I’ve been reading a lot about physical distancing and limiting in-person interactions when viewing or listing properties, when it comes to finalizing a purchase, are e-signatures an option or do purchase agreements require in-person signatures?

I’m glad to hear that you’re doing your research and that physical distancing is top of mind in your sale, purchase, or both!

Obtaining the necessary signatures for purchase agreements, contracts and documents needed throughout a property transaction used to be a labourious and incredibly time-consuming exercise. Historically, documents were passed between salespeople, clients and lawyers by hand, courier or fax, making the negotiation process cumbersome before all parties were satisfied and signed the final agreement.

I am happy to share that thanks to early adoption of technology by real estate professionals, those steps are far behind us and that yes, the use of electronic signatures, also referred to as e-signatures, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, electronic signatures have been permitted for use on real estate documents, including the agreements, since July of 2015, making them common practice in the industry today. This is good news, as trading in real estate continues to be an essential service. Though parties cannot be compelled to use electronic signatures, at this time, they help maintain physical distancing.

In addition to helping us all to maintain physical distancing and limit in-person meetings, e-signatures and digital documentation provides an established, efficient way to exchange documents and a clear trackable record of revisions, should they need to be referenced at any point.

There are many companies that offer electronic signature services in respect of real estate documents. If you are considering using this format, you should speak with your salesperson or broker; they likely have a secure service in place. I also suggest that you ask them to thoroughly review the document with you, line by line, and that you ask as many questions as you need to to be sure that you fully understand everything within it before signing. It is always a good idea to have your real estate lawyer review any agreement or contract prior to signing anything. Regardless of if a contract is signed using a pen or electronically, it is still a legally binding agreement.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email information@reco.on.ca.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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