Thursday, 29 November 2012

The trials and tribulations of a small real estate law firm

I had a post started for tonight and I fell asleep on the couch after dinner, and reading it now I can't get back into the flow I was in when I started.  So...substitute post.  Kind of sleep-stupid.  NO JUDGING MY PUNCTUATION.

We had a technology problem at work today.  It's not the first time, nor do I imagine it will be the last, but each time, it's a gut-wrenching, nauseating experience.

I work in a primarily  residential real-estate-based law firm. We do litigation, wills & estates, but real estate pays the bills, and keep the doors open. 

There are some things about our firm that are a little different.  One of the things I like is that most of our clients and business are very local.  When we get in agreements of purchase and sale, most of them are on streets I am familiar with in the immediate neighbourhood, from the Annex through to High Park.  Our clients enjoy the ability to make appointments in the evenings, or on the weekends, one of the main differences between being a small boutique firm versus a big Bay Street office.  We're a street-front office, so we take walk-ins for notarizing documents and people who decide they might need a will before they go on vacation in two weeks. 

We have two real estate lawyers who work in satellite offices, and remotely connect to our office.  If you call our main line, we can still connect your call through the phone system to the lawyer's extension, whichever office he's working in.  We have a cloud server, VOIP phone and fax lines, and many of the documents we require for daily business come in via either fax or the internet.

I've talked to lots of people who say they'd never get a VOIP line (voice over internet protocol) because what if they lost their line and had an emergency?  My home phone is a VOIP line, and I very rarely lose my connection, or perhaps a better way of describing it is that I very rarely have a problem that rebooting my router can't fix. 

Imagine then, if you will, having your business get phone and fax over VOIP, and losing your connection for a few hours.  Awesome, right?  Can't receive  new deals, which means we might not know we're actually representing a client.  Can't get mortgage instructions if the fax doesn't work, because a bank won't get a message that the fax line is down.  Worst of all, no incoming calls. 

Internet's down.  No email.  No Teraview, which is the online land registry office. Most of our clients connect with us via email or text message, and not being able to receive or respond to messages can be devastating.

In a real estate law office, the hour between four and five o'clock is both endless and far, far too short.  A technology problem can compound the stress of that last hour of the day and ramp it up into the stratosphere.

Today, our conveyancer software (the database software we use to keep track of and work our real estate transactions) needed to be tweaked - the customer service representative said, I just need to re-key your system, and that should fix the problem you're having, where your system stalls for thirty seconds, several times a day.

Rekeying crashed our brand new server.  Fortunately I'd already closed all but one of my real estate deals...sales clients had gotten their funds and their mortgages were paid out, and purchase clients had gotten the keys to their new houses.  We had one deal that was going to close later, because their mortgage was a last minute affair, so we knew it would be later in the afternoon.  No sweat, that one-thirty server crash.

At four o'clock, I started to feel differently.  You can only register a document in the land registry office until five pm, so a real estate closing has a hard deadline before you start getting into breach of contract territory.  Most times, you're on the same side as the other both want the same thing.  Purchasers want their keys, vendors want their sale proceeds.

Today, my last closing was an eager first time home-buyer who'd been rejected by his first mortgagee, and got his mortgage at the eleventh hour, the day before closing.  I signed him yesterday at six-thirty (commissioner of oaths for the win), but we didn't get funded until after 2pm today.  The other lawyer called me at 4:49pm and said, can you go into Teraview and make your land transfer tax statements, then I can sign for release, please?

I had noticed after the server crash that my computer clock had gone back to 9am, and that despite changing it a couple of times, it reverted back to what it regarded as the correct time, which was quite a bit earlier in the day.  How awesome if it could be that turn back time and just let it roll.

Teraview, however, has its own internal clock.  A clock which didn't jive with my (or K's) computer's reckoning of time, and which dug in its heels and said, uhn-uhn, can't do that.  K and I worked frantically for ten minutes before we finally had to give up, and I  had to call the vendor's lawyer.

Depending on the other lawyer, there can be a huge process after 5pm when a real estate transaction doesn't get registered.  Many lawyers will say, I've got your funds, you've got my keys, let's close in escrow, give everyone their stuff and register in the morning.  Some will say, after 5pm I want you to pay for another title search ($20 for a local search, more if it's out of your area) to show that nothing new has been registered on title before I commit to an escrow closing.  A few will say, suck it, the purchaser can stay in a hotel and the vendor doesn't get their sale proceeds and we'll extend till tomorrow.  I never know what attitude I'll get on the other end of the phone, especially if the reason the deal hasn't closed is a problem that originates with our office, so the call is always made with hat in hand.

Today I was lucky. The vendor's lawyer and I had agreed earlier in the day that we were both on the same side, wanting the deal to close.  Her clients had no problem releasing the keys, and in turn got to deposit their sale proceeds today instead of tomorrow.

Our IT guru will fix the server's internal clock overnight.  In the morning, I'll update the land transfer tax statements to enable the other lawyer to release the deed for registration, and then we'll register.  Another weekday, and a bunch more closings, as befits the last day of the month.

As much as I'm disappointed by having a hold-over closing, that disappointment is hugely mitigated by the memory of my client's face when he accepted the envelope that held the keys to his very first home purchase.  It's the very best part of my job.

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