Real Estate’s “Next Big Thing” — Really

Electronic signatures are one of those developments that are supposed to be The Next Big Thing — every year for a decade running (see, “2012:  Year of the Electronic Signature“).

Yet anecdotally, I’d say that less than 5% of Realtors have made the switch to date.

So, what’s holding it up?

Lowest Common Denominator

It turns out that in practice, electronic signatures are one of those “all or nothing” affairs where it only works if everyone does it.

Sort of like everyone agreeing to use the metric system (or not), running PC’s on the same operating system (at least, once upon a time), or using the same applications software (like Microsoft Word).

Computer-types recognize this “virtuous cycle” phenomenon, and have even given it a name:  “network effects.”

In practice, when one Realtor and/or party to the transaction is using electronic signatures but the others are not, the former have to accommodate the latter.

That means obtaining actual signatures, then scanning and emailing all relevant parts of the contract.

In other words, just like always.

Needed:  Top-Down Initiative

What’s different now — at least in Minnesota — is that the various Realtor governing bodies “get it.”

Specifically, they understand that switching to electronic signature is necessarily a “top-down” initiative (vs. a bottom-up one), and that, to be effective, all Realtors must more or less make the switch simultaneously.

Already, the standard Minnesota real estate forms have been changed to explicitly recognize and accept electronic signatures by default.

Next up, early in 2012:  getting the Realtor rank-and-file on board.

All 11,000 of us!  (2,300 at just Edina Realty).

P.S.:  In case you couldn’t tell, those are cats being herded in the graphic above.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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