If you’ve ever purchased a home with a mortgage in Massachusetts, you’ve probably experienced the volume of paperwork that requires signing. Electronic signatures are often used for offer and purchase and sales contracts prior to closing, so you’re probably wondering when electronic signatures for MA real estate closings will be common practice. Given the advancement of technology, it seems natural that the process would head in that direction.

Electronic Recording of Documents

In 2004, Massachusetts enacted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act which made electronic signatures acceptable in transactions involving two or more persons. The Registry of Deeds offices in Massachusetts have already advanced greatly in their use of technology since then. They all now use electronic recording systems. In fact, many closing attorneys submit closing documents to the registry electronically, eliminating the need for in-person closings at the local registry office. It’s important to note, however, that Registered Land (which makes up roughly 15-20% of real estate in MA) must still be recorded in person.

Notarization Presents a Complicating Factor

Given this advancement in technology, it seems silly not to electronically sign all closing documents. However, there is a reason for the delay and it has to do with notarization of documents. The purpose of a notary public is to confirm your identity and witness your signature. It’s a safeguard to minimize fraud and add validity to certain signed documents. In addition to providing certain information, a notary must also affix a physical stamp to all documents. This stamp contains certain elements such as the state seal, notary’s name, and service expiration date. The issue is that there is no electronic alternative for this stamp.

Paving the Way for Electronic Signatures for MA Real Estate Closings

What needs to take place for electronic signatures for MA real estate closings to be acceptable? One solution may be for notary publics to have some type of unique ID that can be placed on electronic documents. This, or some other similar alternative, would prevent the need for an actual seal on notarized documents. Until then, certain documents must still be physically signed and notarized. In that case, it’s likely that all closing documents will continue to be physically signed. After all, there’s no sense in modernizing unless you can do it across the board.

Acceptance of electronic signatures for MA real estate closings would be an important advancement that could save closing attorneys, lenders, buyers and sellers significant time. It would also be an environmentally friendly move too. Given the number of closings that take place every single day in Massachusetts, think of the amount of trees that will be saved!