Your real estate business involves the completion of countless documents and forms to close a transaction, many of which require clients to seek the services of a notary public. Though notarization is a simple process, it requires some training and licensure — all within reach to those who want to gain new, marketable skills and top off their income.
As a real estate agent, you’re in a prime position to take advantage of these business opportunities and expand your earning potential by becoming a notary public.
The function of a notary public
Notaries public serve an important purpose in the verification of signed documents for a wide array of transactions. Notaries are the impartial witnesses to legal agreements. They confirm each signer is a willing participant and help mitigate fraud.
As a licensed notary public, you can perform:
- acknowledgments to confirm the identity of the signer of a document;
- jurats to witness the signing of a document and administer an oath to the signer confirming the contents of the document are true;
- proofs of execution to confirm the identity of a signer through a witness who appears on the signer’s behalf;
- copy certifications of a power of attorney; and
- the taking of depositions.
Acknowledgments and jurats are the most commonly performed notarial services. In fact, what most people refer to when requesting a document be “notarized” is a simple acknowledgment of a signature. For example, a trust deed is required to be notarized through an acknowledgment prior to being recorded with the county.
While each notarial act requires a notary to follow specific procedures, the basic process involves confirming a signer’s identity, completing a notary certificate and affixing a notarial seal.
Once licensed as a notary public, you may either work independently or under an employer. A notary commission gives you the authority to perform notarial acts anywhere within California.
Why become a notary?
As a real estate agent, you frequently encounter real estate documents that require notarization. Further, you are already entrenched in the completion of these forms, often requiring you to explain the contents of disclosures and agreements to clients.
Thus, your position as a real estate agent and familiarity with real estate forms provide a unique opportunity to take advantage of readily available business in your office and enhance your income through in-house notarizations — the business comes to you!
Importantly, you are prohibited from notarizing documents for your own clients since your personal financial interest in their transactions creates a conflict of interest. [Calif. Government Code §8224]
Thus, it is best practice to avoid a conflict of interest by refusing to notarize a document for a transaction in which you will receive a fee. This effectively prohibits all real estate brokers from notarizing documents for in-house transactions.
However, as a real estate agent and notary public in your office, you can provide in-house notarization services for clients of other agents you work with — and collect fees for your services.
You are permitted to charge a fee for each notarial act performed (e.g., one fee per signature acknowledged). Though a notary is not required to charge a fee for their services, they are subject to the following maximum fee amounts:
- $15 for each signature acknowledged;
- $15 for administering an oath or affirmation and executing a jurat;
- $30 for taking a deposition, $7 for administering an oath for a deposition and $7 for the deposition certificate;
- $15 for certifying a copy of a power of attorney; and
- 30 cents per line item copied from your notary journal by request. [Gov C §8206(a)]
But increasing your earning potential through in-house notarizations is only one component of the notary services you can provide. A notary public commission also permits you to perform services as an independent mobile notary.
A mobile notary travels from location to location to perform notarial acts, including notarizations for various types of real estate or mortgage transactions outside of your brokerage office. This approach allows you to increase the volume of notarial services you provide and, thus, your profit.
Mobile notaries earn higher income not only through the increased business their mobility provides, but also through their ability to charge clients additional fees for travel.
Further, as a notary public who frequently performs notarial services for lenders, title companies or other financial agencies, you can leverage your notary business by obtaining certification and marketing yourself as a mortgage signing agent.
Though additional training and certification are not required by law to act as a signing agent, many financial institutions require a notary public to be certified as a mortgage signing agent before obtaining their services — a simple process that requires you to complete a certification course to prove you’ve gained adequate knowledge and training to handle mortgage documents.
Becoming a notary public
Obtaining your California notary public commission is a fairly simple process. To qualify, you need to:
- be at least 18 years old;
- be a legal resident of California;
- complete a 6-hour training course;
- pass the State Notary Exam; and
- clear a background check. [Gov C §8201]
The required 6-hour notary course may be completed in a live class or online. However, it must be pre-approved by the California Secretary of State (SOS), who oversees notary licensing and practice. The course is designed to:
- provide training to prospective notaries;
- give students an overview of the duties and responsibilities of a notary public;
- standardize notarial knowledge and practice; and
- prevent consumer complaints and litigation due to notary misconduct.
Editor’s note — first tuesday’s SOS-approved 6-hour notary training course covers all the fundamentals of California notary practice. Our online course uniquely includes over 200 simulated practice questions to help you master the State Notary Exam. Sign up for our notary course here for just $49.50.
Once you complete the 6-hour course, you will receive a Proof of Completion certificate evidencing your course completion. The certificate is valid for two years and must be submitted to the SOS with your Notary Public Application when sitting for the State Notary Exam.
The State Notary Exam is offered at multiple locations throughout California and is conveniently scheduled online by each applicant through CPS HR Consulting.
On passing the exam, your next step is to submit your Live Scan fingerprints and clear a background check within one year from your exam date — fingerprint processing can take up to four weeks.
Once your application has been approved, the SOS will send you a notary commission packet containing your commission certificate and information about obtaining your notary supplies.
To finalize your notary public commission, you will need to:
- obtain a $15,000 surety bond and file it with your county clerk; and
- file an oath of office with your county clerk.
If the above steps are not completed within 30 days of receiving your commission packet, you will be required to reapply for the notary commission and resubmit your fingerprints.
All that’s left after qualifying your notary commission is preparing for your practice as a notary public by obtaining your:
- sequential notarial journal; and
- official seal (from an authorized manufacturer listed in your commission packet).
That’s it! In total, the licensing process can take as little as one month, but will depend on how quickly you complete each step.
Keeping your commission current
A notary public commission is valid for four years. To renew, a notary public applies for reappointment to obtain a new notary commission prior to the expiration of their current notary commission.
Notary renewal is nearly identical to the licensing process, except a renewing notary may take a truncated 3-hour refresher course for their education requirement instead of the 6-hour course.
After completing the renewal education, the notary needs to pass the State Notary Exam and submit Live Scan fingerprints.
When the notary does not complete the renewal process prior to the expiration of their existing commission, they will be required to retake the 6-hour training course.
Notary renewal provides the notary public with a new commission number, requiring them to obtain a new seal and sequential journal.
If you’re ready to get started with the notary public licensing process, check out our 6-hour notary course here. Already a notary public? Use our 3-hour refresher course here to renew your notary term.
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