Document security is of primary importance for real estate professionals throughout the industry. With all of the personal and financial information involved in a real estate transaction and the liability associated with improper use, security, and disposal of that information, digital technology that improves privacy and document management for property owners, applicants, and tenants is essential. That’s why it is important to understand the features of an electronic signature, vs. a digital signature and learn how to utilize this technology in your real estate business.
What is the difference between an electronic signature vs. a digital signature?
While electronic signature is a catchall term for a wide variety of platforms and processes, there are indeed differences between electronic signatures vs. digital signatures.
An electronic signature offers a fast, easy way to obtain a signer’s intent and consent for an agreement between two or more parties. It has been defined as “any letters, characters, or symbols manifested by electronic or similar means and executed or adopted by a party with an intent to authenticate a writing.” That means that an electronic signature is not limited to the signature itself, but to any other writings or additional indicators of agreement and compliance.
A digital signature, on the other hand, refers to security protocols associated with an entire document and can include encryption, decryption, and verification of not only the document but any associated alterations to that document. Digital signatures are used for a wide variety of security measures associated with the transmission and use of digital documentation.
What are the benefits of electronic signatures for real estate transactions?
Prior to the advent of e-signatures, real estate transactions involved reams of paper documents that had to be signed and, when necessary, altered by hand. In addition, any changes to the document had to be indicated on the document itself with subsequent additional signatures, initials, etc. This could lead to confusing contracts and agreements with a much wider margin for error.
With e-signatures, a digital copy of all of the documents needed for a transaction can be sent to the various parties and each can review the content wherever and whenever it is convenient. If there are changes or additions, the document can be updated and new signatures can be obtained while prior signatures can be voided if necessary. This provides for a far more streamlined process and more clarity in the documents themselves.
In addition, security requirements associated with real estate-related documents can be more easily implemented with the adoption of electronic signatures and digital document storage. This is a vast improvement over multiple paper copies stored in overstuffed filing cabinets or disposed of without proper security procedures in place.
What types of communication can be included in an electronic signature platform?
Real estate documents require a broad range of responses, all of which can be facilitated through electronic signature platforms like the RentSpree integrated e-sign capability. These include the following:
Signatures are generally required at least once on each document associated with a real estate transaction. These could include initial representation agreements, rental applications, permission for applicant screening, property disclosures, lease agreements, or any other addenda or supplemental documents.
Initials are often required when there are changes to a document or if there are specific items within a longer document that need to indicate a higher degree of disclosure and consent. Electronic Signatures generally include both full signatures and initials in order to ensure that each type of requirement can be met.
In some documents, consent can be obtained without the need for a signature or, alternatively, there is a need to indicate which one of multiple options is being agreed to by the signer. The ability to include checkboxes in a document, therefore, is essential to the effectiveness of an electronic signing platform.
There are many parts of the rental application and lease agreement that call for the provision of specific information on the part of the applicant or tenant. Electronic signature platforms can provide the option for stakeholders to add information as requested in order to complete a legal document.
Dates are often an important part of rental applications and supplemental documents. Electronic signature platforms allow the rental agent to provide a place for signers to indicate the date on which they are signing which can be important in determining the effective date of an agreement.
Are electronic signatures legally binding for real estate transactions?
Due to a variety of state and federal laws enacted in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, electronic signatures are generally considered as legal and enforceable as so-called “wet signatures” or handwritten signatures. There are some exceptions to this rule, including many legal documents like wills, divorce decrees, adoption papers, and some notifications regarding cancellations or termination of services.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has been a strong advocate for the use of electronic signature platforms in order to streamline and simplify the real estate process across a wide variety of transactions. They cite the use of e-sign technology as “key to running a successful real estate business.”
As to the question of electronic signature vs. digital signature, each has its adherents and best use cases. The most important consideration is the ease of use of the platform you choose for your real estate transaction. With RentSpree, your robust electronic signature capability is fully integrated into the RentSpree dashboard and fully customizable for your particular document and transaction management requirements.