On the House: Closing on a property while at your computer

Harry and Susan Armstrong flip houses.

To date, the Pitman couple have flipped 15 - eight in recent years, after their children were grown.

All but one of those flips has been in Pitman.

"You do what you know," said Harry, publisher of the Golden Times, which he describes as a regional newspaper for seniors.

But this is not about house-flipping, which Harry said he and Susan do as padding for retirement.

"We're not professionals," he emphasizes.

That isn't to say I'm not going to squeeze in a few of his observations about flipping at some point, since I'm again getting inquiries from wannabes.

No, this column is really about something rather novel in which Harry participated. (And if this buildup makes me sound like John Daly, host of the old TV show What's My Line, well, so be it.)

Harry Armstrong closed on the purchase of his latest house purchase by e-mail.

"It always struck me that this was something that could be done remotely," Harry said. "After all, you are just sitting at a table, signing a few documents," the most important being the HUD-1 settlement statement.

Settling by e-mail wasn't his idea, but that of Fortune Title Co. of Roseland, Essex County, N.J., which, Harry said, appears to do a lot of this, especially with properties foreclosed on by Freddie Mac that it and the law firm with which it works deal with all the time.

"Why should I have to go all the way to North Jersey from Pitman to handle a simple closing?" he asked.

This particular closing went without a hitch, Harry said, so "swimmingly" that "I'm now wondering why it isn't done more often."

Some documents were scanned into the computer. A couple had to be notarized, and then were faxed back and forth after they had been signed by both sides.

"I never left my home office," he said.

When a friend of Harry Armstrong's, a mutual acquaintance with whom I'd appeared on Radio Times in 1999, told me about the closing, I checked in with the usual suspects to see whether e-mailed closings were common.

"In my practice, I have never had anyone settle by e-mail, so I would say that it is not at all common," said Martin Millner, an agent with Coldwell Banker Hearthside Realtors in Yardley.

It is, however, relatively common for sellers not to go to closing, he said.

"I closed on a house an hour ago, and the sellers signed their deed package ahead of time, when it was convenient," Millner said.

"I attended closing on their behalf, and signed the HUD and any other documents needed at the closing table," he said.

Mark Wade, a Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors agent who sells in Center City, said he, too, had never heard of a closing entirely by e-mail.

Some mortgage companies require the buyer to physically be at settlement and will not allow e-mail copies of mortgage papers, Wade said.

"We have seen people use tablets instead of actual paper to complete all documents, which is called a paperless closing," Wade said.

He added that "often, [refinancings] can be done via e-mail, since no money is changing hands."

Wade's "mortgage dude," Jeremy Durkin at Trident Mortgage, said that although an e-mailed settlement was possible, it was not yet common.

The Armstrong transaction took just two weeks from the signing of the contract to closing.

It was a cash transaction, which is typical for buying property to flip, especially distressed houses.

"On the day of closing, once the Freddie Mac lawyer signed the HUD sheet and sent me a copy, I wired the money," he said.

Though the agent Harry Armstrong used to find properties was "slightly skeptical," the process "seems workable to me," he said.

 


aheavens@phillynews.com

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