PRIA, March 26, 2020
Recorders Are Essential to the US Economy
During these trying times, it is important to focus on the critical and essential
function of the Recorder’s Office to power, sustain and restore the U.S. economic engine. Because of the current response to the COVID-19 outbreak, some recorders are closing their operations or reducing hours, staffing and/or services. These moves are understandable as recorders follow the advice of public officials and make the health and safety of employees and customers a priority.
The Recorder’s Office provides constructive notice of interest in real property. Even during difficult situations, the land title and mortgage finance industries depend heavily on the recorders’ documentation as essential functions for their businesses and for the consumer.
Recorders provide title professionals with the ability to search the public land records and, after a real estate closing is complete, to record the documents which establish the property rights of the new owner and the lien priority for the lender. This reliance on proof of land ownership drives the economy of our country.
As we face this health crisis, those of us in the property records industry are working together towards common goals of preserving the integrity of the land records and continuing to facilitate the important transfer of real estate across the country.
Communications in a Crisis
Communication during a crisis is an important component of an overall continuity plan. It can ease the anxiety and questions from those people who are accustomed to interacting with your office on a regular basis, whether they are business partners or consumers. Your messaging should be easily accessible, immediate, focused, thorough and continually updated.
Your communications should include:
- Status of your office operations
- Open, as usual
- Open, by appointment only
- Closed to the public, but processing
- Or specify combination of above
- Abbreviated hours – indicate hours the office will be open
- Remote operations
- Or specify combination of the above
- Documents being processed
- Paper recordings
- Electronic recordings
- In-person, mail or drop-off (be specific about where to drop)
- Website capabilities
- What services are available via your county website
- List specific URL links
- Index (how far back)
- Grantor/Grantee books on line (how far back)
- Document images (how far back)
- Print options
- Acceptance of Remote Online Notarization
- Anticipated return to regular business operations, if known
Inform the people who use your office – submitters, eRecording providers, attorneys, researchers, lenders, servicers:
- Via email
- Office voicemail messages
- Website updates
- Social Media (Facebook, Twitter)
- Notification on office doors
- Newspaper announcements
- Press releases
Samples of recorder websites with Coronavirus information pages:
Bay Co., MI
Butler Co., OH
Jackson Co., OR
King Co., WA
Orange Co., FL
Tarrant Co., TX
Best Practices for Recording Queue Management in Times of Stress
You need to do what is best for your office and staff and the volume of documents you are receiving. Some of the following best practices may not be applicable to your office.
- Recorders need to make available on their website entry screen exactly what their policies are and what information is available via their website; this information should be updated daily.
- If your office is closed to the public, that means all public. Put procedures in place for document drop offs and courier services (such as a lock box in your lobby), mail delivery and pickup. Do not allow individual searchers or people seeking to record a document to enter.
- Wherever possible, allow majority of staff to work remotely. If you don’t currently have that capacity, consult with your LRMS vendor and your IT department and implement promptly.
- Consider swing/split shifts (for example: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for staff working in the office, with plenty of spacing). Also consider overnight and weekend hours for staff.
- As much as is possible, process documents by the date-received order. This practice includes all incoming submissions (eRecording, mail, courier services and drop offs). If your office is still open to the general public, acknowledge that in person documents may be recorded before other incoming documents. Try to minimize that situation by keeping in person document processing to 1-3 documents. Encourage document drop off instead.
- Prepare carefully labelled piles/stacks of documents by date and times. Suggested timings: before 10 a.m., 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., after 3 p.m.
- Provide online/out-of-office search capabilities at least back to 1990 (30 years) for both indexes and document images. If you don’t yet have that capability, work to implement it promptly.
- Open your eRecording avenues to all organized/recognized eRecording providers. It can be construed as favoritism to allow only one eRecording provider, once past an initial one-month testing period.
- Find as many ways as possible to streamline your recording, indexing and archiving process. For example, you can wait to return documents by mail or pick up until the bulk of the backlog is eliminated, as long as you have the search capacity online. You should work with other county offices to ensure smooth operations for recording transfer documents
Recording simply provides notice that a document exists; you and your staff are not the document or notary police. Use that adage to your advantage in the time of backlog stress. A document with errors is not your fault; a corrected document can be recorded referencing the incorrect document.