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Electronic signatures are legal

27 June 2016

There has been a lot of conjecture around electronic signatures and their legality, however they are legally binding and permissible for most documents.

Mark Morgan, a partner in the property and development team of the law firm Colin Biggers and Paisley (CBP), revealed that in the last six months they have signed about 700 contracts for sale of land electronically.

He said: “We find it hugely advantageous to sign electronically and it is far easier to find documents this way.

“It also allows you to sign contracts in different locations around the world and therefore geography is now not an issue.

“All contracts can be signed electronically unless otherwise required by legislation.”

Mark, who has specialised in property law for over 30 years, says there is no greater risk in signing contracts electronically and believes they are actually safer than paper contracts.

He said: “It is much easier to remove a page on a paper contract than it is on a PDF.

"We have experienced numerous cases where purchasers have innocently or otherwise made unagreed amendments to a 300-page document which are hard to trace.

“Many times also, different drafts of the same document have been signed, again later resulting in problems.

“Contract mistake and fraud is largely eliminated where contracts are signed electronically.”

Mark said that by far the best software for electronic contracts at present is the DocuSign platform. DocuSign's major shareholders are Microsoft, Google and SalesForce.

This is the platform that powers CBP's e-contract process.

He gave the following example of how well the system works: “A month ago a client was selling a property to an Australian couple who were on holiday in Spain.

“The client was demanding the contract was signed and so we sent the contract to the buyers on DocuSign who signed it and had it back to us the same day.”

Mark also gave an example of how beneficial electronic contracts can be with high volume conveyancing projects. 

Selling 150 off the plan apartments by paper contract would mean preparing 300 contracts and creating about 300,000 pages of paper. 

The amount of checking would usually take four weeks and require trucks to deliver the contracts and individual couriers to take them to the purchaser. Now they can prepare for that same exercise in two days, and there's no need to generate a single page of paper.

Mark also revealed that CBP now has several warehouses storing archive files and, if they now switched to electronic contracts completely, the elimination of paper stored on site would reduce the amount of office space they need to operate in by 50%.

REINSW has introduced electronic signatures into its REI Forms Live platform. In this pilot stage it is being offered only to those agencies who have signed up to be a distributor of the Realtyprotect landlords’ insurance, and the electronic signatures functionality is enabled just for the Management Agency Agreements.