Keeping digital files of your real estate records is a safe, green, and ever-increasingly reliable way to maintain important documents indefinitely. Better still, the right system makes everything searchable and easily accessible. The hardest part of any task is knowing where to start, so here is a step-by-step guide to getting all your relevant files prioritized, organized and, finally, digitized.
1. Figure out what documents you need
Odds are, if you worked with a realtor to find your house, there were a large number of emails exchanged, documents that you were asked to look over, perhaps sign and return. Some of it you will need to retain, other pieces can be safely discarded.
If you are seriously worried about whether or not you need a particular document, there is no harm in keeping it aside, but make sure you are keeping things relevant to the sale of your house, not necessarily things like real estate listings or pages you downloaded off the Internet, even if they deal directly with the house you purchased. You only need the home inspector’s report, not his business card, for example. Odds are, that contact information is in the documentation should you ever need it again. Be smart about what stays and what goes.
Closing documents, inspection reports, easements, etc. are likely more of a necessity than an email from your attorney about the closing date or a text about a counter-offer from the seller. A good rule of thumb: if your signature is on it, you should definitely keep it. That accounts for most closing and inspection documents, among others. You will also want to keep records of ongoing escrow payments made by your lender including property taxes and PMI if applicable.
2. Get Organized
Chances are, at this point you are looking at a heaping mess of papers and a bunch of disorganized files on your computer. This is where various items will need to be more carefully scrutinized. You may find that once all relevant documents being gathered in one place, you may not need certain ones as badly as you previously thought. Quite often, the same information appears in more than one place and if it is going to show up anywhere, chances are it’s going to be in the papers you received at closing so check there first.
3. Scan and File
There are a number of inexpensive software solutions that will let you take all your relevant paper documentation, scan it, merge it with existing digital files, and organize it in a way that will allow you to easily access any pertinent documents quickly and in a single, uniform file format. The most popular of these is PDF and the vast majority of document scanning software solutions have it as an option. If you are going through this process right now, consider asking your realtor, inspector and attorney if your documents can be prepared digitally once everything has been signed. It will save several steps and keep things more organized from the get-go.
Read about three ways to store and organize paperwork and schedules of all kinds on this page.