Closing the deal


What Is Escrow?

It is customary and prudent for a buyer and seller to have a third, disinterested party to assist them in carrying out the terms of their agreement. In California, this procedure is known as an escrow. When opening an escrow, the buyer and seller establish terms and conditions for the transfer of ownership of property. Your escrow is created shortly after you execute the contract to purchase your home. The escrow becomes the depository for all monies, instructions and documents. The Escrow Officer has the responsibility of seeing that all terms of the escrow are carried out.

NOTE: In some states, the process of completing the purchase of a home is known as the "Settlement" process. Often the seller and buyer will come together at the Settlement table where documents are signed and exchanged. There may be a settlement attorney who facilitates this process. In California, the term "Escrow" is used to describe the process of completing the sale of property.

How does the escrow process work?

The escrow holds all monies, instructions and documents for the purchase of your home, including your down payment funds and your lender’s funds and documents for the new loan. The escrow officer takes instructions based on the terms of your purchase agreement and your lender’s requirements. The escrow officer can hold inspection reports and bills for work performed as required by your purchase agreement. Other elements of the escrow include hazard insurance, title insurance and the grant deed from the seller to you. Escrow cannot be completed until the instructions (requirements) have been satisfied, and all parties have signed escrow documents.

The escrow holder’s duties include:

Serve as the neutral agent and the liaison between all parties involved.

Prepare the escrow instructions.

Request a Preliminary Title Search to determine the status of title to the property.

Comply with the lender’s requirements as specified on its instructions to escrow.

Receive and handle purchase funds from the buyer.

Prepare or secure the deed and documents related to the escrow.

Prorate taxes, interest, insurance and rents.

Secure releases of all contingencies or other conditions imposed on the escrow.

Record the deed and any other documents.

Request title insurance policy.

Close the escrow pursuant to instructions supplied by the seller, buyer and lender, if any.

Disburse funds as authorized by the instructions, including charges for title insurance, recording fees, real estate commissions and loan payoffs.

Prepare final statements for all parties involved that account for the disposition of all funds held in the escrow account.

How do I open an escrow?

Your real estate agent will open the escrow for you. As soon as you execute your purchase agreement, your deposit is given to the title company for deposit into the escrow account. How will you know where your money has gone? Written evidence of your deposit generally is included in your copy of your purchase contract. Your funds will then be deposited in your separate escrow or trust account and processed through your local bank.

Escrow Instructions

Escrow instructions define all the conditions that must occur before the transaction can be finalized. Your escrow instructions specify, in a debit and credit format, the disposition of your purchase funds. They also provide for title protection for your home.


What information will I have to provide?

You may be asked to complete a statement of identity. Because many people have the same name, the statement of identity is used to identify the specific person in the transaction through such information as date of birth, social security number, etc. This information is kept confidential.


How long is the escrow?

The length of an escrow is determined by the terms of the purchase agreement and can range from a few days to several months. On average, it takes 30 to 45 days.

Your Responsibilities

Your role during the escrow process should be an active one. Don’t wait for the seller to volunteer information – stay on top of it yourself and take reasonable care, along with me, your agent, to protect yourself.

For example, when you review the Transfer and Disclosure Statement, TDS, keep an eye out for questions answered "unknown" or left unanswered. Ask about them until you are satisfied with the answers.

Let's talk about your specific concerns or plans for the property. Concerned about the open parcel behind the house? Ask about it!

You may also wish to investigate the following non-physical conditions, including:

Governmental zoning, requirements and limitations

Governmental permits, inspections or certificates

Limitations, restrictions and requirements affecting use of the property

Rent and occupancy control


Proximity and adequacy of law enforcement, crime statistics, proximity of registered sex offenders (see section on Megan’s Law) and other criminals

Proximity to fire, police and other services

Proximity to commercial, industry or agricultural activities

Existing and proposed transportation, construction and development, which may affect noise, view or traffic, airport noise, or odor

Wild and domestic animals, other nuisances, hazards or circumstances

For Further Protection – Home Warranties: Home warranties have become a more popular option on homes for sale. For protection, you may wish to have a home warranty that either you or the seller pays for. (It’s negotiable.) Warranties range in price from $300 - $600 and, for a fixed rate, generally cover limited aspects including plumbing, electrical, pest control and a host of other related areas. If you have a problem, generally you’ll pay $35-$50 to have a professional come out inspect and fix problems that are covered. Warranty agents typically are on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take your calls in emergencies.

Who Pays For What?

A major question in every escrow is: "Who pays what?" The answers vary by county ordinances and standard practices.  What is listed below are "customary" practices.  All fees charged are governed by terms of the sales contract and other written escrow instructions. Note: on some FHA, VA or other government-backed loans, the buyer will pay some fees that governmental regulations will not allow you to pay.

Sellers Generally Pay:

Real estate commission

Document transfer tax ($1.10 per $1,000 of sales price)

Notary fees

Property tax proration (to date of acquisition)

Special delivery/courier fees, if required

Document preparation fees

Document recording charges

Homeowner’s association statement fee and prorata dues

Home warranty (according to contract)

Work/repairs required (according to contract)

Matters of record against the property or seller (loans, tax liens, judgments, etc.) and fees required to clear them (statement fees, reconveyance/trustee fees and prepayment penalties)

Bonds and assessments (according to contract)

Buyers Generally Pay:

Title insurance policy premiums (lender’s and Buyer's)

Escrow fees

Notary fees

Property tax proration (from acquisition date)

Special delivery/courier fees, if required

Document preparation fees

Document recording charges

Homeowner’s association transfer fee and prorata dues

City costs

Home warranty (according to contract)

Inspection fees (according to contract)

Matters of record against the buyer including tax liens, judgments and fees required to clear them

Fire insurance premium for the first year

Assumption/change of records fees if the buyer is taking over an existing loan

Lender’s new loan charges

Interest on new loan from date of funding to 30 days prior to the first payment

Other prorations (rents, insurance etc.) if applicable


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