What Does Escrow Do?

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This is a question that gets asked a lot.

Escrow is nothing more or less than a neutral third party that stands in the middle of a real estate transaction and makes certain all of the i's are dotted and t's are crossed. They make certain that all of the terms of the contract have been met, and then they make certain that everyone who is a party to the transaction gets what is coming to them via the contract. Given the complexity of a real estate transaction, you want this. In California, that's an eight page basic contract. Do you want to go through and verify that it's all done? Suppose there wasn't an escrow? Given a half million dollar transaction, do you think it might be possible that some people would try to arrange to be paid without handing over a good Grant Deed or clear title, or that they might try to pay with nonexistent funds? Escrow puts a stop to someone not giving what they agreed and still getting what they want.

Many times folks complain about the escrow company or escrow officer, when it's not escrow's fault and the problem lies elsewhere. The escrow company is obligated to make certain all of the terms of the contract have been followed, not just most of them. I've talked before about how if the contract is not accepted exactly as proposed in the most recent modification, you don't have a deal. There cannot be any points of disagreement, or you don't have a purchase contract. Similarly for escrow. Usually problems that the client sees are not the escrow officer's doing, but rather someone else's. Quite often, the person complaining is the person who caused the problem. The escrow officer can't do anything without mutual agreement. If the loan officer doesn't get the loan in a timely fashion, it's not the escrow officer's fault. If the agent doesn't meet the inspector or appraiser so they can get their work done in a timely fashion, it's not the escrow officer's fault. If you can't qualify for the loan, if you have to come up with more money, if you don't get as much money as you thought, it's not the escrow officer's fault. But in many cases, the escrow officer makes a convenient whipping boy for the sins of others.

This is not to say that it's never the escrow officer's fault that something goes wrong, but if one party or the other is not in compliance with the terms of the agreement, the only options the escrow officer has are to get an amended agreement or get them into compliance. Nonetheless, I have seen many transactions fall apart because the escrow officer was a bozo. The really good escrow officers are like chess masters - several moves ahead of the whole game, and when I find one, I want to use them all of the time. Unfortunately for buyer's agents, the seller often has the real control over where the escrow transaction goes, and when the seller's agent decides they want to use some bozo, that's probably where it's going. I can do all kinds of things that should move them, but the bottom line is they want to use their broker's pet escrow (who is more likely to be staffed by bozos than any other escrow company, as they've got captive clients), I as the buyer's agent cannot force them to go elsewhere. It's a violation of fiduciary duty for them as well as a RESPA violation, but if I complain to the appropriate agencies, what are the chances of my client getting this property they've decided that they want?

As the escrow process moves forward, the escrow officer collects documentation that the various requirements of the contract have been fulfilled. When they have all been fulfilled, the transaction is ready to close and record.

The loan is usually the last thing left hanging after everything else is done. There are a variety of reasons for this, most obvious of which is that the loan's conditions are likely to include everything else being done before the loan funds. Appraisal, grant deed, inspection, etcetera and ad nauseum. When the borrower meets underwriter's guidelines, they go and sign loan documents. Signing loan documents does not mean the loan will fund, and it is a major misapprehension to believe so. It is legitimate to move conditions from prior to docs to prior to funding if doing so serves some interest of the client, such as funding the loan before the rate lock expires. If they go to documents before the client's income and occupational status have been verified, that's an unethical lender looking to lock the client into their loan or none at all. Always demand a copy of outstanding conditions to fund the loan before you sign loan documents.

Once the loan documents are signed is when the real fun begins, because that's when the underwriter takes a step back and the funder steps to the forefront. The loan funder is an employee of the lender who fulfills much the same function as the escrow officer - make sure all of the conditions have been met before they release the money. The loan funder has responsibility only to the lender, though, not the borrower, not the seller, not anyone else. It's their job to ask such questions as when the homeowner's insurance got paid (and where is the proof?), has the final Verification of employment been done (assuming they aren't required to do it themselves), or work out a procedure whereby they get proof that all of this stuff is satisfied before the funds get released. If the loan officer has done their job correctly, the funder is working primarily with the escrow company. If I have to talk to the funder as a loan officer, that's usually a sign I should have worked a little harder earlier on, because my part should be done before the funder gets involved.

Once all of the conditions to fund the loan and close the transaction have been met, the escrow officer records the transaction. In point of fact, it's the title company who usually is set up to record the documents, something they will charge for. Until the transaction is recorded, the lender can pull the funds back. It's not the escrow officer's fault (in most cases) if they do this. It's because something about the borrower's situation changed, and now the lender is unhappy and unsatisfied with the level of risk of losing some or all of their money. Only rarely is it caused by a bozo of an escrow officer who doesn't understand what's going on, and tells the funder something that causes the lender to get nervous. Remember, the lenders are loaning a lot of money, and the list of reasons why lenders justifiably get nervous is fairly long, especially as a certain percentage of all mortgage applications are fraudulent.

Once the loan is funded and the transaction recorded, the escrow officer has some final stuff to do. Send out the checks to everyone who's getting one, complete with an accounting of the money. Make certain all charges relating to the transaction are paid, for which they will usually keep a small "pad" for last minute expenses, so that the buyer and seller are likely to see a small check a few days later after the escrow officer has made certain everything is paid to the penny. And so ends the transaction, and this article.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 30, 2013 7:00 AM.

Investing in Second Trust Deeds was the previous entry in this blog.

Negotiation Requires More Than Dueling Ultimatums is the next entry in this blog.

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