Escrow Officers: Duties, Responsibilities, and Myths

Westcoe Realtors, Riverside California…The escrow process is sort of like your high school algebra class…you smile, you nod, but deep down inside, you have no clue what is happening.  Good for you that there are people who do get it, and they are called escrow officers…and today, we will give you a bit of an idea what they do, and more importantly, what they don’t do.

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way.  By definition, and escrow officer is a neutral third party who has the responsibility to transfer the title of a home from seller to buyer once both parties have done everything they said they would in the purchase agreement.  The “escrow” is the time it takes to accomplish this…usually 30-60 days.

First, this means an officer cannot take sides.  They cannot favor the seller over the buyer, or visa versa.  As an example, they can answer every question you may have about what certain paperwork means, or how the time line is proceeding, etc., but they cannot give you any advice about what you should do if the answer could affect the other party to the escrow.  That is your agent’s job.

Secondly, no matter how late your escrow may be after it’s originally scheduled closing date, they cannot simply close an escrow and transfer the title “until everything is done that the buyer and seller agreed to do when they agreed to the purchase contract”.  Their responsibility is to make sure EVERYTHING is done, not just MOST of it.

The moral of this story is that yelling at your officer because the escrow is late in closing won’t do you any good…by law, they must make sure everything is complete.

Now…let’s talk about what an officer does, and more importantly, the TIMING of what an officer does.

Think of your officer as the hub of a wheel…a wheel connected by those pneumatic tubes like they have at a drive thru bank.  There are lots of tubes in this “escrow wheel”…an escrow instruction tube, a title tube, termite tube, home inspection tube, loan process tube, home warranty tube, perhaps a roof or septic certification tube, a tube for paying off bills that pop up (alimony, child care, tax liens, credit cards, court judgements, etc.), a tube for amendments, documents, grant deeds, and deeds of trust, and many more tubes depending on the type of escrow.  Bottom line here is you get the point….lots of tubes all pointing at your officer.

However, what is critical that you know, is that not all these tubes arrive at the officers desk at the same time.  In fact, most of these tubes are being handled by someone else, and then only arrive at the officer’s desk once they are completed by another party…and many times, this arrival is at the last minute.

As an example, the loan process can be a pain in the you-know-what, and no matter how good the lender is, it can take 2-3 weeks for the buyers new lender to approve the buyer for the loan.  During this time, your escrow office has no idea how the loan process is going, because they have not received anything their “tube” yet.  In fact, they wouldn’t expect too.  The officer knows the “new loan tube” comes towards the end of the escrow period, so they are not worried about it.  

Therefore, when you as a seller or a buyer, call your officer and ask how the loan is going and they tell you they have no idea, they are not stupid or unprofessional, or uncaring…they are simply doing their job, and in this case would refer you to the new lender, who will be able to answer your question.  Remember…they only know what is happening if they have received information in the appropriate “tube”.

However, as another example, the buyers deposit almost always arrives in its “tube” very early in the escrow process…so the officer would put a call into the real estate agent if it was missing for too long.

Some of the items in an escrow are ordered and completed by the agents involved.  This would include the termite report and any corrective work, a home inspection requested by the buyer, a roof or septic certification, or a home warranty policy to name a few.  These are typically handled by the agents involved, and when they are completed, they are “tubed” to the officer so the officer knows they are completed.

In the end, as the escrow nears completion, things can get a little hectic.  The “tubes” get very crowded, stuff is pouring into the officer daily or hourly, and it is the officers  job to keep it calm, sort it all out, deal with all the money, and then officially close the escrow.  Keep in mind if just one “tube’ fails to deliver what is needed on time, the entire wheel comes to a stop and cannot go any further until what is late arrives…and since some of the other “tubes” that are ready are time sensitive and expire soon, then everyone hopes the late arrival gets there before another “tube” expires.

I could go on for days about all the “stuff” that can happen in an escrow, but here is the bottom line:  A good escrow officer is worth their weight in gold.  They juggle tense sellers, even more tense buyers, crazy real estate agents, “tubes” spitting information and documents at them like machine gun bullets, and manage to stay calm while arranging all the details and minutia necessary to make sure the closing is accurate.

It is not an easy job, but they know what they are signing up for when they get in the business, so you don’t need to feel sorry for them…but if you understand all that they have on their plate, and know that a good officer is doing the same thing for approximately 20-30 other files at the same time, then perhaps it might help you understand what is happening in your next escrow.

We hope so…and good luck.



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