Are you familiar with the term “escrow”? It has several meanings in real estate, but the most simplistic definition is that an escrow account is set up for you by your lender to pay for homeowner’s insurance and property taxes when home ownership costs are due during the course of any given year.
Basically, escrow is when an impartial third party holds on to something of value during a transaction, and in the case of real estate, buyers write an earnest money check when making an offer that is then placed in escrow. The impartial third party holds on to the check until the buyer and the seller negotiates a contract to hopefully close the deal. When in escrow, the buyer and the seller can’t touch the money. It’s in a sort of “real estate limbo”.
The reason the check is handled by a third party is to protect both parties involved. If you put down earnest money and that money goes directly to the seller, what if the seller decides to hold the earnest money as a way to negotiate? When the money is in escrow, you know that everyone involved in the transaction is treated fairly and gets what is due at the same time.
When talking with your mortgage lender, the term escrow will come up again. Terms like escrow, impound or reserves may come up. All terms mean the same thing: they are funds held by the lender to make payments for your homeowner’s insurance and property taxes. Another term, prepaids, is money collected in advance for bills to make sure there’s enough money on hand to pay when due.
What’s escrow and closing mean?
When the agreement has been made and the purchase is complete, the term “closing of escrow” will be used. Closing officers or escrow officers will sit with you and oversee the final paperwork and make sure the transfer of funds happens smoothly. During the closing, the officer wants to make sure the recording of deeds, money disbursement and all paperwork has been properly signed and recorded. The closing process does take a little bit of time, but it’s important that all conditions are met to make sure the transaction is accurate and complete.
When does a hold-back of funds happen?
Sales can still be completed with a transfer of ownership when funds are still in escrow. One example of this is if you’ve made an agreement with the seller to stay in the house for an agreed upon amount of time while their new home is completed. When participating in this “rent back” agreement, a real estate agent will advise you to have the escrow agent hold back some of the seller’s proceeds until vacating the premises entirely. The reasoning? Your new home should be left in the condition specified in your real estate contract with no damage, etc.
Sometimes during a final walk-through of the new home buyers find something wrong. Also in some cases, work cannot be done prior to the move-out date. If this happens, it’s a good idea to keep money in escrow to help with the expense. Hold-back of funds is also used in new construction, keeping money in escrow until work is completed and the paperwork is signed.
After escrow is closed and all funds have been distributed, the buyer and seller will receive a final closing statement and completed documents in the mail. Make sure the statement is reviewed carefully and if you see anything incorrect or have a question, contact the closing agent as soon as possible. Next, file the statement with all of your other important papers. When tax time comes, you’ll need to have the documents easily accessible for income tax return season.
Let me help you with your next home adventure! As a licensed Realtor® it’s my goal to help make your real estate dreams come true, sharing my knowledge of our local market as well as offering recommendations during the home buying or selling process. Looking for a new home in 2018? Contact me for all of your real estate needs at (618) 978-2384 or email me at Sandie@SandieLaMantia.com.