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Notary Bulletin
Special Report

How Notaries turned a national shutdown into business success

For many Notaries, this past year was an unprecedented — not because of economic and pandemic woes, but because the need for notarizations was greater than ever due to a combination of an explosive boom of refinancing and new home sales and COVID-driven demand for notarizations related to increasing numbers of trusts and wills. The same COVID pressures that forced the closure of libraries and other traditional public venues for Notary services drove consumer searches for other notarization options to meet their needs.

Part 3 of 3. While many self-employed Notaries expected to have curtailed their activities or shut down their businesses entirely, the opposite proved to be the case. For those who had the right combination of grit, luck and being at the right place at the right time, business was good. And it has the potential to be even better in 2021.

About the Special Report:
In the past year, Notaries as an industry faced — and overcame — remarkable challenges to emerge and thrive in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and a struggling economy. The National Notary surveyed nearly 3,000 Notaries about their business, health and safety experiences over the past several months, and conducted in-depth interviews with Notaries from a wide variety of different backgrounds. In this 3-part series, we share what we learned about how Notaries managed to succeed in the face of unprecedented changes — and where Notaries are headed in the years to come.
Part 1: Notaries rising to the challenges of COVID-19
Part 2: How COVID-19 gave RON a shot in the arm and Notaries new opportunities

A large majority of self-employed Notaries reported business last year as moderate to high, according to the survey, and nearly 5 percent said they couldn’t keep up with demand.

Notary Signing Agents in hot demand

A big part of the boom was directly related to the hot housing and mortgage markets. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s recent market report shows that refi business in 2020 was more than double the previous year. And NSAs saw the benefit.

“It’s been a blessing and curse,” said Clayton Dixon, long-time NSA and owner of Noted! Notary Services in Tustin, California. “My work quadrupled. What I thought was going to happen was that I was going to have to shut down.”

Another California NSA, Maree Contreras, reports that the past year was a “very good” time for her business, and it’s continuing. “Each month my goal is to increase my revenue by $1,000.”

Most of Contreras’ signings have been loan refinances, sellers’ package and house purchases. She’s also done a smattering of reverse mortgages and debt consolidations. She notes that because rates dropped a few times during the pandemic, she saw some of the same signers more than once as they refinanced a second or third time.

Across the country in North Carolina, Cameron Lackey became a mobile Notary in the summer of 2020, and this timing presented numerous challenges as she worked to get her business off the ground, due in part to government office closures due to COVID.

“There was lots of confusion about what I was certified to do, so I had to do a lot of research on my own,” she says. With these questions solved, work took off.

She’s confident that Notary work will help pay her way through graduate school — Lackey will soon be attending East Carolina University’s MBA program.

“This is paying school loans and hopefully will allow me to buy a house,” she says. “So long as there’s work, I’ll continue doing it.”

Pandemic creates new demand for notarizations

The housing and mortgage markets were not the only factors in the boom in Notary business. Overall, demand for Notary services exploded in the past year. Queries to the NNA’s “Find a Notary” page alone exploded by 1,750 percent in the past year.

Maine NSA Carrie Tracy thought she was going to take time off when the pandemic hit. But many libraries, townhalls and other venues with Notary services closed. So people needed to find Notaries elsewhere.

“It’s been a blessing and a curse. My work quadrupled. What I thought was going to happen was that I was going to have to shut down.”

Clayton Dixon, California Notary

With so many people staying home, they are preparing wills, trusts, healthcare directives and similar documents, said California Notary Jonathan Segura.

Robyn Palmer Carlson reported that her Notary earnings last year increased by $10,000 over the previous year, driven largely by requests to notarize various trust and financial documents for individuals.

Other Notaries reported huge boosts in demand for notarizing wills, powers of attorney, pension forms, advance medical directives, 401k withdrawal requests, among other personal documents.

A LegalZoom survey found that about 12% of Americans had created a will or trust in the past 12 months, according to a CNBC report. That trend proved a boon for California Notary Denise Delaney.

“People seem to be reminded of their own mortality,” she said. “They are meeting with their lawyers to get their affairs in order, which can result in lots of documents requiring notarization.”

Two-thirds of self-employed Notaries only work part time, but even these folks have seen their share of business. Nearly three quarters of part-timers report that demand was moderate to “I can’t keep up.”

People who work as mobile Notaries as a part-time sideline in addition to their regular job also found success during the pandemic. Delaney, who works as a field marketing specialist for a real estate brokerage and does Notary work on the side, is one of them.

“The number of notarizations I’ve done is up this year,” she said. “People are stuck at home, cleaning out their desks, and finding things they need to have notarized. People have said they’d rather meet with me than wait around a bunch of people in line at the bank, UPS store, etc.”

Delaney schedules assignments during her lunch hour or on evenings and weekends.

While notarizations continue to be performed in earnest, COVID-19 has certainly changed the way Notaries have handled their duties. Some Notaries have turned to remote online notarization as a safer alternative to in-person services, while others have added extra safety measures for face-to-face appointments.

For Contreras, COVID-19 caused her to pause her notarizations even though the bilingual Notary was getting numerous requests for signings.

“I was scared to go out there,” she says. “I didn’t know how to go about being safe.”

Contreras explains that the fear and concern was due to her own risk factor — she has asthma — and her regular contact with her 90-year-old mother whom she helps to care for.

After four-and-half months and a better understanding of the precautions, Contreras ventured out to start doing notarizations again swaddled in a clear raincoat, gloves and a mask. Contreras says that safety precautions like these have paid off. “People appreciate that I’m wearing a mask — they feel safe,” she says.

2021: The Road Ahead

With a vaccine and better treatments now available, there does seem to be light at the end of the COVID tunnel, but how do the Notaries feel about their immediate future?

Dixon, who is also a paralegal by training, is looking to add immigration services to his menu of offerings and hopes to take the NNA course either in person or online as soon as it’s available.

“It’ll be another income stream,” he says, adding that he expect to continue the same “blessed” success he had in 2020.

Contreras is likewise confident about the future of her Notary business. “I feel the sky’s the limit,” she says. “My goal is a six-figure income.”

Delaney is aggressively using social media to promote her Notary work and educating her 20,000 followers about the ins and outs of notarizations. She sees that as the key to her success.

No matter their individual experiences, goals, or approaches to their business, all of the Notaries can agree on one thing — the critical need for notarizations will continue apace in 2021 and beyond.

 

3 Comments

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Jody Bode

01 Mar 2021

Wouldn’t it had been great if the industry had lobbied for notaries in states without RON to be classified as being in the tier to receive vaccines like other lower level essential workers. Since we have had more contact with the public compared to restaurant workers, it only seems fair. We are always an “essential” after thought, but we survive. Hopefully.

Matt Miller

01 Mar 2021

"For those who had the right combination of grit, luck and being at the right place at the right time, business was good." Sorry Mr. Wolski, there's no luck about it, there's a lot of hard work though!

Gloria

04 Mar 2021

I love the paragraph where Ms. Contreras said she wore a clear raincoat and gloves. I have been referring my clients to UPS STORE because CA won’t allow RON notarizations. If we had been given more options I would not have had to shut down my business.

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