Remote online notarization allows homebuyers to close on their homes virtually, making the home-buying process easier and more accessible.
Remote online notarization (RON) is the process of notarizing documents during the home-buying process and at closing virtually, via the computer. The use of RON has grown exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not confined to the COVID era. It’s likely that RON will be the method of the future, simply because it provides more convenience and more security than meeting face to face.
What is remote online notarization?
Notarization is a method of verifying the authenticity of documents and of the signer’s signature. Notarization is used during the loan process and when you close on a house. Notarization is part of the official process of owning a property.
Traditionally, to get documents notarized, homebuyers had to have a notary witness the documents and the signing of them by being in a physical location with a notary, and signing in front of them.
RON moves this process entirely online. Documents are authenticated, your identity is verified, and your signature is witnessed, but it all takes place over a computer. You do not have to be in the same physical location as the notary.
RON has fit the social distancing needs of the COVID pandemic so well that homebuyers who haven’t heard of it before probably assume it’s entirely a pandemic phenomenon. However, RON has actually been around since 2011. It’s part of a general move of notarization to remote and digital methods that has been going on since the early 2000s.
While RON is entirely virtual, several other methods have virtual features but do not eliminate an in-person component. A method known as electronic notarization, or in-person electronic notarization (IPEN), for example, allows electronic signatures and authorization rather than a physical signature. (The latter is often known as “wet ink” in legal and real estate circles.) But electronic notarization does not eliminate the need to physically appear before the notary. You’ll still need to go to a notary’s office.
Similarly, some notaries offer remote ink-signed notarization (RIN). With RIN, you do not have to be in the same physical location as the notary for signature. They can witness you signing the documents over a computer. However, you need to mail the documents to the notary, who then notarizes them and mails them back to you.
In other words, if you want a fully online and virtual notarization process, only RON provides it; IPEN and RIN do not.
Where can it be used?
Last May, the Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2021 (SECURE Notarization Act) was introduced in the U.S. Congress. Effectively, it would legalize RON nationwide. It would also establish minimum standards and authorize remote notarizations in interstate commerce. However, as of today the SECURE Notarization Act has not been signed into law.
Therefore, to use RON it must be legal where your notary is commissioned. Many states accelerated the use of RON during the COVID pandemic either by legislation or executive order.
The legal picture is complex, however. It’s prudent to check with a lawyer or experienced area real estate agent to make sure you know what the status of RON is in your locale. Some states, such as Vermont, have only temporarily authorized RON and are periodically extending the date under which it can be used.
Currently, the following states allow RON:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
What are the benefits for homebuyers?
The chief benefit to homebuyers during the pandemic is the ability to provide social distancing amid public health concerns about transmission of the disease.
However, the chief benefit in general is actually convenience. Face-to-face notarization requires you to find a notary, make an appointment and travel to the notary with all the documents physically. RON eliminates travel entirely (other than to your computer). It also eliminates the need to physically gather the multiple documents necessary for closing; these are provided virtually as part of the process.
The travel convenience is particularly beneficial for people who live in remote areas where notaries might be sparse, work non-traditional schedules that make getting an appointment challenging, those who rely on public transportation, or who have health issues that make travel difficult.
The benefits don’t end there. The RON process is actually more secure than physically carrying documents and meeting. The systems have highly secure methods of verifying your identity to protect against identity fraud.
Documents are authenticated electronically as well. They receive an electronic seal that cannot be tampered with. The record keeping is also done electronically.
In many cases, RON also provides remote transmission of the documents to the appropriate state and local authorities.
RON may also make it easier to find a notary, depending on your area. The notary must physically be in the state where they are commissioned, and not somewhere else when using RON. That state must accept RON for the process to be legal and the notary must follow the applicable laws of that state. Most states allow you, the homebuyer, to be outside of that area. Most states allow out-of-state notarization. It is prudent, however, to double-check that yours is one.
Is remote online notarization secure?
Yes, RON is very secure and legitimate. Notaries use hardware and software that provides secure methods to establish your identity, guard against identity fraud and authenticate the signature and documents.
The documents are notarized electronically, which guards against any possibility of them being physically lost or damaged if you were to physically transport or mail them.
Electronic record keeping also guards against the loss or damage that can occur in physical record keeping.
The wide dissemination of RON during the pandemic has enhanced what was already a very legitimate system of notarization. RON is recognized as a method in the overwhelming majority of states. Legislation to make it legal nationwide is pending in Congress.
The bottom line on remote online notarizations
RON is clearly more convenient than having your documents notarized in person at loan signing and closing. There is no need to spend time and effort traveling to a notary’s office, no need to spend time in the office and no need to mail documents afterward. You also don’t have to physically keep files for your records as they are generated electronically.
RON may be particularly advantageous for people who live far from notary’s office, such as those in remote areas or folks who encounter challenges in traveling to an office, such as those who rely on public transportation or have health issues. People who work nights or other non-traditional schedules may also find RON a benefit.
The RON method of notarization allows the process to take place 100% virtually and is much more convenient than in-person notarization during home buying.
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