Bruno Tramontozzi – Security holes closed

During the back-to-school rush, Bay State landlords and rental agents are usually scrambling to process leases for students and people relocating to the Greater Boston area as quickly as they can.

Now, local real estate firms have an extra tool that may save them time and money as they try to secure leases. A Newton-based company recently launched a service that allows legally binding real estate transactions online in a secure Web-based environment.

That means students and other out-of-state residents who want to rent an apartment won’t have to leave the comfort of their homes to review and sign a lease and other documents.

For real estate agents using the new service, it also means time and money saved that normally would be spent making photocopies, mailing overnight packages and trying to collect signatures for multiple documents.

Agents at Newton Centre Realty, one of the first to subscribe to the TruSign digital signature service created by Signitas Corp., say the service has cut the amount of time spent on transactions in half.

“At the very least, we don’t have to worry about photocopying,” said Aaron Hardisty, manager of Newton Centre Realty.

According to Hardisty, his firm handled about 40 deals in a month – about 20 of which closed – using TruSign. About 15 percent involved graduate students seeking housing, and all of them involved residential rentals.

Landlords, prospective renters and agents using the service can access all types of blank forms, including the standard lease/rental agreements, via the Internet. Users do not need to download software or plug-ins to begin using the service. To use the system and access forms, they must type their username and password.

When the transactions are complete, the files are stored in TruSign’s electronic vault with the digital signatures.

While Hardisty said agents in his office were pretty receptive to the service because they are not “techno-phobic,” there are some real estate agents who are reluctant to rely on online transactions.

Chobee Hoy, owner of Chobee Hoy Assoc. in Brookline, said it is important for renters to meet in-person with agents and talk about leases and other forms that must be completed.

“I think it’s critically important to have conversation with someone who really understands what it all means,” said Hoy, whose company handles many relocations.

Having heard a brief description of the service, rental agent Patricia Mazza was a little more receptive.

“It’s an idea worth looking at and probably an idea whose time has come,” said Mazza.

Mazza, whose company Patricia Mazza Real Estate in Harvard Square handles only rentals, said many of her tech-savvy customers would welcome the online forms because faxed forms aren’t always readable.

“I deal with a lot of international and out-of-state business,” said Mazza.

The service would also be useful for “Web-oriented” people who need furnished rentals for a short-term basis, Mazza said.

However, Mazza said she is not sure whether landlords, particularly landlords renting one or two units, would “warm up” to the idea. And she said she would have to see if the service would actually save her money.

“It really depends on what the costs are,” she said. “I would have to see what’s the cost per transaction and how much would I really use it.”

The cost for the new service is based on usage, much like the cellular telephone plans that are available. Monthly fees are tailored to customers and depend on the number of users, the number of transactions and the monthly transaction plan a subscriber uses.

Initial set-up and training costs begin at $1,460 for five users and $100 based on 100 transactions. Cost per transaction can be as little as 31 cents, according to Signitas.

People using Trusign can provide three types of signatures – a digital signature, signature capture or electronic signature.

A user must show proof of identity before they are granted a digital signature, which is the most legally enforceable out of the three types of signatures.

The signature capture involves using a digital pad, which can be purchased at stores selling computer equipment and hooked into a computer, on which the user signs his or her name using a stylus.

An electronic signature involves the user typing his or her name into a box on a Web page and then clicking a “sign” button to apply the signatures. Electronic signatures can be used on simple apartment application forms, while more complicated transactions may call for the use of digital signatures.

West Moves East
To protect from fraud, TruSign stores digital certificates on a roaming server, where they are protected by an individual’s user name and password. In most other digital signature services, certificates are stored on the user’s desktop or server, meaning that anyone can gain access to them through the user’s computer.

TruSign ensures document security by using Entrust Technologies Public Key Infrastructure ID system and Oracle 91 database and Oracle 91FS repository. The Entrust Technologies PKI system encrypts and stores every user’s digital certificate, allowing users to access their digital certificates from any computer.

Bruno Tramontozzi, president of Newton-based Signitas Corp., said he has been working on the service since last June.

Digital signature services are new to the East Coast, according to Tramontozzi, but are more popular in the West. However, Tramontozzi said TruSign has closed some of the security holes that are found in other systems prevalent in the West.

While Newton Centre Realty was one of the first clients to sign up for the service, Tramontozzi said other real estate companies are using the service. He said Signitas is also targeting banks, mortgage and financial services institutions and mutual fund companies.

Hardisty half-jokingly said he hopes that no other real estate companies use this “amazing time-saving device.”

“From a competitive standpoint, I hope no one adopts this,” said Hardisty.

Tramontozzi emphasized several other features of the service than can benefit subscribers. The service allows users to save and archive documents, meaning that real estate agents can easily search for leases and make changes to documents instead of starting from scratch each time.

Hardisty said that will be particularly helpful when it comes to working with landlords who do repeat business with him.

“It will be great not to have to deal with all the paperwork,” Hardisty said.

Tramontozzi said the system also includes a “workflow” feature that is beneficial in many circumstances, including when a person is seeking a loan. In those cases, customers must complete several forms, repeating basic information several times. The feature allows a customer to sign once and fill out pertinent information that automatically gets forwarded or routed to several people or departments. A process that usually takes a month can be cut down to one week, he said.

Newton Firm Speeds Deals With Electronic Signatures

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min