Our Featured Notary for August is Alice Tulecki of Documents & Professional Services, LLC, in Brick, New Jersey. Alice has been an active force in bringing together notaries and signing agents in that state as well as working with legislative committees on notary public regulations.
Documents & Professional Services, LLC
Q: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Alice. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you start your notary business?
A: I became a notary in 1991, but didn’t start full time about 2001.
Q: Why did you decide to become a notary?
A: My job required it. At the time, I didn’t even know what a notary did. I remember receiving a little book from the Ocean County, NJ, Clerk but it didn’t provide much info. Fortunately, NNA (National Notary Association) came through about that time with one of their notary classes and I attended that.
Q: What was your first signing experience?
A: My first notarizations were when I worked for a non-profit organization, and we had to do background checks. One of my early experiences was having someone come in the office for a job, and when they found out I was going to notarize their signature and that required their ID, and I was going to log their information into a journal, well, that person excused herself to go to the rest room…but she never came back. That was my introduction in how a notary’s work can deter someone who may be about to commit fraud.
As for my first loan signing, JMT (signing company) called from California and asked if I could do a signing. I didn’t know what that meant. They gave wonderful support. They explained what happened in a signing, gave me guidelines, and told me they would have someone available on the phone during the signing if I needed help. I still do work for them.
Q: How many hours a week do you work?
A: The busiest weeks, I may do 10 to 15 closings, about 40 to 50 hours with travel time.
Q: Besides JMT, do you work with other signing companies?
A: I work mainly with signing companies because there’s less aggravation. I do work directly with a few title and lender companies who are reputable, meaning they don’t ask for back dating and they pay on time.
Q: What percentage of your business is loan signings, legal, medical, other?
A: I’d say 98% of my business is loan signings. I notarize wills on occasion but I advise the customers that they should see an attorney. If they still want me to Notarize, I request they have available two impartial witnesses. I also, stress they cannot be related in any form. These assignments usually occur in a nursing home or hospital. I also, question them regarding their health, willingness knowledge of what they are about to sign. I question the witnesses as to their relationship to the signer and advice them that they are witnesses to the signing and notarizations only. If someone calls for something personal, I recommend they try their bank first. I try to do what’s best for the customer.
Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what do you average for a loan signing?
A: $75 is my base, but I negotiate if there’s more than one loan. I recently began doing E-docs and the require a mininum $25 print fee. These fees are for simple refi’s. Fees for more complex signing range from $100 to $250.00. Fees seem to vary widely depending on what part of the country you’re in.
Q: Do you have a minimum fee?
A: I won’t go below $50 for a loan signing, and that’s generally something close by, scheduled well in advance and not complicated.
Q: How have changes in the industry or economy affected you?
A: This may be different for other signing agents, but the packages don’t seem to be as large as they used to be. Verifying identification is a bigger issue now. Companies want copies of the ID. More mortgage companies are sending papers with “fill-ins” such as writing in the information from IDs, how many years on the job, insurance info, etc., which is time consuming. Other companies have fax-backs, too, since some companies like 1003’s, HUDs or other forms faxed to them right away. It all takes more time and has to be considered in your fees. When I began signing around 1992, all I did was journal, notarize, return documents.
Q: Do you have a business plan?
A: Not a formal plan. I was semi-retired when I decided to make this a full-time business so I haven’t gone after it as aggressively as if I was just starting out in life. I work full time most weeks but I have my priorities. Fortunately, this job blends in with my life, seeing my friends and time with my grandchildren. I can adjust to the industry cycles and just go with the flow.
Q: What percentage of your net income do you spend on advertising?
A: I’m not sure of the percentage but it’s about $500 to $600 a year for a website and I’m in several directories.
Q: How do you network?
A: I network with other notaries. In fact, I started the New Jersey Notary Network to have more opportunities to get together with other signing agents. Every meeting we learn from each other. There’s always something new to share. And when you know and trust a few notaries, you can refer business to them if you’re already booked or if the appointment is out of your area. If you help a signing company with a referral when you’re not available, they’ll know you’re a good resource and come back.
Q: What professional organizations do you belong to?
A:National Notary Association and their Signing Agent and Small Business Divisions; the Pennsylvania Association of Notaries and the American Society of Notaries.
Q: What advice would you give a notary starting today?
A: Be patient. You won’t make it overnight. Set yourself up, get your equipment, start looking on the Internet for directories and forums, but don’t believe everything you read on the forums. Most importantly, continue your education. Connect with other seasoned Notaries.
Q: What advice would you give a notary who wants to take their business to the next level?
A: The sky’s the limit if you will take time to market yourself. Also, if you’re not set up for e-docs yet, you should get the equipment you need to accept and print e-docs. But make sure when you agree to e-docs that you get at least a 4-hour window for printing in case you have problems.
Q: What was your most memorable signing experience?
A: Fortunately it was a pleasant experience. An attorney called and wanted to meet me to notarize personal documents in a town that’s very ritzy. When we arrived at this beautiful mansion, the maid showed us into the sitting room and went to announce us to the mistress of the house. A very elegant woman joined us and introduced herself. Then she led us to a table that was already set with crystal, china and silverware. She served us fruit, crackers and tea before the signing. That was certainly the most special treatment I’ve ever received at a notarization.
Q: What books are tops on your recommended reading list?
A: Any notary books, pamphlets, articles, etc., you can find are good. Keep reading and educating yourself. I also explore different state websites to see what’s happening in other states even though the laws don’t apply to New Jersey. MyFlorida.com is the site I’m most impressed with; they have pages and pages on their state notary section. Sometimes this site shows us where we fall short. I’m always learning. NJ laws and statues don’t change; however, I have noticed that we forget more than we remember. If we don’t do some things often enough, these are the things we forget.
Thanks so much, Alice, for taking the time to share your comments with us. To learn more about Alice, visit her GGN website.