It’s time to electronically sign

The ability to electronically sign real estate agreements and forms will be a big step forward for the profession.

By Tim McKibbin

With each passing day we find ourselves increasingly challenged by the pace of change, particularly when it comes to the impact of technology. The world we live in today is fundamentally different from what it was 10 or even five years ago. Every day, we are under pressure to respond faster and work more efficiently.

In this environment, it is startling that we still resort to the traditional pen and paper when signing and exchanging agency agreements and other documents. In years gone by our marketplace was limited to our suburb or our city, but the world has changed and we are now working globally. Our clients are from different cities, different states and different countries. We deal with vendors and purchasers transacting property across the globe, and sending physical agreements and documents to multiple locations for signature is undoubtedly an inefficient way to do business.

Electronic signatures allow contracts and agreements to be turned around in seconds, rather than the hours or even days it can sometimes take to complete an agreement in hard copy. An electronic signature can move between a solicitor, conveyancer, real estate agent, vendor, purchaser, landlord and tenant instantly, allowing for greater transactional and cost efficiencies.

There has to be a better way
In this day and age, we should be doing things differently.

Electronic transactions are a valid and binding way for parties to contract, and have been since the invention of the telegraph. The common law recognises this. Even where legislation requires a transaction to be “in writing” and “signed”, the courts have held these requirements are satisfied where the transaction has been entered into by fax or email transmission (provided the transaction complies with all other legal requirements for a valid and enforceable agreement).

“It is critical for NSW to step to the forefront … This will significantly benefit the consumer and the industry.”
As we know, technology develops quickly and the legislation has not kept up. The legislation enacted in 1999 to deal with electronic transactions simply did not contemplate the technology we have at our fingertips today.

The technology is here and we can see the benefits. Electronic transactions offer efficiency and convenience, and are clearly the way of the future. However it is important that parties entering into agreements in this way have certainty about the validity of their contractual relationships. So REINSW is on a campaign to provide the profession with a contemporary technology solution that will provide certainty of contractual relations and is specifically tailored for real estate transactions.


It’s time for change

In November 2014 we saw the introduction of a system allowing people to lodge all conveyancing documents, including Land Registry, property transfer, refinance and financial settlements online. This is a great step forward, however there is still more to be done. The next step is the signing of agency agreements.

Without doubt, the grey areas in the legislation impact efficiency and consumer convenience within the real estate industry. So REINSW, along with our sister Institutes from across the country, have asked the Commonwealth and all State and Territory Attorneys-General to amend the legislation to remove all doubt about the legality of electronic real estate transactions.

It is critical for NSW, which has the highest volume of transactions in the country, to step to the forefront. We will continue to lobby on this issue. It is really only a matter of time before this is implemented, but we should not allow the government to drag its feet on something that will significantly benefit the consumer and the industry.