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What Is Escrow?

Escrow is a legal arrangement in which an asset, in this case, a deed to real property, is deposited for safekeeping in the trust of a neutral third party (escrow/closing agent) pending satisfaction of contractual contingency or condition. Once the condition has been met, the escrow agent will deliver the asset as instructed by the contract.

Although the description of Escrow sounds simple, an Escrow Agent must oversee many details in order to deliver a smooth closing.

Steps in the Closing Process

A sales contract is signed by the buyer and seller and delivered to the closing agent, usually with a check for deposit. The escrow is accepted by the escrow agent, often by written notation on the contract. The escrow agent starts the closing process by opening a title order and the file begins to be processed. Loan payoffs, tax information, homeowner/maintenance fees, inspections/reports, and hazard and other insurances, surveys (if necessary), as well as legal papers, are ordered. A title search is ordered.

This is a search made of the public records which include deeds, mortgages, paving assessments, liens, wills, divorce settlements, and other documents affecting title to the property. Title examination is the examination of the documents found during the title search that affect the title to the property.

This is when verification of the legal owner is made and the debts owed against the property are determined. Once the search and examination are completed, a title commitment/ preliminary report is prepared, reviewed, and sent out to interested parties.

The closing agent reviews the new lender’s instructions and requirements, reviews instructions from other parties to the transaction, reviews legal and loan documents, assembles charges, prepares closing statements, and schedules the closing.

The escrow or settlement agent oversees the closing of the transaction. The seller signs the deed and closing affidavit. The buyer signs the new note and mortgage. The old loan is paid off. The seller, real estate agents, attorneys, and other parties present at the closing of the transaction are paid.

After the signing has been completed, the escrow or settlement agent will forward payment to any prior lender, and pay all parties who performed services in connection with your closing (if they have not been paid). The transaction documents are recorded in the county in which the property is located. Title insurance policies are prepared and sent to the new lender and to you. This all happens without any further actions by the buyer or seller.