Streamlining the Real Estate Forms Process

by Bridget McCrea | May 04, 2014
Massachusetts REALTORS® turn to technology to help them create complete forms packages for every transaction and avoid legal issues down the road.
All REALTORS® know the headaches and hassles associated with improperly filled out, missing, and/or incorrect real estate forms. From the moment the customer relationship is solidified until the deal closes, literally dozens of forms, documents, stipulations, and agreements have to be produced, reviewed, signed, filed, and managed. Thanks to technology, the act of physically managing all of that paper can be streamlined using an online software solution like zipForm® Plus by zipLogix® – a new addition to the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®’ member services menu.

Corinne Fitzgerald, brokerowner at Fitzgerald Real Estate in Greenfield and MAR President-Elect, says the online forms platform has saved her both time and money. When meeting with a client at her office in March, for example, Fitzgerald pulled up a purchase and sales agreement on her computer, filled in all of the blanks in just a few
minutes, and then sent it directly to the listing agent. After negotiating the sales price and terms, Fitzgerald quickly created a final draft, used DocuSign (which integrates with the platform and can be purchased at a discount by REALTOR® members) to gather the necessary signatures, and sent the document back to the listing agent for similar treatment.

“The final, executed document was in my inbox the next morning – signed and ready to go,” says Fitzgerald. “Things are pretty seamless thanks to the forms platform; it’s all streamlined and easy for us to use.”

Fitzgerald also uses the online platform to create “packages” of forms for specific deals. She does this for short sales, foreclosure sales, estate sales, and other transactions that require certain documents. “This saves me a lot of time spent looking around for the documents required  for specialized sales,” says Fitzgerald. “Now it’s all in one, easily accessible place.”

Lastly, Fitzgerald says using an online forms platform lets her communicate with clients
on their terms – whether via text, or picking up the phone. “Different people do business differently,” says Fitzgerald, “and I can customize the platform based on those preferences. So while having a digital platform creates savings for us as Realtors®, it also helps us deliver what clients want. That’s important.”

In Proper Form

In January 2014, MAR began offering zipForm® Plus as part of MAR Free Forms. Available to members, the system is compatible with all browsers and with both Windows and Mac operating systems. Every form is customized for Massachusetts and helps agents quickly and easily navigate through a transaction. The forms, which are web-based and accessible from anywhere, help streamline the paperwork process  by compiling all of the necessary tools in one place.

Michael Krone, vice president at Kriss Law in Needham sees online forms platforms as integral business tools for REALTORS®. “Drafting a purchase and sale agreement alone can be a very complex matter,” says Krone, who points to the DeWolfe vs. Hingham Centre, Ltd., case (in which the court found that a Massachusetts broker failed to exercise reasonable care in making representations as to the zoning status of a property), as proof of that assertion. “In that case, the supreme judicial court said that the purchase and sale agreement is a complex document that [requires] a lot of care to prepare.”

Krone says agents should also remember that real estate acquisition in Massachusetts is a two-part process that begins with the offer to purchase and then graduates to the purchase and sale agreement. When drawing up the former, he says agents tend to make mistakes such as not filling in all of the blanks or using terms like “owner of  record” (rather than specific names) or “TBD” (to be determined). Such ambiguous terms can get REALTORS® into trouble down the road, says Krone, and can be avoided by using a good forms system that requires all blanks be filled in properly before proceeding.

Krone says agents should also pay attention to a more recent issue: no clear definition of exactly what’s included (or not) in the sale. “We all know the real estate is changing hands, but what’s included?” Krone asks. “Are the drapes included? Are the window treatments included? Is the dining room light fixture included? These things may not sound important, but it’s amazing how many of them turn into real problems later on.”

Ultimately, Krone says the more diligent agents are about filling in transaction forms completely and properly, the fewer challenges they’ll face at the closing table or  beyond. “Focus on completeness, use proper names, fill in accurate times for performance, and be very conclusive as to what’s really included with the property sale,” Krone advises. “Those are some of the key areas that often wind up turning into bigger
issues at a later date.”

Signed, Filed, Ready for Review

Doug Azarian, broker-associate at Kinlin Grover Real Estate in Cape Cod, sees online forms platforms as the right tool for agents who want to avoid the legal issues  highlighted by Krone. “On the platform, our 300 agents are using statespecific documents that have been reviewed by legal counsel,” says Azarian. “That gives both the users and the consumers assurance about the agreement terms.”

Azarian says having an online forms platform is also a more efficient and convenient way for agents to share and execute documents with those involved in the transaction. And while basic forms like lead paint transfer notifications and agency disclosures are  part of the “standard” package – and therefore always included for every transaction – he also likes the fact that agents can create a custom library of other, frequently used forms.

“This capability assures those involved that the transaction is in proper form,” he says. “As the transaction progresses and as more individuals, companies, and attorneys get involved, it’s helpful to have all of the documents properly orchestrated, filed, and ready to review.”