Our Featured Notary for February is Christine Ortiz, a Mobile Notary and Certified Signing Agent in Wailuku on the Hawaiian island of Maui. She has more than 16 years dedicated to mortgage loan processing and notary signings and has notarized thousands of documents over the years. Think there’s a difference between how a professional notary functions on Maui and the Continental U.S.? Check out Christine’s story.
Mobile Notary/Certified Signing Agent
Q: When did you start your notary business?
A: I started mobile signings two years ago, but have been doing signings of mortgage docs for a total of more than 15 years.
Q: Why did you decide to become a notary?
A: I was an underwriter and processor for 15 years, and the company needed me to be able to do the signings for our clients.
Q: What was your first signing experience?
A: Well, I cannot remember really. I started doing signings for our mortgage clients more than 15 years ago and I don’t think it was particularly memorable.
Q: Is your business full time or part time?
A: Full time.
Q: How many hours a week do you work now?
A: I work about 15-20 hours a week doing signings and the paperwork associated with those signings; however, I do spend additional time each week doing research, marketing, helping others in forums, etc. It has slowed down a bit, but not as dramatic as on the mainland.
Q: Do you work with signing companies?
A: Yes, many of them.
Q: What percentage of your business is loan signings, legal, medical, other?
A: 99% of my signings are mortgage signings. That is what my target market is. They are the most profitable type of signings and are also my specialty. I do inspections, and personal notaries, but they account for a very small percentage of my business.
Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what do you average for a loan signing?
A: $100 overnight docs. $125 e-docs. $25 additional concurrent loan. $50 inspections. $50 modifications. I also have specialized signings like when I fly to another island and those and run around $400.
Q: Do you have a minimum fee?
A: Basically I will not leave the house for less than $50. I won’t do a regular mortgage signing for less than $90. Typically, however, there are exceptions where I will do them for $75. Usually those are equity loans or small packages like the ones that Quicken does. All my fees are negotiable. I take each call as it comes in and I am open for negotiations in every case.
Q: Have the changes in the industry or economy affected you?
A: Well, I have noticed that many signing companies are offering lower fees than before. I have had to be more particular about what I will accept. I also have to be more careful about who I work with because some of these companies are going out of business. I do more extensive research on any new companies that call me to make sure they are a strong company and will pay me.
Another item that has become more of an issue is the price of gas. It is $4.00 a gallon here in Maui so I take that into account when I have a greater distance to drive. I need to charge a bit more for long drives because of this.
Q: How are you countering negative changes?
A: I make sure I take good care of my clients so they will come back to me and I am just vigilant about giving quality service so they remember me and use me regularly.
Q: Do you have a business plan?
A: Yes. I have had the goal to earn the same as I did when I worked part time as a processor. I have achieved that and actually have made more than I did working part time. Of course, I would like to increase my amount of signings. I would like to increase it by another 1/3. That would be a nice volume of work to do.
My goal is to be the FIRST person that notary companies call for a signing. I emphasize that often in my marketing.
Q: What percentage of your net income do you spend on advertising?
A: Not too much. I did more in the beginning, but now more of my business is repeat business and word of mouth. I used to pay for listings on sites, but now I am very particular about that. I wasn’t receiving calls on many paid sites, just because they did not have clients in Maui. Most of my marketing is done by myself.
Q: Where do you advertise?
A: Mostly notary sites such as the NNA site and your site (GoGetNotary.com)! I do have a website as well. A lot of it is just done by myself. I write emails to companies when I have not heard from them in awhile just reminding them I am here if they need anything. That works well also.
Q: How do you network?
A: Well, certain forums are good, however many can be very negative. I like the Mobile Notary Network site. I go there everyday and find interesting information there. I have also received calls and emails from other notaries asking for information as well and it expands from there.
Q: What professional organizations do you belong to?
A: National Notary Association, American Society of Notaries, United Notary Association.
Q: What skills or traits do you think are essential for a notary to succeed?
A: Must be detail oriented! It is imperative that you are a stickler to detail as most errors occur due to oversights of important information and carelessness. Every notary company and lender has their own way of doing things so you must read everything carefully and check your work thoroughly.
I think people skills are important as well. You must be able to make a borrower/customer feel at ease. Getting a mortgage can be stressful for some people and making the signings process a positive experience is important.
Another trait I feel is important is being open to new ideas. The industry changes all the time and you need to be able to change with it. Also, every company you work with has different expectations and requirements and you must be open to that.
Good communication skills are also important. I am in constant communication with my clients. I update them often on status of each closing and make sure they are always kept informed. I also follow up with my clients after the signing to make sure all is going smoothly and make sure they do not need anything additional from me.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about a career as a notary?
A: That we are just there to provide a signature and stamp. As you can see from my above answer, there is much more to it if you want to do it well. You are there to provide an important service.
Q: What advice would you give a notary starting today?
A: Follow my previous comments. I also feel a signing agent should know the basics of how the mortgage process occurs from start to finish. If you have a basic understanding of that, you will understand your part in the process and realize how important it is. Also, in the beginning, take some time to read the docs yourself on your own time. By being familiar with the docs you present to borrowers, it can help you to provide a clear, brief explanation of each document that they sign.
Many times you are the only person a borrower sees and usually the last person they see. Even though the borrower technically knows you are not part of the transaction, they still will remember their experience and will connect it with the lender. I feel it is important that they come away feeling good about their experience.
Just be professional and open and you will be okay. Educate yourself. There is a lot of information out there; you just need to look for it.
Q: What advice would you give a notary who wants to take their business up a notch?
A: Work to improve your business skills, marketing and education. I continue to strive to improve my business everyday. I constantly am researching and educating myself on any new ideas and ways to increase my amount of signings. Education is important in helping you to increase your skills and thus making you better at what you do.
Q: What resources do you use for education?
A: I mostly educated myself with information I gain through research online and, of course, through my experience as an underwriter. That was a significant part of my education.
Q: What has been your most unusual or memorable signing experience so far?
A: Well, I did a signing at a house that was pretty run down and had several pit bulls caged in the front yard. When I arrived they all started to bark at me… a bit intimidating, yes. The borrower introduced himself and said they are there for his protection… nice. Anyway, we sat down at his table and started signing and all during the signing people kept appearing out of nowhere. This was a small house but people kept coming out of rooms and going back into rooms. There had to have been 10 people living there. Anyway, we were finishing up after about a half hour and I noticed something moving on the couch a few feet away from me: it was another person! He had been sleeping there the whole time and I didn’t even see him. He was under a blanket just sleeping away a few feet from me. He said, “hello,” and then went back under the blanket. I had to go back to that house three times for different signings. I guess they liked me…lucky me!
Q: What has been the key to your success?
A: Being professional. I take my work seriously and want to do the best work I can possibly do. I know my role is important in the process of closing a loan and clients appreciate that. They know I will go above and beyond what is necessary and will always come through for them. My clients know they can count on me and that I rarely make mistakes. If the occasional mistake does occur on my part or the part of the lender, title or signing company, they know I will do whatever is necessary to rectify the situation and make the loan close smoothly.
Thanks for your insight and tips, Christine. Your scenery and weather may be quite different from what we have stateside, but it’s clear the basics of professionalism, attention to detail and continuing education are the same for notaries everywhere.
To learn more about Christine, please visit her web page, GGN website.