Ah, but for the power of the signature. Back in 1998, before the advent of the iPhone, Facebook or YouTube, most of us were signing our names in something called “ink.” Another term for it is “wet signature.” This was also the year that I loaded up the few items I owned and moved 15 miles north, from the heavily populated city of Salt Lake to the more rural town of Layton. We had purchased a lot the previous year and made the harebrained decision to build a home on said lot. One year later, with the cement on the sidewalks still damp, we acquired occupancy.

I mention that the cement was still damp because, just before we arrived, a neighborhood dog had placed his paws upon the driveway of our damp cement and had left a permanent signature. The significant “wet” signature had since dried and we were left staring at the prints with our mouths open while the entire neighborhood stood around blaming everyone else’s dog.

“My dog never roams the neighborhood, so we know it wasn’t him.”

“Our dog was at the groomer’s all day.”

“I bet it was the Jones’s dog. I see that dog all over the neighborhood.”

Before the truck was unloaded, I had invited the neighborhood dogs over, one at a time, to do my own forensics. Fortunately, there are certain characteristics of a signature that cannot be replicated. In this case, the size of the paw print was the biggest clue in locating the culprit. The dog across the street was found to be guilty of signing without authority. I dropped all charges immediately, since I also have dogs and I believe in karma. Also, as it turns out, the couple was going through a horrible divorce at the time since she had caught him with her best friend, who lived down the street. All way more information than I ever wanted to know about our neighbors. I learned quickly who I needed to avoid in the neighborhood in order to keep from hearing the latest. Honestly, I have absolutely no interest in “the latest” in any neighborhood, but especially my own.

As I await with baited breath for the second buyer’s signature on an addendum solidifying an under contract position on a much coveted home (as all available homes are in this market), I have a minute to reflect on the value of such a signature. The signature is a big deal in the given industry of real estate. The purpose is to authenticate a writing to bind the signer(s) to the provisions in a written document. The signature obligates the party to the terms of whatever they are signing. In the case of a real estate purchase agreement, the signer must comply with all terms within the contract unless specified in a separate addendum to the contract that addresses such terms in a different capacity in which they are otherwise stated on the contract. In this case, the addendum supersedes the original contract if changing terms within this contract. Both a buyer and a seller must have officially signed in order for the contract to be a valid, fully executed, legal document.

On June 30, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. This was a great day in history. This simplified much of the arduous piles of paperwork required in nearly every industry, especially real estate. It took a few more years for us to become tree free, but as of the printing of this newspaper with the help of trees, most brokerages have now gone tree free. Much like running around without shoes, it is so simple and freeing, there is little reason to not get a proper signature.

In fact, without all proper signatures and initials in all the right places on all the required forms, a contract could become voidable. This could result in a lawsuit. Also, for the record, the signatures have to be authentic — as in, the signer has to be who he/she says they are or have legal power of attorney to sign for the person. Otherwise, it is known as forgery, which is considered a felony in all 50 states and can be punishable by fines, jail time, prison time, restitution or probation, or any combination of the above. It is, however, a “white collar” crime, just in case that makes any difference.

Between the signatures, the initials, all the correct paperwork, the earnest money paper trail and acknowledgment as well as all the other fine details of just the paperwork part of a real estate transaction, which has many moving parts from the get go, the devil is literally in the details — and sometimes so is the dog. It’s difficult to know when the cement is safe for dog trespassing unless cement work is something that you do all the time.

Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or jen@jen-fischer.com.

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