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Virus Sparks Real Estate Innovations Like The Digital Closing

Back in the day, long before the virus plagued Chicago’s once-thriving real estate market, the closing of property sales transactions often was filled with high finance, drama and sometimes comedy.

The late Marshall J. Moltz, one of the top residential real estate attorneys in the Windy City, was so talented and honest even famed newspaper columnist Mike Royko hired Moltz to represent his buying a $1-million property.

Moltz, who often talked about writing a book titled: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Closing,” told this yarn back in the 1980s:

The deal involved a suspicious Eastern European buyer who was convinced the fast-talking seller’s attorney was about to cheat him over real estate tax prorations and various other confusing financials outlined in the fine print of the closing statement.

“When the seller’s attorney pushed the closing papers across the desk and urged the buyer to sign without questioning the bottom line, the potential purchaser leaped up from his chair and pulled a .45-caliber automatic from his overcoat,” Moltz recalled.

“No one move until Marshall J. Moltz goes over the numbers,” said the wooly-mustached buyer while politely tipping his fedora.

Unfortunately, because of restrictions caused by the coronavirus, open houses and the once essential—and often colorful—face-to-face real estate closing may soon be a forgotten memory.

Some brokers are already are utilizing “curbside closings” which are held at satellite offices and in parking lots of title companies. The home buyer or seller (or both) stays in his or her automobile and a title company messenger delivers the closing papers from the office to the car. The party has about 10 minutes to sign the papers and the messenger returns to pick them up and deliver them to the closer.

The virus economy also sparked the introduction an innovation called the “human-free” real estate closing and the concept is being pitched to Chicago’s residential brokers and home buyers.

“We have a new human-free, entirely digital mortgage experience all the way through closing,” noted Victor Ciardelli, President & CEO, Guaranteed Rate Companies.

“Our concern is the safety and well-being of our employees, customers, and broker partners,” Ciardelli said. “Real estate agents now must be concerned about how to accommodate customers safely through the home-buying process.”

Guaranteed Rate is offering an entirely digital mortgage application process buyers can utilize to purchase a home that requires “absolutely no human interaction” even through closing.

No N-95 masks, latex gloves or hand sanitizer is needed. The process uses a suite of digital tools that can not only enable social distancing, but are also efficient. Here’s how it works:

• Prospective buyers fill out a digital mortgage application using Guaranteed Rate’s computerized income and asset verification tools to simplify the documentation required for their loan.

• The process also includes a digital e-closing innovation called “FlashClose” that lets the buyer close their loan from the comfort and safety of their own home without a mortgage broker’s participation. FlashClose, a 2020 Housing Wire Tech100 award winner, helped Guaranteed Rate close 23,000 loans in 2019, said Ciardelli.

• Guaranteed Rate also offers a digital appraisal system that doesn’t require an appraiser to enter the home and is 100% free from human interaction.

“Technology allows us to seamlessly keep our workflow moving at full force, with large numbers of folks working remotely without missing a beat,” said Ciardelli. “Further, we have separated purchase teams from refinance teams in order to prioritize purchases and maintain quick turn-times.”

2020 market recovery stalls

The virus caused a number of homes under contract in nine key North Side neighborhoods to drop 31% during March compared with March of 2019 according to Baird & Warner’s April 2020 North Side Market Analysis.

When looking at market activity by price point, luxury homes took the biggest hit with a 52.7% drop in pending contracts, Baird & Warner reported.

Home-loan rates still a bargain

On April 9th, Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey reported that benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgages nationwide averaged 3.33%, unchanged from a week earlier. A year ago, the 30-year fixed-rate average was 4.12%.

“While mortgage rates remained flat over the last week, there is room for rates to move down,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist. “This year, 10-year Treasury market rates have declined by more than one full percentage point, yet mortgage rates have only declined by one-third of a point.”

As financial markets continue to heal, Khater predicted that mortgage rates will drift lower in the second half of 2020.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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