Paperless Trail: County Uses e-Recording for Real Estate Transactions

What used to require a stack of papers, a time-consuming trip to the civil courthouse downtown and a couple of days of waiting could now take just minutes. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, a new, paperless filing system for real estate transactions is now up and running in Harris County.

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The Harris County Clerk's office processes around 4,500 real property transactions a day, including mortgages, transfers of title, liens and other closing documents. The new e-recording system will take a time-consuming step out of the process, allowing title companies to send documents electronically to be recorded with the County. This is Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman.

"Instead of bringing a stack of documents to us to scan and record here and return to the property owner, the title company will do the scanning in their office as soon as they're executed by the grantors and grantees and electronically send the images to us where we can record them immediately so the paper doesn't have to travel to us and then go back. It stays right where it's executed."

Two employees will initially be assigned to process electronic transactions at the Clerk's office, but Kaufman hopes to expand the department and eventually electronically record about half of the real property documents that end up there each day.

"We're a race to the courthouse state, where the first document recorded has legal impact on the legal title to a piece of property. The ability to get those documents recorded in the County Clerk's office immediately is very significant to the people that we serve and to the title industry."

The county is using software developed by San Antonio-based LanData Technologies. Steve Sexauer is the company's chief technology officer.

"Even in a county that's as efficient as Harris County, it can take one to two days to get your documents returned in such a way that you can start to work on the policy. With e-recording, you get those documents back in minutes. So, we're talking in orders of magnitude. With e-recording you get your documents back in minutes. With over-the-counter paper, we're talking about days."

Stewart Title has 45 Houston-area offices and is the largest title company to sign-on with the system so far. Stewart Morris is the company's president and says the new system unclogs lines at the Clerk's office and allows other customers to get their business done more quickly.

"The clerk's office is not faced with a huge volume of recordings that are brought in at the end of the day by the title companies that need to be recorded timely, so we're relieving the pressure on the staff at the County Clerk's office too.

The County hopes other local title companies will also adopt the system and expects several more to sign-on next week. Only about 200 counties across the nation currently utilize e-recording for real estate transactions.

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