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Florida’s Remote Notary Law Allows Social-Distance Closings

On Jan. 1, authorization for remote notarizations became law, meaning buyers and sellers no longer have to be in the same room. But not all notaries can offer this service.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Remote notarizations became legal in Florida on Jan. 1, 2020. That means buyers and sellers can close on a home without actually being in the same room. It’s also a powerful tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain the real estate market while also honoring orders for social distancing that keep people at least six-feet apart.

However, the details of a remote-notarization closing should be worked out beforehand, since not all current notaries are authorized to conduct remote notarization. In addition, lenders might refuse to accept remote notarizations, and a buyer who secured a loan through one of those companies must still be present at closing.

Under the remote-notarization law, Florida notaries must register with the state as an online notary before they’re authorized to do so. In addition to posting a $25,000 bond, they must also have $25,000 of errors and omissions (E&O) insurance and complete a two-hour course.

Once authorized by the state, they must also have the designation of a remote online notary provider, which acts as a digital liaison between remote buyers and sellers in the transaction. Not all notaries have done so yet, and some may have decided that they don’t want to take these additional steps.

Still, “if the Florida notary has remote notarization authority, then the buyer and seller could be almost anywhere,” says Meredith Caruso, associate general counsel for Florida Realtors. “It appears that all parties, as well as the lender, have to consent to use RON (remote online notary) to make the system work, so if the lender says ‘no,’ then it isn’t an option.”

If either the buyer or seller is located outside Florida, a remote closing might still be possible, but a number of factors could present a problem. In addition to Florida, Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma e-notary laws also went into effect on Jan. 1, and DocVerify Chief Technology Officer Darcy Mayer says as many as 12 other states could consider e-notary or remote notary laws in 2020.

“As it currently stands, by the end of 2020, 36 states will have e-notary laws, remote notary laws or both,” says Mayer. “Public demand is being fueled by the security, cost savings, convenience and efficiency these services offer, and state lawmakers are responding.”

How it works: E-notaries electronically affix signatures and notary seals to an electronic document such as a PDF or Word document. The document is then instantly and securely transmittable. Remote notaries are authorized to provide a similar service to parties in separate locations via the internet, using digital tools and a live audio/video connection versus electronic notary, where physical presence is required by law.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®