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Novel coronavirus spurs novel solutions for real estate transactions

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When Tohickon Settlement Services relocated in March 2019 from cramped offices in Holicong to new, significantly more spacious headquarters in New Hope, the company never anticipated the unique places it would be conducting closings just one year later.

Today, as a result of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, Brendan Nolan, Tohickon’s CEO, and his team are finding themselves settling real estate transfers outside in an open-carriage shed on the company’s grounds and through the glass of a closed car window.

“Until Pennsylvania works out how to implement remote online notarization,” said Nolan, “our people are putting in place creative ways to close transactions. We’re keeping the risk of contagion as low as humanly possible while fulfilling an efficient, effective transfer of property and disbursement of funds.”

That means the settlement table has a box of nitrile gloves and a bottle of hand sanitizer instead of flowers, snacks and beverages.

As much of the document execution as possible is completed in advance, and only those directly involved with the transaction are allowed to be present at the closing table. Which, closing professionals are discovering, could be a picnic table at a public playground or a clipboard in a parking lot.

Title and settlement services are considered a “life-sustaining” business under Gov. Tom Wolf’s most recent mandate.

“That may seem odd unless you’re the one trying to move your family into your new home today because your apartment has another family waiting outside with their furniture,” said Nolan.

The demand for real estate settlements is at an all-time high. While low interest rates sparked the housing market over the past year and historically low rates in the past few weeks have set refinance efforts on fire.

“And who knows what is next?” said Nolan. “Everyone wants to settle as soon as possible because they’re afraid what the coronavirus will change down the road. We’re just trying to do our jobs and prepare for whatever happens.”


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