I recently went on a bit of a journey to see if we had finally come to a place where it’s possible to conduct real estate business totally paperless. For me, the notion of the paperless brokerage is something of a Nirvana and my recent acquisition of an iPad had me wondering if we’d come along far enough to make it a reality. What follows is my journey to complete a sample Offer to Purchase agreement as a “Proof of Concept”.
Problem #1 was the ability to work with fillable PDF files on an iPad, which you’d think would be a simple matter but I was to discover that this isn’t the case. A fillable PDF is simply an Adobe PDF file that has fields in it allowing you to enter text data. It turns out that vast majority of iPad apps that work with PDFs are not capable of dealing with fillable PDFs. Fortunately, one that I found can handle this task well. PDF Expert by Readdle is actually a really, really good PDF viewer, allowing you to not only open and work with fillable PDFs, but also add highlighting, annotations, insert text, and other useful features including…wait for it… adding a signature (see Problem #3).
Problem #2 was really not a problem at all, but it might be for you so I’ll include it. I needed to get a standard Offer to Purchase contract form into a fillable PDF format. My board offers all of our standard forms as PDFs, though not fillable, so getting the PDF was easy. Using the Acrobat PRO Forms feature, I was able to add all the fields I needed to make my PDF fillable. It was simple, though somewhat finicky and time consuming. But the good news is that you’d only have to do this once per document you use, and once it’s been done it could easily be shared amongst REALTORs in your area. So now I had my fillable PDF and I shot it up to my Dropbox. If you don’t already have Dropbox, it’s a (FREE) simple, and secure backup system that has the benefit of allowing you to easily move files about from device to device, computer to computer, or to share files with others. If you use the link I provided, I even get a dandy little referral bonus of 250MB additional free space. PDF Expert can connect to your Dropbox and import PDFs that you have stored there. Simple and elegant. So far so good.
As I alluded to earlier, Problem #3 was the ability to actually sign the document. This is a biggie, ‘cause without that you’ve got no contract and no hope of going paperless. Fortunately, PDF Expert comes to the rescue here too! Now, I’ll admit that its handling of signatures is not the most slick, beautiful system out there, but hey… it works and it’s the only solution I’ve seen that covers fillable PDFs too so you’ll just have to deal with the fact that it’s not all that sexy. Here’s what you need to know (because this wasn’t immediately obvious to me and I almost never read help files)… When you’ve got a document open in PDF Expert, there is a fountain pen icon that brings up a signature pad. You need to do this BEFORE you drop in a signature. My way of thinking is that this should have been the other way around – I select a place to drop a signature and then the sign pad pops up, but this is not how the fine folks at Readdle dreamed it up. So you pull up the signature pad, have your clients sign or initial (whatever you’ll need first), and click “Save”. Essentially, you now have the signature saved in a clipboard of sorts, ready and waiting for you to drop it onto the document at a place of your choosing. So go ahead and fill out all the fields you need to fill out to complete your contract, and where necessary drop in a signature or initial as needed.
Once complete, if you’ve been following along, you’ll soon discover Problem #4. If you save and choose to email the document you just created, the recipient will have to open it in Acrobat Reader on a desktop computer. Opening it on a mobile device such as an iPad will only work if you open it in PDF Expert. Any other PDF reader will just show you the blank form without all your added information and signatures. The reason for this is that essentially, you are not actually editing the PDF so much as adding a new layer on top of it that contains all your entered information. I wasn’t satisfied with this. I figure if you have a digital contract and there is the risk that it could be opened up in the wrong program and display blank, it’s not really good enough yet. There’s something not quite right about that, so I needed to find a solution to this new problem. Enter Save2PDF. This handy little app gives you a Print-to-PDF option that Mac users will be well familiar with. Any app on your iPad capable of printing will be able to print to a PDF file and be opened in Save2PDF. Now, before you get ahead of me, yes, I am suggesting that you’re going to print a PDF file to a PDF file. If this sounds ridiculous, understand that the end result is that this process effectively “flattens” your PDF file, making your additions, signatures, and such a permanent part of the PDF file itself, and as a side bonus it’s now viewable in any PDF reader on any platform.
So the last step in the puzzle is to email this contract to the listing agent, and send a copy to your client and possibly your office. Viola! You’ve just completed an Offer to Purchase without ever having a scrap of paper to deal with. Now sit back with a sense of smug self-satisfaction, or play Angry Birds, or something, while you wait to find out if your offer was accepted.
So, that was my Proof of Concept. You can find a sample Offer to Purchase that I completed here. This document originated on my iPad and was completed solely on my iPad. It’s important to note that I make no claims as to whether digitally signed documents would be acceptable in your area. I’m in the midst of looking into whether I can use them in my own area. The purpose of this exercise was to see if I could do it and to that end, it’s mission accomplished. I am not sure our industry is quite ready for this, and it brings up a lot of questions and issues that will have to be addressed. However, as I’ve demonstrated here, it is both possible and practical to handle our business digitally.
If you have any questions feel free to hit me up at about.me/joshnekrep.
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