Paper: Real estate's financial termite

There was a time when the hue and cry to remove paper from the real estate transaction was deafening. In 2005 I collected and bound over four hundred articles taken from the Web over the course of eight years as proof. 

The timeline looks something like this:

2002: Transaction management tops the real estate technology charts
2004: Tablet computers hit the marketplace
2005: e-signature software applications proliferate; some integrate with online forms providers
2006: I predict that by 2008, the color green will be less about the Benjamin’s and all about conservation

2008: I might need another couple years.

Despite rising gas prices. Despite escalating expenses. Despite agents’ dire need to offer better, cleaner, faster services. Despite the insane practice of delivering paper, copying paper, folding paper, clipping and stapling paper, shredding paper, filing paper, messengering and overnighting paper and the sheer effort and waste involved in disposing of it.

Paper bores into a real estate operation with the slow destructive force of a termite colony.

But an e-signature, captured on a tablet computer, vaulted, distributed and shared online, accessible by all parties, offered — and still offers — our industry a solution to the paper mess. So do solutions like Docusign and Echosign, which are cheap, legal and easy to use.

Back in 2005, Brian and I were working on an ad campaign for the Real Estate Dashboard e-signature application. One concept featured an image of a lone sapling. The copy read:

"I’m going to grow up and become a real estate transaction."

The ad never saw the light of day. We weren’t convinced the industry would be as compelled by that message as it would be about the immediate benefits of saving time, saving money and working from anywhere, anytime

Turns out real estate wasn’t quite ready, on a mass scale, for either message. Swaths of forests have since been copied, faxed, folded, clipped, stapled, mailed and filed into the steel cabinets.

Today I received this ad from my gas company:


It speaks for itself. And there’s that sapling about to be planted with high hopes of becoming something more than a sheet of 24-pound bond.

Paperless real estate has been replaced by Web 2.0 in the real estate technology buzz machine. But never has there been a better time than right now for associations, brokerages, and agents to reconsider the advantages of paperless real state.

It’s a good idea. And it has become commonplace. Conventional. Practical. Smart.

Real estate is searching for a way to reconnect with its customer. What better place than in a transaction free of unnecessary friction, costs, and waste?

Those who inherit the real estate industry will likely have a blog; what they won’t have is paper.

— Davison