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Protect the Rights of Homebuyers

Urgent Plea to Amend HB334

For most Americans, their home is more than a residence. It’s also their biggest single investment.

How shocking would it be, then, to come home from work to find the sheriff locking you out of your home because someone pretending to be you had fraudulently sold it. Under a proposed Georgia law that would eliminate critical safeguards to protect consumers in real estate transactions, a criminal colluding with an online attorney could easily steal your identity and, with it, your most prized possession.

In Georgia today, real estate closings are required by law to be supervised by a lawyer, and for good reason. Having a lawyer responsible for the entire process – beginning to end – helps protect consumers plowing their savings into a home purchase. A bill pending in the Georgia General Assembly threatens those needed protections as well as professional jobs across the state.

HB334 would allow Georgia real estate closings for the first time to be conducted online, in a “virtual signing room,” by a remote notary who doesn’t have to be a lawyer nor located in Georgia. It represents a massive, abrupt change that has had no thorough debate or study of how to maintain the accountability and protections Georgia consumers deserve.

I have spent my career protecting the rights and interests of homebuyers. I have practiced real estate law for more than 35 years, and I have stopped many attempts at fraud. These schemes include forging signatures, asking me to notarize documents I didn’t witness or originating loans with stolen identities.

These crimes aren’t hypotheticals. They’re real, and they can financially devastate their victims.

Big Wall Street firms are chomping at the bit to see this bill passed so that they can churn out Georgia real estate closings remotely and online while smiling all the way to the bank. They will be accountable to no one. When a Georgia homebuyer has problems or questions after the online closing, these firms will be nowhere to be found.

Our state senator, Blake Tillery, has taken a strong stand to protect consumers from this legislation. He’s fighting to exempt real estate closings from the bill that allows for remote online notary because the stakes in those transactions are too high. In many other business transactions, remote online notary makes sense and can help businesses run more efficiently. Efficiency is great – except when it endangers the economic security of citizens who’ve worked hard and played by the rules by removing guardrails that protect them.

This bill is already near the finish line. It’s passed the state House and is pending in a Senate committee. Georgia consumers need our state lawmakers to join Tillery’s effort to amend this legislation and protect hard-working Georgia families.

Massie H. McIntyre, Attorney at Law 116 SW Main Street P.O. Box 506 Vidalia, GA 30475

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