Not all, but a lot of the paperwork that a real estate agent deals with has to do with contractual agreements. In case of a dispute, complaint, or lawsuit, these documents will be called for and scrutinized. The agent, as well as the brokerage he or she works for, both have a vital interest in making sure these documents exist, are properly done, and stored where they are accessible for several years, in case any questions come up.
In early 2011, my brokerage started using BackAgent, a web-based office system. For the first time in my 14-year career, I didn't have to physically travel to my office and hand over my agency and contract paperwork as soon as my client went under contract.
With BackAgent, I scan and save my documents. Then I upload them to the Raleigh Cary Realty BackAgent portal, which cleverly allows me to select individual pages for each document. So one document can be created from pages in different pdf files. The website has certain documents flagged as "Required" to move a transaction forward, but I can create additional documents as necessary. I can save a copy of the survey, for example, or the buyer's prequal letter.
This system is in perfect synch with the way agents are moving documents around during a transaction these days. There is no such thing as an "original" any more. I may never have a physical copy of the executed contract! I receive it as a pdf which I forward it to the lender, the attorney, and my client via email. At closing when I look in my file folder -- the executed contract isn't there! It has taken me a while to feel comfortable not having a hard copy, but I know that I can log onto BackAgent and view the contract on my iPad, right at the closing table, should there be a need.
If, months or years later, someone needs a copy of a transaction document, I can access my list of closed transactions online and send a pdf copy straight from BackAgent to the person who needs it. That's a lot easier than digging around in my files, printing out a copy, and putting it in the mail.
Sharing and storing transaction paperwork in digital form is a huge step toward a paperless office. The trees can breathe easier.
My personal challenge is in the creation of those documents. Although there are ways to fill them out on the computer and even get them signed on my clients' computers, I am still creating documents on paper and then having my clients print out and sign them.
My plan is to make my document creating and signing digital within the next year. Even if that saves only a small tree, the Lorax will be pleased.