Our Featured Notary for June is Vivian Ladd, owner of Ladd’s Notary Service in Prescott, Arizona. Vivian became a notary in the 70s but began her career as a notary public and signing agent in 2002. She’s a National Notary Association Certified Signing Agent.
Notary Signing Agent
Q: Vivian, when did you start your notary business?
A: I started Ladd’s Notary Service in 2002 in Prescott, Arizona. We moved to Arizona in July of 2001 from Michigan. Knowing that I was a notary in Michigan, a family member suggested that we open a notary business because she said it was impossible to find a notary to sign anything after banker’s hours. After working 26 years at the University of Michigan in an 8 to 5 job, I opted for something with a little more freedom. I do enjoy taking a day off now and then to take a ride or hike into the breath taking Arizona territories.
Q:Why did you decide to become a notary?
A: I became a notary in Michigan in the 1970’s. I worked for the University of Michigan at that time in the Personnel Office. They asked me to become a Michigan notary public so that I could notarize the new employee’s oaths during their orientation sessions. I have kept my notary commission since that time.
After I became commissioned in Arizona in 2002, I attended a National Notary Association conference and learned of the opportunities for doing loan signings. I signed up with some signing services and title companies at that time. Then other companies in the Arizona area contacted me to do signings for them. Soon I had more business than I could handle, and my husband, Gary, became a notary. He handled many of the signings that were a distance away.
Q: What was your first signing experience?
A: One of my first signing experiences was quite daunting. I met with a couple to do the signing and he was obviously inebriated. He kept arguing with his wife throughout the signing. I finished the signing and sent it back but heard later that they had cancelled it. At most of my signings, the borrowers appreciate my coming to their home and my help in going through the signing process with them. Once in awhile you meet clients that have their own issues.
Q: Is your business full time or part time?
A: It was full time but with the downturn in signings available, its more part time now. This is OK with us since we became grandparents last year and are able to visit our children and grand babies more often.
Q: How many hours a week do you work now? When the industry is thriving?
A: I work approximately 10-15 hours a week now. When the industry was thriving, we were doing 30 – 40 hours/week.
Q: Do you work with signing companies?
A: Yes, approximately 75% of my business is through signing companies.
Q: What percentage of your business is loan signings, legal, medical, other?
A: Approximately 80% loan signings, 20% other.
Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what do you average for a loan signing?
A: $65 to $125 per signing depending on distance to signings, printing documents, additional faxing, etc. Other types of signings? Mobile signings and signings in my home office doing car titles, legal documents, other documents that need notarizing.
Q: Do you have a minimum fee?
A: Yes, $65 for loan signings and of course, the Arizona fee of $2.00 per notarized signature for other signings. For mobile signings, Arizona allows notaries to charge 44.5 cents per mile. Once in awhile I hear of notaries charging $25 to $40 to do a mobile signing in the immediate area. I hope the state doesn’t catch them or they will lose their commission. (Editor’s note: Unlike many states, Arizona is strict about fees. The rules don’t care if you drive for an hour and spend three hours with the customer: You can only charge for the signatures and mileage. No “service” or any other fee is tolerated. Being a notary is looked on as a public service not as a method for producing income. One complaint and your commission is revoked.)
Q: How have the changes in the industry and/or economy affected you?
A: Our income is about half of what it was a year ago.
Q: How are you overcoming those changes?
A: I have taken on additional jobs such as doing bookkeeping for several clients.
Q: Do you have a business plan?
A: Yes, but I must admit its hard to stay on track because of the problems in the mortgage industry.
Q: What percentage of your net income do you spend on advertising?
A: I use to spend close to 15% but am not able to do that at this time.
Q: Where do you advertise?
A: Local phone books, various websites, i.e., NSA, GoGetNotary.com, and NotaryRotary.com, and handing out business cards to everyone I come in contact with.
Q: How do you network?
A: Through local notaries, notaries I meet at NNA conferences or local AZ workshops.
Q: What professional organizations do you belong to?
A: National Notary Association. I have considered joining the Prescott Chamber of Conference but have not done so as yet because of the cost. It would be a great networking opportunity.
Q: What skills or traits are essential for a notary to succeed?
A: A good personality, the desire to help people, attention to details, willingness to do research to name a few.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about a career as a notary?
A: That it’s easy money. Many of my borrowers ask how they can get into doing this type of work. After I explain the commissioning process and the cost of getting into the business and the insurances needed because of the liabilities you are subjected to, they think twice about it.
Q: What advice would you give a notary starting today?
A: EDUCATE YOURSELF. Get as much training as you can either by attending state workshops for notaries, read publications and attend conferences of notary organizations that you belong to, and read everything you can about notarizations.
Q: What advice would you give a notary who wants to take their business to the next level?
A: Network with as many people in the mortgage field as you can, network with other notaries, make sure you know and follow the rules for notaries public within your state or you may lose your commission.
Q: What books are tops on your recommended reading list?
A: The AZ Notary Public Reference Manual
Q: What has been your most unusual/memorable signing experience so far?
A: Most signings are uneventful. I have been in million-dollar homes and rundown shacks to do signings but most people are very appreciative of my services. I love visiting people’s home and meeting with them, their families and their pets. I find that if you are friendly to their family and pets, they are more cooperative with you.
Q: What has been the key to your success?
A: When I started our business, there wasn’t many signing agents in the area. Getting in on the ground floor was helpful. Now with more people in the business, we try to be available when our clients call at the last minute, are willing to travel longer distances, and communicate constantly with our clients so that they are aware of the status of the loan. A thank you to your client also goes along with.
Q: What is your experience in getting paid in a timely manner?
A: I have several clients that pay within 2-4 weeks. That is great. But then I have some clients that I have to hound for payment. I hate the NSF checks that I never seem to be able to collect on. I not only lose out on the signing fee but am also charged additional fees through my bank. Since the beginning of the year, several of my newer clients I have done work for have apparently gone out of business and bounced their checks or have not paid me at all.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I have considered leaving the notary signing business at times because of the economy and the shortage of work, but whatever signings we are able to do helps pay the bills. With so many people in the mortgage industry and signing agents losing their jobs, I thank God that I am in Arizona and have the work that my clients send to me. I let them know each time they hire me how much I appreciate them.
Thanks, Vivian, for your time. I know many notaries will appreciate your comments and will relate to your thoughts about the industry right now.
To learn more about Vivian, please visit her GGN listing.