Recently, another notary asked me to rank the following jobs in order of difficulty: Full purchase, reverse mortgage, cash deal, HELOC, loan closing, Loan application. They said all the client sites asked them for their fees for each type and they needed to know how they rank in order to decide on their fee list. (They did not ask me what to charge, for which I was grateful, just how I would rank them.)
I see this as part of the question of what do notary signing agents need to know about document packages, so please bear with me as I attempt to answer this in two parts.
Part One. The Packages
I’m going to assume “loan closing” in this case refers to a refinance, not a new loan (as purchase closings are already mentioned). In my experience, regular Refis are the standard package. Everything else on this list falls above or below Refi closings in terms of time and expense and effort involved.
So, here’s my thoughts on how they rank.
Reverse mortgage closings take the most time.
Reverse mortgage applications take more time than other applications.
Refi applications can take less time than anything else on the list or they can take more than a HELOC, depending on circumstances that vary from lender to lender and signer to signer. That said, I would probably rank the loan applications as least difficult.
Cash purchases (“cash deals” on their list) where you’re doing only the seller side take less time & are smaller packages than purchases where it’s a buyer who’s borrowing the money to buy.
A “full purchase” may refer to doing both sides (seller and buyer), which could make it more time consuming than a reverse mortgage closing or about the same as that. If they mean just the borrower side when they say “full purchase,” then it’s about the same as a Refi, maybe a bit smaller as you don’t get a right to cancel on a purchase and any non-borrowing spouse may not be signing as much (if anything).
Regular refinances fall between reverse mortgages and purchases, both on page count and time at the table.
When I see “edocs” as a separate item on these website lists, I leave it blank. That refers to documents emailed to you for you to print in duplicate, as opposed to them sending the documents overnight to you or the signers. It’s rare now for title companies to overnight documents, so you should assume you’re going to print 2 sets of anything they send you and that means edocs are already included in your fees, right?
There are other packages not on their list.
For example, there’s REO — that’s rental or investment property or property owned by a lender. Those closings can be small or large, depending on the lender and title companies. I treat them as a Refi in terms of fee, unless my client tells me the page count is really low (under 60 pages).
There are also some other types of mobile notary work not seen as often, including debt consolidation, loan modifications, deeds in lieu of foreclosure, home repair loans, and others. These are generally small packages and the documents included in the packages are often not seen in the other types of packages, so you will need to research them to know how to present the documents to the signers.
Finally, there’s commercial property loans, which will need their own article.
Those are in general. Different lenders and different title companies will have their own preferred documents to include, so a Refi package can run from 60 pages to over 200. I quote a fee based on 100-150 pages. If it’s significantly more or less than that (and I decide when it is, based partly on how good a client they have been to me), then I contact them about adjusting my fee. They usually know when they assign it if it’s a small package, but may not know if it’s extra-large.
Part Two. The Fees
After over 15 years in the notary signing agent business, I offer the following suggestions when it comes to negotiating your fees for these various types of work.
You should have a standard print fee that applies up to x number of pages, but that only comes into play if the signers don’t complete the signing and your client wants to pay only a print & trip fee, not your full agreed amount. Otherwise, printing the edocs is included in your quoted fee for the assignment.
You should have a standard trip fee for this, too.
You should be sure you know which type of work it is before you agree to do it.
You should know if it includes faxbacks, as that is extra work and may mean you can’t ship it the same day it’s done.
You should always ask them “what can you tell me about the package?” And then listen to their answer.
If they don’t know a page count or a range, quote them a fee and tell them “that’s up to x number of pages (whatever you’re willing to do for that client for a standard fee). If it’s more pages, I’ll be back in touch for a fee bump for the extra work.” Then listen to what they say.
If they won’t agree to a fee based on the scope of work, then you have to decide if they’re a good enough client to take the assignment anyway — or if you’re willing to roll the dice and hope it’s not huge. If not, just tell them you can’t do it without more info. Only you know when to take a chance on being stuck with a huge package for not enough pay.
Other than that, business basics apply. Know your expenses. Keep records of your interactions with each client or potential client so you know whom you need to follow up with and whom you need to avoid. Post your income and expenses into whatever system you have for accounting or bookkeeping and run regular reports from that to see how your business is doing in terms of achieving your goals. Do regular research to find new clients and to see whether their reputation is good enough for you to want to work with them, as well as names & contact information on specific people to develop relationships of trust with at your targeted firms. Develop your skills and credentials with ongoing training and certifications and reading.
And so forth. Get help with the business basics from your local library, the Small Business Administration, Small Business Development Center, or SCORE. You can find those last three at sba.gov.
Finally, please see this article from the American Association of Notaries on what to consider when setting your fees.