After my Dad got tired of running his candy wholesale business, he started selling insurance. When one of his policyholders died, he gifted his dog ”Midnight” to our household. Midnight was not exactly a fast-moving dog. He dug in the sand and was content to stay there.
That’s the kind of speed we used to expect things to move. Boy, we’ve sure been in overdrive since! Truth is, poor PePa and Midnight would be hard-pressed to keep up with the digital world we live in. Even for me, it seems as though no sooner than I get one thing down-pat, it’s updated, changed, or replaced with something “new and improved.”
Now more than ever, much of our business is conducted on-line. Introducing buyers and sellers to the world of digital document signing is interesting. The first reaction is normally disbelief that a digital signature can really be legal. After all, a mouse instead of a pen takes getting used to. Digital Ink, DocuSign, and Dotloop, all common platforms used by real estate professionals, offer secure storage and redundant methods of authentication. And yes, in most states, including Hawai`i, digital signatures are binding and completely legal.
The systems are simple to use following instructions that arrive in the signer’s email. The signer chooses how they want their signature to look and with a click and authentication, signatures are inserted in pre-marked spots.
Systems are so user-friendly that the process can even be completed on most mobile devices. While some documents (wills and deeds, to name a few) must still be acknowledged with a “wet signature,” it is possible (and common) to handle an entire listing and sale without so much as a BIC pen touching a piece of paper. But here’s the thing. These documents look like a contract, so there’s never a question that a contractual obligation is formed.
But watch this. I recall getting my first email address back in 1994. Back then, if we sent an email, we were likely to call the recipient to tell them we sent a message. Seems kinda silly now.
Even today, we still treat email as casual correspondence. We negotiate back and forth without considering that such dialogue could be construed as binding. In fact, email correspondence can actually be as binding as signing any other contract. It makes perfect sense, really. Suppose I “snail” mail you an offer to buy. The seller writes back that the terms are acceptable. We now have a meeting of the minds and, hence, a potentially binding contract. Remember, while our REALTOR® forms are well-thought-out and easy to use, a contact can take many forms as long as the parties mean to agree.
A 2010 New York Court Case (NaidiV Grunberg) establishes that email exchanges, just like snail mail, can establish a meeting of the minds and then, can be binding. So, as life continues to morph the ways we transact business from snail mail to faxing to a completely digital platform, it’s important to understand that even without a pen and paper or perhaps even a signature, contracts happen.