Will Virtual Online Transactions Become a Reality?


Are virtual business transactions the new reality?

Once consummated in title company conference rooms amid seemingly bottomless stacks of paper, real estate transactions—like seemingly every other aspect of our lives—have gone virtual during the pandemic.

While some home buyers opt to continue in-person closings where possible, others are either giving their attorneys the power to ink final documents for them, or turning to software like DocuSign, with which increasing numbers of customers have become comfortable.

Other types of business transactions are following suit, in the wake of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s executive order from back in March, which gives notaries public the ability to conduct transactions and related signings online to protect customers.

Pritzker’s order, still in effect as of November, requires both notary and customer to be located in the state of Illinois and conducting their business via two-way, real-time, audio-video communication platforms that enable direct interaction. The signatory must record and preserve the signing for at least a period of three years.

The notary must be able to see and read every page of the document being notarized, and the customer should initial every page. The customer must provide the notary with an electronic copy of the signed document within one day, and the notary can present the paper copy of electronic documents as long as they can attest the signatures are authentic.

Ultimately, all legal documents, whether deeds, last wills and testaments, trusts, durable powers of attorney for property, and powers of attorneys for healthcare, may be signed this way for the duration of Pritzker’s order.

What happens once the pandemic ends is anybody’s guess, although some believe virtual real estate closings and other transactions will become the new normal. “In my experience, the majority of people are comfortable using DocuSign on their phones,” Michael J. Franco, a broker with Compass, told The New York Times. The pandemic, he said, has “really forced people to rely even more heavily on technology, and I don’t think that’ll change going forward.”