By Erin Vaughan 

We don’t exactly live in the Matrix yet, but homes are definitely getting the digital treatment. Every step in a home’s lifecycle has been touched by technology—from the first construction to the final sale.

It’s not just home improvement—the construction and real estate trades have come to rely on online programs to manage customers, listings, and projects. Agents set up virtual tours to entice homeowners online, book showings through the internet, and search listings using industry applications. Remodelers have found no less benefit from moving more of their business online—they score new customers through their social media and marketing efforts, or simplify their planning process using project management and 3D rendering software that make difficult renovations proceed smoothly.

With so much of our work lives going digital, paper contracts feel absolutely prehistoric, which is why so many realtors and contractors have switched over to digital signing programs. Specifically, here’s what each trade stands to gain from a more high-tech contract process.

Digital Signatures Help the Real Estate Market Move Faster Than Ever Before 

Selling a home used to be a matter of drivebys and open houses, but not anymore. Buyers rely on the digital space to aide in their home search—in fact, whopping 87 percent rely on online sites sometime in the house hunting process. It’s not uncommon for home shoppers, particularly those in the millennial age group, to do massive amounts of research online before they visit a property. They read reviews, check out photos and neighborhood stats, and even find agents online, according to a Zillow consumer trends survey.

In that context, it’s maddeningly slow to wait for a broker to provide a physical contract. And the market is moving faster than ever before. In June 2016, Redfin reported that the US had hit record-breaking levels for speed in the housing market. Most homes took less than six weeks to go under contract, while a quarter sold in a mere two weeks. That means most agents do not have a day or two to spend mired in contracts. A fast, streamlined solution that can get contracts into prospective buyers’ hands fast is a win-win for both parties.

But better document management also aides internal processes as well. For instance, renowned brokerage firm Coldwell Banker uses Docusign to streamline the administrative process. Between site visits and open houses, their agents do most of their work on the go, which means stopping by the office to pick up a contract can put a serious dent in a broker’s day. When the process of completing paperwork got to burdensome, many agents let it lapse completely, posing a serious liability.

So when Coldwell Banker gave their brokerage processes an overhaul, they decided to deploy an eSignature feature—and Docusign was their ultimate choice for that platform. A digital interface streamlines the closing process, of course, but it’s not just about time. It’s also about standardization. Most businesses find that templating routine agreements through Docusign integration ensures compliance. And digital documents cannot be completed until every initial box is marked off, so nothing gets overlooked. When something as important as a house is at stake, that counts for a lot.

Contractors and Home Builders Also Benefit from the Convenience of Digital Signatures 

On the other side of the equation are contractors and builders, who out of necessity can’t spend a lot of days in the office. Contractors pass the majority of their time at job sites and at clients’ homes, which means all the paperwork they need has to come with them wherever they go. And that’s quite a burden in a truck full of equipment.

So the signed contract gets stuffed in a filing cabinet somewhere, never to see the light of day again, right? Not necessarily. Home builders and renovators frequently need to refer to contracts to prevent project scope creep. Every contractor has experienced it: the client that wants way more than what’s outlined in the contract, or the one that changes their mind after they’ve signed on the dotted line. Mitigating these kinds of customer service issues will likely always be part of the home building industry; however, contractors can save themselves a lot of pain later—not to mention flagging satisfaction ratings—if they take the time to explain contracts paragraph-by-paragraph to homeowners and customers.

That’s a lot easier to do when you have the executed contract saved on the cloud, where you can pull it up on your cellphone or laptop whenever you need to refer to it. A time-crunched contractor could even build some of this explanatory work into the signature process, using callouts and notes. As they say in the construction business, “scope doesn’t creep, it gallops,” so this kind of onboarding and collaboration is crucial.

And in the end, initiating better contract processes is a customer service issue. Contracts have always been an awkward part of any business relationship, since the step in itself reminds the client that you’re not really friends. Having a digital assistant to fulfill that obligation takes a little bit of the strangeness out of the process. At the end of the day, the more comfortable and convenient the process feels for your customers, the happier everyone involved will be.

About the Writer 

Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner.  She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.