Peninsula real estate data turns digital

When a proud San Mateo County homeowner finally finishes paying off a mortgage, the official proof of that accomplishment is a piece of paper that must be manually carried to the county Recorder’s Office, inspected by a county employee and scanned into the Peninsula’s database.

Soon, transmitting that document, called a deed of reconveyance, will involve no paper at all — only computers.

Eight years after Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Warren Slocum piloted all-electronic recording of real estate documents — and had the effort halted by the state attorney general because of fraud concerns — Slocum is preparing to launch the system anew before he retires at the end of the year.

The electronic recording system will make some transactions paperless for the first time, allowing­ for potentially “tremendous” savings on labor and paper costs for both private companies and the county, Slocum said. For reconveyances alone, the county now processes 50,000 documents per year, said Deputy Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Theresa Rabe.

“The more you can cut out paperwork and cut down on the amount of hours you spend collating and shuffling that paper, you’re just going to save more money,” said spokesman Dustin Hobbs of the California Mortgage Bankers Association.

The county is doing final tests with private sector partner Old Republic National Title Insurance Co. of the $50,000 SECURE electronic system, which was launched by Orange and Los Angeles counties a year ago.

Slocum ran a successful e-recording­ pilot program with three local title companies in 2002. But when the office of then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer heard about the operation, it advised the county to put the process on hold, raising concerns about hacking and fraud with a lack of regulations on the books, Slocum said.

“If the attorney general of California suggests you stop, you should probably stop,” he said.

A 2004 law by then-Assemblyman Mark Leno allowed e-recording for three documents that do not involve an ownership change — deed of reconveyance, substitution of trustee and assignment of deed of trust — but required the systems to be security tested and for users to undergo background checks.

It took until last December for regulations to be finalized by the Attorney General’s Office and for Los Angeles and Orange counties to go online.

Hobbs said concerns about fraud are legitimate, but he said the e-recording systems will actually help combat crime.

“A chain of documents is easier to identify and is all in one place and easy to sort through,” Hobbs said. “That makes it a lot easier and simpler for law enforcement to track down fraudsters.”

Keeping tabs

The San Mateo County Recorder’s Office’s top five types of recorded documents in 2008:

30,257: Reconveyances
28,855: Deeds of trust
21,805: Deeds
18,626: Substitution of trustee documents
12,651: Official recording copy
139,944: Total documents recorded

Recording fees

$15: First page of recorded document
$3: Each additional page

Source: San Mateo County recorder

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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