A Lewes couple made history last week when they bought a house in Rehoboth Beach by a teleconference real estate transaction — the first in Delaware.

On Friday, April 17, Jose Perez and Denise T. Perez signed the papers necessary to make the home  their own, thanks to Gov. John Carney approving online notarizing as part of his 11th modification of the current Declaration of a State of Emergency Due to a Public Health Threat.

“It was something I was waiting for. I was extremely excited to have the opportunity, and the purchasers were excited also,” attorney Stephen Norman, owner of The Norman Law Firm in Dagsboro and Rehoboth Beach, told the Coastal Point.

He was the attorney for buyer but also had interaction with the seller.

“It was groundbreaking technology. It feels good to be pushing something that you believe will be helping people stay safe while also allowing our industry to keep going,” he said.

Buying a home by teleconference “makes so much sense right now,” he said, explaining that otherwise the buyers would have had to drive to the attorney’s office and sit in the car while the attorney walked outside, carrying a box containing all the necessary documents.

He would have to lay the box on the sidewalk, 6 feet away from the buyers’ car, in conformance with current distancing requirements, and go back indoors while the couple walked to the box, picked it up and took it back to their car.

The attorney and buyers would then have to review each document as they talked by phone.

But this time, Norman and his clients used the platform Pavaso, designed to streamline the real estate closing process. The buyers received the documents in advance, read them and determined if they had questions.

“With this program, they can confirm the documents, or they can set aside different documents and confirm others. So the documents that are confirmed are automatically signed at closing, with an electronic signature.

“The attorney goes over the documents and answers any questions. If it’s done correctly, it’s a big time-saver,” Norman said.

Although Carney signed a temporary order allowing online notarization, Norman said he can’t imagine it won’t continue for at least a year.

“And if it works that long, why get rid of it?” Norman said.

It took a while for the governor to approve, he said, because real estate is “one of those industries that is so incredibly difficult to change,” considering some offices involved in transactions can accept digital documents and others can’t.

“It has been hard to get a uniform process. Before the governor signed this, there had to be a process to keep everybody safe,” he said.

Because it was Delaware’s first online settlement, there were kinks to smooth out, so it took about two hours, but will become a much faster process, he added.

“The Perezes were excited about begin the first couple to close this way. Things were slower than we hoped, but they were gracious and very sweet people,” Norman said.

Once teleconferencing was approved, “We jumped on it,” Norman said.

“We embraced the opportunity. It’s definitely the wave of the future.”

Among benefits to the process, he explained, are the safety of documents that aren’t secure when sent by traditional mail, and accuracy. The computer program won’t allow the buyer to proceed until every document is signed, but signatures are often missed with paper transactions, Norman said.

“There’s also the ease of the process. Theoretically, we won’t have to print out a single piece of paper. We can e-record — we’ll have an electronic document that can be recorded. There is still recording of the digital document, but you really don’t have to print out anything,” he said.

Norman said he expects younger clients to embrace teleconferencing, but hard-copy closings will still be available.

“I can’t see that completely taken away. It’s too engrained,” he said.

“I think right now people realize they have to take steps to keep themselves safe. It’s nice sitting down with someone in a conference room, relaxing and talking about the future, what they are going to do with the house. There is something to be said for that conversation. You can’t capture that through video.

“But, right now, safety is an overriding issue, so the benefits can outweigh the drawbacks.”

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.