My wife, @jennifermason, and I recently sold our house and bought a new one in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. We didn’t use a realtor (I refuse to capitalize that word) in selling our house and we didn’t use one in buying the new one. As a result, I had to manage a lot of the paper work myself. It really wasn’t that hard to do thanks to OneDrive, OneNote, and document signing tools. We’ll look at how we managed all of this on both the selling side as well as the home loan.
Selling the house
When we went to put the house on the market, I did my research and I kept a lot of this info in OneNote. Since we hadn’t had the house long, it wasn’t hard for us to come up with a selling price. We looked at what we owed, what we paid, and used Zillow to figure out what houses were moving for. This gave us our price and we went with it. We went to Home Depot and picked up a For Sale by Owner sign and stuck it in the yard.
Along with the yard sign, we printed up some nice flyers for our house to stick in an IntoTube (which you can also get at Home Depot). Realtors will tell you that you shouldn’t put flyers in front of your house as that doesn’t attract buyers. The only reason they tell you that is that by having only a phone number on your sign they can show them someone else’s house if yours isn’t the right fit. Remember, everything a realtor tells you is to put more money in his or her pocket faster.
The phone number I printed on the sign was not my own. Instead, I used Google Voice and had it forward calls to my phone. This gives me a nice buffer to keep crazies from calling my phone and for me to block bad seller’s agents telling me I’ll never sell my house. I had one call several times.
I had my first phone call on the house within an hour and I ended up having three showings by the end of the weekend. All of this from a sign and listings on Craigslist and Zillow. After the initial period, I decided I wanted to put our house on the MLS so it would show up for realtors and on Realtor.com. Normally, you have to have a seller’s agent do that and now they get your 3% and 3% goes to whomever presents the buyer. There are a number of realtors now that will do it for a flat fee between $250 and $500. One happened to call me called ListingSpark and they do theirs for $7 / day (billed monthly). What I liked about them is that their services included a lock box, sign, and they would even show your house if the buyer didn’t have a realtor. This meant realtors could find my house in the MLS, request a showing, and we didn’t even have to be present to show it (just like with a traditional realtor). It didn’t take long to get some showings with this service and eventually we had an offer. With the offer in place, we had to get our documents in order.
Setting up OneDrive
My wife and I were already heavy users of OneDrive. We have a shared folder on my OneDrive account in which we both have contribute access. In here, I started a new folder simply named Real Estate. Before you sell a house, you will want to get a few documents together. We’ll keep these in the Real Estate folder so that we can easily find them and share them throughout the process. The most important document you need is the Seller Disclosure.
Luckily, in the State of Texas, you can find just about any document you need on the Texas Real Estate Commission web site. They are all in PDF form here. The poor people that run the web site actually believe you can’t edit them because of that. You’ll actually see a link to companies selling software that makes the forms editable. Ha! As some of you might know, there are a number of options when it comes to editing PDF. We can use Adobe Acrobat, FoxIT Writer, the PDF reflow feature in Microsoft Word 2013. There’s actually a much simpler option though, document signing tools such as DocuSign.
My first exposure ever with DocuSign was signing contracts with Microsoft. You simply upload a PDF and then it allows you to drag text fields, checkboxes, and signature lines onto your document. The first step is to upload the document.
The service will allow you to have yourself as a signer and then you can add your spouse, the buyer, realtors, etc, as needed. In the example below, we both are signing it and then it gets sent to the realtor. DocuSign will automatically send it once all of the signatures are received, but sometimes I preferred to send it myself so I would leave that step out. Instead I would upload the file to my OneDrive and provide a link. More on sharing with OneDrive soon.
Once you go to the next step, you can edit the document. It’s as simple as dragging and dropping the fields throughout the document. In the example, below you can see how I have added text boxes to the blanks in the contract.
DocuSign works great. It really is the Cadillac of document signing services. Unfortunately, it is really expensive and not geared towards consumers at all. When you first create an account you get 5 documents you can sign. That is it. This is a real estate transaction so obviously you are going to need more than that. DocuSign has absolutely terrible pricing plans. They are geared towards business and come with annual terms for the lowest rates Their individual account lets you sign 5 documents a month for $10. When you run out, you get to upgrade again. Then the professional plans are $20 for unlimited (if paid annually) and $30 if paid monthly. No thanks.
Although DocuSign works great, it was time to find a new service. This led me to run into HelloSign. They gave you three free documents a month and you can upgrade to unlimited for $15 / month. What’s nice is their unlimited plan gives you a 30 day trial. That was enough for me to close my transaction. HelloSign has similar features to DocuSign but not as many controls to pick from that you can drag onto your PDF. However, I found the ones it had were sufficient. What I didn’t like is that it put an audit page with the dates everything was signed in the PDF. I think this could only be removed if you signed up for an Enterprise plan. The product worked though and it got me through my transaction.
If you have gotten a mortgage recently, you know how much of a pain it is. They are constantly asking for documents and they lose half of the ones you send them. Surprisingly, none of them ever use any kind of secure document sharing service. I’d be happy with a SharePoint site using Office 365. Unfortunately, most of them just want you to e-mail them. Someone from my lender even insisted that sending these documents with sensitive information is secure over e-mail. I laughed. To handle this situation, I created a new folder named Home Loan and started dumping things like tax returns, investment statements, and pay stubs in there. Then I made use of the Sharing feature in OneDrive. Just click on the folder and then click the Share button at the top.
There are a number of sharing options when it comes to OneDrive and you want to get this right. You don’t want to just provide a link that anyone can use to access it. You want these users to authenticate. Start by typing in the user’s e-mail address. This doesn’t have to be a Microsoft account. Typically, the user’s live account will be different than his or her e-mail address.
Be sure and click Recipients can only view. This provides an option where you can specify what permission the user has and whether or not they need a Microsoft account. I find that lenders don’t ever need permissions to edit documents, so I choose Recipients can only view. Next choose Recipients need to sign in with a Microsoft account. This ensures they have to login to see your documents.
Now this meant I had to add every single person that needed access to the files at the lender one-by-one. I’d rather do that then open it up to the world though. With all the people that I had to share documents with, I only had one that couldn’t seem to figure out how to login and view the documents. I suspected she had multiple Microsoft accounts and that was the issue.
For sensitive documents, you don’t want to use the Get a link option. This generates a random URL in which anyone can access your documents without authentication. However, I found this useful for sharing documents such as receipts to the buyer’s realtor when I was selling my house. Since this information was less sensitive, it made sense to use this option to share documents.
My wife and I kept a lot of information about the process. We already had a shared notebook in our family room, so we created a new section called Real Estate. In here, I had a page for the for sale process including where I am marketing it and what to put on the flyer. I kept another page for house showings. When I was doing showings myself, I asked for information on the buyer including photo identification. Once the contract was signed, I created a page to manage the amendment items that the buyer requested. We also used a page to keep a checklist of all of the utilities we needed to disconnect and connect. When we were looking for a new house, we used it to keep track of the ones we were interested in. Once we selected one, we kept things like the new house measurements in it. Finally, we started keeping a list of all of the new things we need to buy for the house. OneNote has been a vital part of our real estate process.
When it’s all over…
Don’t forget to revoke permissions to everything that you shared. You don’t want to keep these documents shared with people that no longer need them. This goes especially for documents that you allowed anonymous access on.
I sold our house without a listing agent and I bought our new one without a buyer’s agent. When I was looking at houses, I even had a seller’s agent it was illegal in Texas for me to see a house without a buyer’s agent. That liar has been reported to the Texas Real Estate Commission. :) This kept thousands of dollars in our pocket and let us negotiate a better price with the builder since they didn’t have to pay a real estate commission. Realtors will tell you that you can never do it without them but in reality most of them don’t do that much for you. If you do a little research, you can do it yourself too.