Canadian realtors edge closer electronic signatures on real estate deals
For the past two years, Calgary realtor Cliff Stevenson has been pushing the envelope — and saving trees — by having clients sign house offers with his iPad.
“Buyers and sellers absolutely love it. The fact we aren’t killing trees became far more appealing to clients than I ever imagined,” says Stevenson, 39, who was doing all his real estate deals the conventional way, on mounds of paper, for six years before that.
“We get the occasional person who says ‘All my life has been about paper and manila envelopes.’ We bring a paper copy with us as a backup.”
Stevenson readily admits it’s still not crystal clear whether electronic signatures are legal in Alberta, although more and more realtors are replacing pen and paper with iPad and stylus as a way to save time, money and the environment in Calgary’s hot housing market.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Real Estate Association announced it’s inching its way toward making the fax obsolete in real estate deals: It has penned an agreement with DocuSign to provide e-signature solutions for its 105,000 member realtors that will enable them to sign, track, archive and provide safe storage of electronic, rather than paper, real estate documents.
Ontario realtors will continue using paper, at least for now, because of provincial regulations that forbid the use of electronic signatures on agreements of purchase and sale.
A private member’s bill has proposed ending that restriction here where, unlike in Alberta, few realtors have seemed willing to challenge the restriction on e-signatures.
“There are still some questions here,” said Stevenson, in a telephone interview from Calgary, “but it hasn’t been challenged in court.”
The Ontario Real Estate Association has been lobbying the provincial government since 2011 to repeal a section of the Statute of Frauds that says a contract for the sale of land must be in writing to be enforceable.
“The government generally supports the use of electronic communications as broadly as possible for reasons of efficiency and economy,” said Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, in an email.
He noted the private member’s bill, which has received first reading, will provide an “opportunity for debate in the House.”
CREA is hopeful Ontario will ease its restrictions by summer, said Marc Lafrance, director of member services and product development.
Stevenson says e-signature capability can give buyers and sellers a leg up, especially in a hot market, by cutting the time it normally takes to fax or drive offers from one end of the city to another, only to have to re-fax or drive back again when there are counter-offers.
He uses e-signatures in virtually every step of the process now, right from signing up new clients.
But don’t give the fax machine up for dead quite yet, stresses Phil Soper, president of Royal LePage.
The new technology has to be integrated across a lot of platforms, including lawyers’ offices, and there are still a lot of consumers who expect a pile of paperwork as hard proof of the biggest purchase of their lives.
“This is something that will change slowly. It’s not going to revolutionize the industry overnight, but it’s clearly coming,” Soper said.