Dancing Through Property Sales: Underwriters, Online Notaries, and the Florida Statutes Two-Step

Dancing Through Property Sales: Underwriters, Online Notaries, and the Florida Statutes Two-Step


Selling a property can be a complex process, like a well-choreographed dance with each step leading to a grand finale. However, even the most elegant waltz can be disrupted by a misstep or an unexpected tango with an underwriter. While title companies and their underwriters play a critical role in ensuring a smooth and secure property transaction, they can sometimes make sellers feel as though they’re dancing in circles due to their seemingly arbitrary rules and decisions regarding online notary providers.

In this article, we’ll pirouette through the challenges faced by sellers in dealing with underwriters, focusing on their enigmatic rules and mysterious decisions about online notary providers – all with a sprinkle of lighthearted humor.

Understanding the Role of Underwriters: The Unsung Referees of the Property World

Underwriters serve as the behind-the-scenes referees in the property world, ensuring that everything is above board and legal. Occasionally, however, sellers may encounter an underwriter who seems to dance to the beat of their own drum, turning the property-selling experience into a game of “Whose Rule Is It Anyway?”

The Online Notary Rumba

Sellers may face underwriters who have strict opinions on which online notary provider should take the lead in the transaction. These decisions can seem arbitrary and perplexing, leaving sellers wondering if there is a secret rulebook that only underwriters have access to – like a choreography manual for a dance nobody else knows. This can be particularly frustrating when the preferred online notary provider isn’t available or causes additional delays and complications in the selling process.

It is important to note that some underwriters (and title agents) don’t understand the difference between an online notary service and an online notary technology provider. For example, let’s say that “Florida Document Specialists” is not written on the super-secret legal pad in the underwriter’s lair. You might get a response such as, “I’m sorry, they are not on the list of approved providers.” What they may not realize is that their arbitrary list contains the names of the “RON technology providers” that they have approved internally. Florida Document Specialists works with three online notary technology providers: Pactima, DocVerify, and Secured Signing.  We’re certain that one of these three leading RON technology providers must be on their list.

If you get the “not on the list” line, ask them to check the names of the technology providers they approve of, not the company name. 

Despite the underwriters’ insistence on their chosen providers, Florida Statutes Section 117.021(4) clarifies: “A notary public performing a notarial act with respect to an electronic record shall select the technology to be used for such notarial act. A person may not require the notary public to use a particular technology.” This statute  highlights that the choice of technology should be in the hands of the notary,not arbitrarily dictated by the underwriter like a mismatched dance partner.

Inconsistent Requirements: The Cha-Cha of Confusion

Sellers may find themselves baffled by the seemingly random demands of underwriters, as if they’re expected to perform a cha-cha without knowing the steps. One underwriter might request a specific document or clarification that another would not consider necessary, leaving sellers feeling like they’re playing catch-up, trying to meet the ever-changing whims of the underwriter.

Implications for Sellers: When the Dance Turns into a Marathon

Prolonged Sales Process:

Arbitrary rules and requirements set by underwriters can prolong the property-selling process, turning what should be a delightful waltz into a never-ending conga line. Sellers are left waiting for approvals and documents, with the finish line moving further and further away. 

Unanticipated Expenses:

The unpredictable nature of underwriters’ decisions can result in unexpected costs for sellers, like having to pay for extra dance lessons just to keep up. Additional documentation or legal opinions might be required, adding to the financial burden of the selling process. 

Increased Anxiety:

Selling a property is already stressful, and the added uncertainty created by underwriters’ arbitrary rules can feel like attempting a complicated dance routine without a rehearsal. The unpredictability only exacerbates sellers’ anxieties, making them feel like they’re dancing on a tightrope with no safety net.

Final Thoughts for March

In the complex world of real estate transactions, title companies play a vital role in ensuring that the transfer of property ownership runs smoothly. However, as with any professional service, there may come a time when a title company simply isn’t meeting your needs or expectations.

Many individuals aren’t aware that they have the option to fire their title company and hire a new one. This often-overlooked choice can make all the difference in your real estate experience. By doing your due diligence and finding a title company that is more aligned with your needs, you can benefit from improved communication, better customer service, and ultimately, a smoother transaction. The process of switching title companies may seem daunting, but it’s essential to prioritize your best interests in any real estate deal.

With a more seller-centric approach, a dose of common sense, and a sprinkle of kindness, title companies can ensure a smoother and more harmonious property-selling experience, transforming the process into a beautifully orchestrated ballet. In the end, the dance of selling a property should be one that gracefully leads sellers, underwriters, notaries, and title companies towards a successful and satisfying conclusion. 

By ensuring that everyone involved adheres to a fair and consistent set of rules, the property-selling process can become the elegant waltz it was always meant to be. 

Navigating the Complexities of Online Notarization: An April Update

As the world of online notarization continues to evolve, it is crucial to remain informed about the latest developments in technology and state laws. This month, we are focusing on an incident that sheds light on the complexities and potential misinformation surrounding remote online notarization (RON) in Florida and Virginia.

Online Notarization: A Brief Background

Online notarization first became available in Florida in January 2020, following in the footsteps of states like Virginia, which was among the first to implement RON legislation. Virginia, known for its relatively lenient regulations, is often referred to as the ‘Wild West’ of the RON landscape.

Florida, until 2022, required online notaries to verify signers’ identities through Knowledge-Based Authentication (KBA), a system that relies on credit history and Social Security numbers. This method excluded many individuals, including non-US citizens and those without an established credit history, from accessing RON services.

Updated Laws and New Technology: Biometric ID Proofing

Recognizing the limitations of KBA, Florida amended its laws in 2022 to allow online notaries the choice between KBA and Biometric ID Proofing for identity verification. The latter involves a live facial scan and cross-references the signer’s image with their submitted ID document. This impressive technology offers a more inclusive and reliable alternative to KBA.

A Case Study: Continuing Challenges in Real Estate Transactions

This afternoon, I was the online notary in an incident involving a real estate transaction for seller-side documents that perfectly highlights the need for greater awareness and understanding of RON regulations.

During this transaction, an underwriter insisted on the involvement of a third party to vouch for the identities of the signers, despite the notary’s role in this process. This additional participant was subjected to the same identity verification steps as the primary signers, and went on to sign an affidavit of identity to vouch for the identity of the principals.

Although the online signing session proceeded smoothly and produced beautiful, legal, documents, the underwriter later claimed that the notarization was invalid because only a Virginia notary could notarize documents for individuals without Social Security numbers. This statement, which is factually incorrect and nonsensical on its face, forced the closing agent to reject the Florida documents and seek out a notary in Virginia to repeat the process.

The Road Ahead: Advocating for Change

As a Florida notary recognized by the National Notary Association as 2021 Notary of the Year, largely for my efforts in educating government agencies and private corporations about online notary laws during the COVID-19 pandemic, I am no stranger to controversy.  I am committed to addressing misinformation that is harmful to consumers and notaries in Florida.

I plan to begin a project aimed at raising awareness among underwriters and title companies about the misinformation they are promoting, as well as encouraging the industry to update their rules and procedures to align with the current state of online notarization.

Stay tuned for updates on this dynamic initiative as we strive to create a more accurate and accessible landscape for online notarization. Your support is appreciated.

May 2023 Update

Update: May 2023

From March onwards, we’ve unfortunately encountered two additional instances where title companies have been misinformed, leading to the erroneous belief that Virginia notaries are required for Florida documents if a signer is not a U.S. Citizen.

In an effort to address this, I have made two attempts to engage the National Notary Association for advocacy and to kickstart an educational initiative targeted at Florida title companies. However, I have yet to receive a response.

Looking forward, I will be attending the NNA’s 2023 National Convention set to take place in Arizona this June. I am hopeful that this will provide an opportunity to establish the necessary connections to successfully launch this much-needed initiative.