FRAMINGHAM, Mass. The housing market in the Boston area is hot so times should be good for Ed Rensell, a retired insurance broker who depends on occasional notary public fees to cover income gaps left by his pension. “It’s only $2 a document, but that’s a cup of coffee at McDonald’s,” he says as he glares with envy across the corridor of a shopping mall at the entrance to the Yeoman Farmer’s Savings Bank, formerly a good customer of his.
“This document may be black and white, but your back will be red when I scratch you with these nails.”
That gig is gone, however, as Rensell finds himself displaced by Tony “Sky” Petronelli, a 24-year-old who is garnering rave reviews among mortgage lenders here for the showmanship he brings to otherwise mundane house closings and refinancings. “Tony’s a real boredom-killer,” says Mike Herwitz, Second Assistant Junior Vice President at Yeoman’s. “About the time you’re only down one-inch through a foot-high stack of documents, he lightens things up.”
Like this, but with a stamp and seal.
Petronelli is one of a growing number of “extreme” notaries who dazzle yawning borrowers with behind-the-back stamping of deeds and other feats of legerdemain that put the drab, ministerial manner of older notaries to shame, all for fees that lawyers at closings wouldn’t bend over to pick up.
“Is this your free act and deed?”
“Hey, it’s a notary-eat-notary world out there,” says Alton “Jive” Murray, who hangs around auto dealers looking for business authenticating motor vehicle installment sales agreements. “Why should my kids go hungry just because some guy’s been in the business since Thomas E. Dewey was president?”
Taking their cue from flashy guitar players, magicians or pole dancers in the case of notarettes, female members of the profession, “extreme” notaries add elements of showmanship to a routine that has changed little since the first notaries plied their trade in ancient Egypt, impressing clay tablets with marks to certify signatures. “I call this my windmill move,” says Murray, replicating a gesture often associated with rock guitarist Pete Townshend. He rotates his arm in a circle above his head and then, when Grace and Alan Mumphrey are least expecting it, stamps an agreement by which they have unknowingly purchased rustproofing and a 3-year service contract along with their boxy Toyota Scion.
“I’m going to need to see a driver’s license or other government-issued form of identification.”
Situations such as the Mumphreys’ have prompted calls for reform from consumer advocates, often at the behest of older practitioners who say the antics of so-called “X-notaries” are a smoke screen that distracts unsuspecting consumers from the terms of documents that have major financial consequences.
“Are you gonna pay attention to the fine print on a condo smoke detector certificate when some guy’s carrying on like he’s got the St. Vitus Dance?” Rensell says as Petronelli walks out of a closing, his pockets $6.25 heavier thanks to the need for authentication of a deed, a mortgage and several other documents.
“Oh, yeah baby!”
But the “rock stars” of the extreme notary set say they are only providing a welcome relief to proceedings whose slow pace has impeded America’s housing market, a sector of the economy whose continued health is essential to rising standards of living. “Differentiation of products and services is essential to interbrand competition that ultimately benefits consumers,” says Adams State College Professor of Economics Robert Stallwell. “And I really liked the naughty meter maid costume on the woman who witnessed my signature.”