVID-19. StoneBridge has always embraced cutting-edge technology, but in March 2020 when it became apparent that in-person closings were not the best choice, they rapidly transitioned to a fully remote business model. Customers of StoneBridge Title are now able to complete their closings using a variety of methods: remote notary services, curbside closings, in-home closings and fully remote closings that can even be completed on a cell phone.
Transition to Remote Work
As the COVID-19 crisis began, the StoneBridge Title team was very quickly able to switch over to working completely remotely. Employees left behind their Winter Park offices to work from their homes during the quarantine period. The team had a surprisingly fluid transition because the company’s software systems are web-based. StoneBridge Title uses a secure cloud-based platform to process real estate transactions. Employees are able to log in remotely, access files, and communicate securely with clients, maintaining business continuity and client satisfaction.
Sultana Haque, Managing Partner of Stonebridge Title Group, says “COVID-19 has changed our process because of the inability for us to meet with clients and vendors, especially as it relates to actually handling the closing transaction. We aren’t able to sit around the table and explain the closing documents in detail. We now have to handle that communication virtually or through phone communication.” Ms. Haque decided early on to allow all of her employees to work at home during the COVID-19 period, and the team has continued with their excellent service to clients while working remotely.
New Remote Notary Law
Another new development that has helped with the transition to remote closing is Florida’s new “Electronic Legal Documents” law, which took effect on January 1, 2020. This law authorizes Florida notaries to perform online remote notarizations rather than requiring that signers be physically present. Sultana notes: “This is a really exciting development that we really were championing for a while. It’s exciting for us here at StoneBridge Title because a lot of our clients live in other countries, we deal with a lot of foreign investors. It’s been difficult in the past to get them to notarize documents because they’d have to make an appointment and visit the embassy or consulate to get those documents notarized. Now it’s all done remotely, completely online.” Slowly but surely, lenders are starting to get on board with virtual closings as well.
Video Conference Closings
Because of the new change to Florida notary laws, client closing does not have to take place in an office anymore. It’s even easier than the mobile notary closings of the past- nobody has to come to a person’s house, and they don’t have to go to the bank. Clients can even do the entire closing on a mobile phone via video conference on a secure portal. Prior to the conference, clients can review the documents in the comfort of their homes so that during the video conference closing, they just have to click to sign. This is especially valuable for people with busy careers who don’t have the ability to spend hours waiting at the title company.
Many clients are able to e-sign their documents, completing closing from the safety of their own homes. A completely virtual experience is not always possible since some lenders require in-person signatures. In those cases, the StoneBridge Title team is able to complete closing paperwork using mobile closers who go to clients’ homes, or with curbside closing service. The curbside service maintains social distancing, since closers place the paperwork on a table and watch the clients complete the signing from a safe distance. Clients, team members, and vendors stay safe while being able to securely access their documents using StoneBridge’s online tools.
Positive Changes Impact Future Operations
Ms. Haque notes the positive impact of the transition to remote work, which she was concerned about at first: “Regardless of what may happen in the future, we feel well equipped to continue our operations without experiencing any significant delays. That is huge for maintaining our business and keeping our clients and team members happy.” StoneBridge Title was able to remain open for business throughout Florida’s quarantine period, and the new social distancing protocols are available for clients to use going forward. While this is undoubtedly a challenging period for the real estate industry, the StoneBridge Title team has made lasting, positive changes that will make the closing experience even more secure and convenient in 2020 and beyond.