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To protect the safety and health of our customers, clients, and staff, Homestead Title has made some significant adjustments:

  • We offer Digital, E-Closings to Sellers and Cash Buyers
  • We are handling in-person transactions as “Drive-Up Closings”

So, how well are these working? 

Digital, E-Closings

We’ve handled many digital closings over the last week and the reviews are positive.  Closing from home is obviously convenient and safe. And the time it takes to close is similar (actually a little longer to authenticate identities). Yet, just as working from home can be awkward and less efficient, so too are digital closings.  The technology is good and easy, but not perfect.  Voices sometimes echo or lag, video can cut out, and explaining documents is slightly harder. Anyone who’s participated in Zoom or other video conferences knows what we mean.  Given our current circumstances, the positives far outweigh the negatives.  In normal times, this will be one more tool in our tool-kit, but will not replace in-person closings.

Drive-In Signing

driveinHomestead Title is handling all in-person transactions at our WEST office as “Drive-Up Closings.” We’ve received fantastic responses as customers appreciate our efforts to protect their health. And, the process has worked very well: Customers call when they arrive, we bring documents and a clipboard, and they sign in the car.  Customers take a little longer to sign. And we answer questions from 6 feet away or by phone.  We can’t wait to return to the closing room, but we’re proud to keep our customers and team safe.

With both Drive-In and E-Closings, we are offering to send all copies via secured, encrypted email.

Some of these adjustments are temporary.  In healthy times, we will not be doing “Drive In” closings — if we do, we’ll serve burgers and shakes on skates!  We likely will handle more e-closing when things return to normal. Yet, we anticipate most closings will return to the closing room with happy buyers, sellers, Realtors, and lenders celebrating together.

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Homestead Title will be taking extraordinary measures to protect the health and safety of our customers, clients, and team.

Remote Staff: More than 85% of our team are working remotely from home.  We have had remote capabilities for over 15 years and you may not notice a difference.  We still ask for patience and understanding as it is hard to work with co-workers who are toddlers, pets, and family.

Driveup2Drive-Up Signings: All in-person transactions will be “Drive Up Closings” at our WEST office until Wisconsin’s Emergency “Safer at Home” Order expires (currently set for April 24). Here’s what you should know:

  • In-Person Signing at 555 Zor Shrine (WEST): All closings will take place at our West office as “drive up closings.”
  • Strict Lock-down of our Office: We are not admitting anyone into our office other than essential staff.
  • Alert Us When You Arrive: Call our main number and we will have our closing officer come right out to your car with documents to sign.
  • Only Signers at Closing: We urge only signers come to Drive-Up Closings. Others can come, but they will not be allowed in our building and will be asked to stay in their cars in the parking lot.

E-Closings are hereDigital Closings: We can do fully digital, remote closings for Sellers or Cash Buyers. The mortgage industry is moving fast to add financed buyers, but we are not yet aware of any Banks or Credit Unions that can do a fully remote closing.

Our mission statement is to make the closing process easier, smoother, and less stressful for our buyers and sellers. For the next few weeks or months, we need to add: “… and safer.”

 

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The self isolation and quarantines of the coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic creates challenges and disruptions, including in real estate.  The title and mortgage industries are putting forth efforts to overcome these challenges.

Remote Digital Closings May be Available Soon!

A major effort is underway from title underwriters, legislatures, and administrative agencies to allow “Remote Online Notaries,” (RON) in Wisconsin.  This would allow for fully remote, digital closings without the need to leave home. While it would primarily be available to Sellers, some Buyers can also sign remotely.

E-signing2

Buyers with a loan will need their lender approval to conduct a fully digital closing.  Lenders have many considerations and challenges, including investors, underwriters, mortgage insurance, and legal issues. Some may not be able to offer this service right away and others may allow only certain documents to be signed digitally.

Homestead Title is already conducting digital, remote closings for “Cash” Buyers (where none of their documents are notarized and there is no lender).

Look for important updates on Digital Closings in the coming days.

 

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Homestead Title has implemented a plan to maintain day-to-day operations in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Homestead will continue normal operations, without disruption, during these challenging times. We do not anticipate any delays or cancellations as a result of temporary changes to our business. The majority of Homestead’s team will work remotely from home over the coming weeks. Phone and Email will operate as normal and we are available to help.

Closing officers will be available in our office for any scheduled sale or refinance. We will operate with minimal, in-office staff and appreciate your patience and understanding.

We are committed to supporting and serving our employees, their families, and all those involved in our real estate and title insurance transactions.  As we monitor developments and guidance from public health professionals, we will make any necessary adjustments.

Tips for a Healthy Real Estate Closing:

  1. Only Signors in the Closing Room: Homestead will not allow anyone in the closing room other than necessary signors (Buyers, Sellers, and their attorneys).  We urge Lenders and Realtors not attend closing and will ask them to wait in our outside lobby.
    1. We will include Realtors and Lenders on all questions by phone.
    2. We will overnight commission checks at no cost to the Realtor or their broker.
  2. Sign Separately and Social Distancing: We encourage Buyers and sellers to sign at different times.  We are waiving Seller pre-sign fees until at least June 1, 2020.  Alternatively, we encourage Buyers to arrive on time and Sellers to arrive 35 minutes after the start of closing.  This will allow for minimal contact and more “social distancing.”
  3. Remote or Digital Closings: When possible, Homestead will offer remote or digital closings.  Remote notarization is not yet legal in Wisconsin, so fully digital closings are rarely an option other than for cash purchasers. We will explore all options to accommodate our customers and protect the well-being of our community.
  4. Clean Office Space:  We are providing clean pens and separate paperwork to minimize contact between people. We are wiping down all surfaces with disinfectant wipe throughout the day.
  5. When to Avoid Closing: If any Buyer or Seller is sick,  in contact with anyone diagnosed or suspected of having Covid-19, or has traveled internationally in the last 14 days, please contact us for alternative closing options
  6. Celebrate: We are excited to help you buy, sell and refinance. Yet, we will be refraining from hand shakes, high fives, and other close celebrations.  These are scary times, but together we can do this!

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Remember to “spring your clocks forward” by 1 hour on March 8, 2020!  This is great news for people who love evening daylight and the start of spring.  But, it brings an interesting twist for Wisconsin Realtors.

CST

The new Wisconsin WB-11 Offer to Purchase defines deadlines as expiring at “11:59 p.m. Central Standard Time.”   Central Standard Time is our time zone in the winter months.  Starting March 8th and continuing all summer, Wisconsin will be using Central Daylight Time.  Arguably, this means that deadlines in the Summer months expire at 10:59 p.m.

What should Realtors do about the time change?  Enjoy the evening sun and try not to work past 10:59pm.  You will avoid this weird time zone glitch and you will get a better night sleep.

Spring

Thanks to Evan Swain of Keller Williams for his brilliant insights on this topic!

Happy Spring and don’t forget to spring your clocks forward at 2a.m. on March 8th. 

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Too Much Money is a Red Flag!

Realtors, attorneys, and home sellers should be alert to red flags that indicate fraud, scams, or troubled deals. One major red flag is when a buyer offers too much money. Sellers should beware of any offer with a purchase price that is far higher than expected or earnest money that is far more than customary in the market.

Common Scams

Foreign Buyer Blindly Purchasing Home

One common scam involves foreign buyers emailing Realtors asking for help purchasing a home. After a few emails, the buyer (usually from China, England, or Canada) will make a full price offer on a home the he has never seen. He will then send earnest money in a certified check. If the red flags weren’t waiving already, they should be when the Earnest Money is way too high. For instance, in Madison, Wisconsin, earnest money typically ranges from $1,000 – $3,000. The foreign buyer will send $100,000 or more in earnest money. They will then ask for a return of the excess money. If you return the funds via wire, as requested, you will soon find yourself in a bind when the certified check bounces. It was fake.

Too much earnest money is a red flag!

For more information on this, common scam: Link here.

Local Buyer Seeking Occupancy

Another potential scam occurs when a buyer seeks to purchase property with an extended, pre-closing occupancy. In this case, we have seen buyers offer substantial earnest money (10-20 times the typical amount) and request occupancy for many months prior to closing. The buyer then moves in, fails to close and refuses to leave. The seller must file an eviction proceeding to remove the buyer.

Again, too much earnest money raises red flags. In additions, extended, pre-closing occupancy should raise a red flag worthy of retaining an attorney.  Interestingly, one of the ways to mitigate the risk of an extended occupancy period is to ask for an unusually high amount of earnest money.  Thus, red flags don’t always lead to fraud.  But they can indicate additional risks.

Unrealistic Purchase Price

Any time a buyer offers far more than the reasonable value of a home, it is a red flag for fraud. In some cases, this kind of fraud can benefit both buyer and seller. But, it may be fraud nonetheless and can expose the Realtor or other professionals to liability and harm.

For additional resources on avoiding Real Estate Scams, check out the following links:

Various Real Estate Scams: http://realtormag.realtor.org/law-and-ethics/law/article/2010/08/5-real-estate-scams-you-need-know-about

Foreign Buyer Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/real-estate-scam-warning/

Corporate Records Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/scam-alert-annual-minutes-requirements/

Deed Copy Scam: https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/deed-copy-scam-alert/

Better Business Bureau False Complaint:
https://homesteadtitle.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/better-business-bureau-false-complaint/

 

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Up, Up, and Away

Rates on the Rise, But Sales Remain HOT

Mortgage rates spiked over the last two weeks. In fact, since the end of April, the average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage increased by nearly 25%.

Pressure From The Fed Kept Rates Low

The Fed had helped keep mortgage rates low through a bond purchase program called Quantitative Easing (QE for short). But, recent announcements by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke signaling a slow down or end to QE spooked the market.

Mortgage rates jumped and have continued to rise since those announcements.

Real Estate Market Continues Hot Streak

Despite rising rates, the real estate market remains hot. Realtors continue to be overwhelmed with activity and many sellers are seeing multiple offers near or at asking price.  Homestead’s numbers are no different. After an incredible year of growth in 2012, we have seen a 30% year over year increase in closings. And, despite the jump in interest rates from April to June, our new orders have not slowed.

Homestead’s growth is both a function of a strong market and of our strong commitment and passion to making the closing process easier for our customers and clients. Our values of caring, empathy, flexibility, loyalty and a hands-on, education based approach have cemented a loyal following of Realtors and do-it-yourself sellers.

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