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What Is A Notary Public? The Role In Real Estate Transactions

8-Minute Read
Published on May 27, 2022
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When your closing day arrives, there’s one person (besides yourself and your seller, of course) who will always be crucial to completing the sale: the notary signing agent, or NSA. While you may have heard the word “notary” a million times, you may not know exactly what this crucial party does at the closing table.

Today, let’s break down what a notary is and why you need one when you buy your home.

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What Is A Notary?

A notary public is an official appointed by the state government to serve as an impartial witness to protect against fraud when parties sign documents. They can authorize various types of notarizations, including acknowledgments, copy certifications, oaths, affirmations and signature witnessing.

In simpler terms, this means a notary is someone who makes sure documents are signed the way they’re supposed to be and by the right people. You’ll need a notary to make specific documents, such as the papers you’ll sign at closing, legitimate and legally binding.

Notarized Documents: A Definition   

A notarized document is a document that has been certified to be legitimate and legally binding by a notary. Once a notary has screened the signers to confirm their identities and that they know what they’re signing – and are willing to sign – they assure everything is done properly and then certify the documents with their signature and seal.

A document bearing a notary’s signature and seal is considered “genuine” and holds more weight in court than noncertified documents.

The Responsibilities Of A Notary Signing Agent 

A notary signing agent, or NSA, is a notary public that has been trained to deal with loan documents. In the case of your mortgage, this includes the documents you’ll sign at closing. Like any other notary, an NSA has many responsibilities. The main difference between an NSA and a regular notary is that an NSA deals with more specialized documents relating to loans and real estate.

NSAs are responsible for printing loan documents, witnessing and verifying the signing of these papers and then sending them where they need to go.

How Notarization Works

As mentioned above, when documents are notarized they go through a process overseen by a notary public. This process usually follows these steps:

  • Your notary will usually require that you appear in person to sign documents. There are some methods of remote notarization in which you can work with a notary via video call, but not all states or lenders allow it. Rocket Mortgage® currently does not allow remote online notarization (RON) on purchase closings.
  • The notary will make sure you are who you say you are. Before you sign any documents, your NSA will want to make sure you’re not committing identity fraud by performing an acknowledgement. We’ll explain this in more detail later on.
  • Your documents will be reviewed. A notary will make sure your documents are formatted, worded and dated accurately. They’ll also assure the name on your ID matches the documents.
  • Most notaries will create a record of the signing. In many states, notaries are required to do this. They’ll record the details of your notarization and collect any information they may need in the future such as your signature.
  • Finally, the notary will sign and seal your documents. Once a notary has deemed all your documentation signed and completed to their satisfaction, they’ll sign and seal the papers to mark them as legitimate.

Identifying A Signer

As referenced above, one of the most important parts of notarization is confirming the identities of the signers at the closing table. Your notary will likely request to see multiple forms of identification from you, which could include a passport or driver’s license. In some states, notaries may also find credible identifying witnesses who can vouch for your identity.

What Are The Different Types Of Notarial Acts?

There are several different notarial acts a notary can perform. Here are a few examples.

Acknowledgment

Acknowledgement is the name of the process of your notary verifying your identity and that you signed a document willingly. This process includes the notary verifying your forms of identification and consulting any credible identifying witnesses if necessary. They will also ask you a few basic questions to make sure you know what you’re signing and you’re willing to endorse the documents with your signature.

Jurats

A jurat may also be known as an affidavit, a verification on oath or an affirmation depending on the jurisdiction. A jurat requires the signer of a document to swear or put in writing for the notary that the information in the document they’re having notarized is true. Once the signer has put in writing or spoken aloud that the contents of their documents are truthful, they can be prosecuted for lying under oath if the information in the notarized documents turns out to be false.

Copy Certification

A copy certification is the creation of a duplicate document that is a true and confirmed copy of the actual original document. Some items that you may require a “confirmed” copy of could include diplomas, driver’s licenses, passports, leases, social security cards, etc.

Not every state allows for the creation of certified copies. If yours does, you can use a copy of a document certified by a notary just as you would the original document. Look into your state’s notary laws on nationalnotary.org.

Signature Witnessing 

Signature witnessing is similar to an acknowledgement in that the notary confirms the identity of a signer or signers. The only difference between an acknowledgement and signature witnessing is that with this type of notarial act, the NSA must actually witness the party or parties signing their documents in person. With an acknowledgement, the parties to a document may sign the paper before bringing it to be notarized as long as their identities are confirmed.

What Is The Cost Of Notary Services?

So, how much does it cost to have documents notarized? The answer is that it varies, both based on what notarial acts you need and what state you live in. Each state sets its own fees that notaries may charge for their services, which you can check on nationalnotary.org.

In general, though, you can expect to pay $75 – $200 for a notary’s total services at closing.

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When Do You Need A Notary?

Besides the closing table, there are other places in life that you may need to find a notary to certify document signatures. For example, if you want to write a will or living trust, you’ll need a notary to certify the documents and your identity. The same goes for granting someone power of attorney or attempting to transfer property to a family member. In any situation where you’re signing important legal documents, consider hiring a notary to protect yourself, your identity and your finances.

Why Are Notary And Loan Signing Agents Required? 

Notary services are required to prevent fraud and certify the legitimacy of documents and the information recorded in them. NSAs are required during the home loan closing process because they confirm the identities of home buyers and help record changes in real estate title.

It is the NSA’s job to ensure that the proceedings are free from fraud and duress and to administer oaths that advise the parties that their statements are made under penalty of perjury. Their services help make sure there are no title defects or confusions in the future, should the property be bought and sold again.

How To Get Something Notarized

Now that you know what a notary is and what they do, let’s talk about how to get something notarized, whether you need to for a home loan or you’re considering creating a will or other important document.

Step 1: Determine What Type Of Notarization You Need

The first step to getting something notarized is determining what type of notarization you actually need. If you’re going to be closing on a home loan, you will probably need to have an acknowledgment or signature witnessing, but if you just need a certified copy of your driver’s license, you may only need copy certification. 

Step 2: Ensure That The Document Is Complete And Find A Notary 

Once you know what document you need notarized, verify that your document is complete. That means making sure there are no blank spaces, incorrect dates or sections with incomplete information. Once you’re certain the document is in good shape, you can find a notary.

There are many places you can find a notary public. A good place to start if you’re not sure where to begin is a local post office or lawyer’s office. You can even have some notarial services done for you at the UPS Store. There are some websites, like the American Association of Notaries, that also have resources to help find a notary near you.

Step 3:  Bring Acceptable Identification

For the purposes of acknowledgement or having a signature witnessed, bring multiple forms of ID for the notary to use when verifying your identity. This includes things like your driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, etc. In some cases, you may also be able to bring a credible identifying witness that can prove your identity to the notary.

In some states, there may be varying rules surrounding who can act as a credible witness. In Florida and California, for example, a credible identifying witness may not be someone who has a financial interest in the transaction related to the notarization. This means that family members often do not qualify as witnesses.

Step 4:  Be Sure The Name On The ID Matches The Name On The Document

Before presenting your documents and identification to the notary, check that the name on your ID matches the name on the document you’re having notarized. If you’ve recently changed your first name, middle name or surname and your ID does not match the name on your documents, the notary will be unable to certify them.

Step 5: Ensure That Every Signer Is Present

Before meeting with a notary, you should also make sure everyone who is signing or has signed the documents is present. If a party’s signature is being certified, they must be there in person with the notary. 

Step 6: Make Sure The Notary Stamps The Document

Once the notarization is complete, the notary will sign and stamp your document to legitimize it. While it’s unlikely your notary will forget this important final step, it doesn’t hurt to check the documents before you leave.

Step 7: Pay Fees

Finally, after all the notarial services you needed are complete, you can pay the associated fees. If you’re closing on a home loan, these fees will likely be a part of the closing costs you pay on your closing date.

Where Can You Get Something Notarized? 

We named a few places you might look to get something notarized earlier, but here are additional places that could have notary services or resources:

  • Credit unions
  • Banks
  • A hospital
  • A university
  • The post office
  • A lawyer’s office
  • An accountant’s office
  • A package delivery store such as the UPS Store

The Bottom Line 

Notaries are vital to the closing process because they make sure all documents are signed correctly and by the right parties, thus keeping the title of the property free of future issues. Beyond helping complete a home sale, notaries also help legitimize signatures and documents for many other purposes too, like writing up a will or living trust. Odds are, if you’re signing an important legal document, you’ll need to have it notarized.

Researching notaries to prepare for your future closing day? If you’re ready to buy a home, you can start the home loan process online with Rocket Mortgage® today.

Apply Online with Rocket Mortgage

Get approved with Rocket Mortgage® – and do it all online. You can get a real, customizable mortgage solution based on your unique financial situation.

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Sidney Richardson

Sidney Richardson is an intern writer covering homeownership, mortgage and lifestyle topics. She is a senior at Oakland University pursuing a degree in journalism and advertising.