Paperless Is Over-Rated

*Paperless is Over-Rated*
**By Lew Sichelman**

***Mortgage market players weren’t the only ones to cheer the other day when the Internal Revenue Service finally began accepting electronic signatures. Or when President Obama put his John Hancock to legislation averting the country’s plunge over the economic fiscal cliff while on vacation in Hawaii. The nation’s forests also could be heard applauding the two events, possibly even more loudly.

****Lenders, servicers, title agents and especially technologists hailed the IRS decision as the last domino that had to fall into place to finally boost e-mortgage commerce into the mainstream. IRS Form 4506-T has long been the last remaining document in the loan application process that could not be signed electronically.

****And since every child is taught that anyone can grow up to be the Commander in Chief of the Greatest Country on Earth, that the President has signed legislation from afar and the world didn’t implode was just icing on the e-commerce cake. Now the masses will finally see that electronic signing is not some communist plot. If the President can do it, everybody else can, too.

****Forests, meanwhile, blew a great sigh of relief. That big wind you felt were trees, all exhaling, knowing that they wouldn’t end up as nothing more than a mound of paper mortgage documents. After all, most wood specifies have aspirations to grow up to become nothing less than strapping 2-by-4s, not spindly 8½ -by-11s.

****But not so fast. I hate to be a naysayer, but consumers still have to embrace paperless – and there’s no hard evidence they will. Sure, there will be the “pioneers,” the young home buyers who have lived e-lives all their lives and will see nothing unusual about doing everything on line. But most of us still have a hard time coming to grips with the notion there will be nothing to grip. There will be no paper trail, only perhaps a thumb drive where their precious loan docs are stored. If you remember how hard it was to find where you stuck your mortgage papers 10 years after the fact, think how hard it is going to be to find a tiny USB flash drive.

****But there’s also another group of professionals to consider – real estate agents. They are the forgotten element, and they aren’t too keen on paperless either, at least not if a discussion the other day on the popular real estate social network ActiveRain is any indication.

****Jared Christiansen, a Century 21 agent in Ft. Wayne, Ind., led off by saying “paperless is over-rated.” Christiansen said he’ll still use his I-Pad to watch movies and play games. But when it comes time to put signature to form, he and his clients will continue to use a pen.

****What followed was a cascade of negativity. Sure some contributors scoffed at Jock Jared, but most were in his camp.”Everything gets scanned and put in a file on my computer, but if something is signed, I have a paper copy,” said William Buddy Scott of Right Choice Realty in Ft. Myers, Fla. “It doesn’t hurt to have a backup.”

****“Everything is backed up, not on digital media. No, not around here,” said Mike Cooper, an agent with the Cornerstone Business Group in Winchester, Va. “I use more paper today then before my office went paperless,” Paul Henderson, a RE/MAX agent in Tacoma, Wash., chimed in. “I would never want to go paperless,” added Mary Hutchison of Better Homes and Gardens in Prairie Village, Kan. And Lora Stern, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Rockwell County, N.Y., said “I love the idea of electronic filing but I still absorb things best when I see that paper in front of me.”

****There’s much more. Nearly 100 agents weighed in. But the point – or better yet, the question – here is this: If most home buyers follow the recommendations of their real estate agents, will they, too, balk at electronic mortgages? I’m just sayin’.

****ABOUT THIS COLUMN: We are happy to welcome Lew to the PROGRESS in Lending team. He’s a veteran financial services reporter with vast industry knowledge. In this regular column he’ll reflect on the latest news and industry trends in his own voice, sharing his unique views, which is why the column is called: Lew’s Views.

Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing and mortgage markets for more years then he cares to remember, starting as real estate editor at the long defunct Washington Daily News and Washington Star newspapers and finishing with a three-decade stint with National Mortgage News. His weekly column, The Housing Scene, is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.