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Are notaries considered essential businesses?

Title industry adapts to continue operations

This year’s spring home-buying market looks drastically different than what was originally predicted. The early forecasts for a hot purchase market were instead met with never-before-seen refinance levels, as COVID-19 changed the course of the real estate market.

Despite these changes, the industry not only remains operational, but it’s working in overdrive to meet demand and adjust to the challenges that city lockdowns and social distancing are causing. 

One part of the mortgage transaction that’s always been face-to-face is title. Industry demand for remote online notarizations and eClosings has moved the needle quite a bit toward automating or digitizing this process, especially over the last month as a bipartisan push to legalize RON nationwide has grown to help business continue during lockdowns.

However, the challenges that COVID-19 is creating shows that there are still plenty of business operations that are not completely remote or virtual. 

As more states and localities implement “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders that allow only essential businesses to operate, companies and the customers they serve are having to figure out whether they fall into this category. According to the National Notary Association, notaries do provide an essential service. 

“Notaries, like all residents in states like New York and California, have been ordered to minimize outside contact as much as possible. These states have ordered businesses that do not provide ‘essential services’ to close. The big question Notaries have been asking in these states is do they qualify as businesses that provide essential services? The NNA believes they do,” NNA Vice President of Government Affairs Bill Anderson said.

The government’s memorandum on essential jobs calls on all workers in a critical infrastructure sector, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, to continue to work during the crisis. 

“Many Notaries are signing agents who provide mortgage loan signing services in the settlement services industry. They would fall under the scope of Secretary Mnuchin’s memorandum,” said Anderson. “And mobile Notaries who are asked to notarize a healthcare power of attorney or probate and estate documents serve another critical infrastructure sector — healthcare.”

This same question is being asked about title companies, as they work to set the record straight on the state of the industry . 

Craig Haskins, chief operating officer with Knight Barry Title, said a common misconception he is seeing is people think “a lot of our real estate business has just stopped.”

“We’ve been deemed an essential service across the country. Even if your county courthouse is closed, there’s a good chance your transaction can get finalized,” Haskins said. “Also, as an industry, we’ve shown our ability to innovate quickly through all of this, and I hope it continues when some normalcy returns.”  

Mother Lode Holding Company, which is the parent company of title companies across the nation, including Placer Title Company, Premier Title Company, Texas National Title and North Idaho Title, expanded on this, explaining how they’re navigating the changes. Lisa Steele, executive vice president with Mother Lode Holding Company, said, “The most pressing thing is to assure everyone that title and escrow companies are open for business while also taking the proper precautions to protect customer and employee health.”

“We know many people don’t think title when they think of ‘essential services’ but we have been deemed so in the context of this situation,” Steele said. “For an industry that is often resistant to change, we should be proud of how we adapted during all of this.”

This is a developing story and will be updated with information and quotes as they come in.

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