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  • Nick Burgess

How and When Does The Escrow Process Start?

Welcome, prospective home buyers! As your go-to personal finance blogger, I'm here to navigate the often complicated process of home buying. The topic at hand is escrow, a critical part of any real estate transaction. When does escrow start, and what does it entail? Let's dive in.

a happy couple moving into their new home

When Does The Escrow Process Start?

The escrow process begins with the signing of the purchase contract or purchase agreement. This document, typically drafted by the real estate agent involved, outlines the agreed-upon terms between the buyer and seller, including the purchase price. Following this, an earnest money deposit is made into an escrow account, held by a neutral third party—typically an escrow company or a title company.


What Is An Escrow Company?

So, what exactly is an escrow company? An escrow company, often overseen by an escrow officer, is a neutral entity that ensures the terms of the contract are met before the transfer of funds and ownership of the property. The escrow agent or holder is responsible for safeguarding all necessary documents and funds until the closing date.

One of the first tasks of the escrow officer is to conduct a title search. This is a thorough review of public records to confirm that the seller is the legal owner of the property and that there are no outstanding claims or liens against it. If the title is clear, the buyer may proceed with purchasing title insurance, which protects the new owner from potential future title disputes.


Starting the Escrow Process

Simultaneously, the buyer's lender, often a mortgage company or another financial institution, begins the mortgage approval process. This starts with an appraisal to determine the value of the home and includes scrutiny of the buyer's financial situation. For FHA loans, the buyer will need to meet specific requirements. The loan officer will communicate the necessary repairs or conditions that the property must meet for the loan to be approved.

An important step during the escrow period is the home inspection. The home buyer, sometimes with their real estate agent, will walk through the seller’s home looking for any new damage or major issues. This due diligence is crucial to avoid surprises after becoming the new owner. If issues are found, the inspection contingency in the purchase agreement allows for renegotiations or necessary repairs to be done.


The home buyer will also review seller disclosures. These are documents where the seller must disclose known defects and issues with the property. The buyer reviews these disclosures, and if any red flags pop up, the buyer can request repairs or possibly renegotiate the purchase price.


All the while, the escrow company or escrow agent is coordinating with various parties. They liaise with the buyer’s lender, ensure the buyer obtains homeowner's insurance, collect loan documents, calculate closing costs, and prepare escrow instructions.

As the escrow process progresses, the buyer will finalize their mortgage loan. This includes locking in interest rates and setting up the terms of monthly payments. The escrow company will also confirm that the buyer has secured homeowners insurance, a requirement by most lenders.

The escrow period, typically 30 to 60 business days, culminates in the closing process. This is the final step where the buyer pays the down payment and closing costs via wire transfer or cashier's check. The escrow company will then pay off the seller and any entities owed from the proceeds, like the real estate agents or the seller's mortgage lender.


The escrow officer will prepare the grant deed and deed of trust, which are then filed with the county recorder. The buyer and seller sign all closing documents, including a final approval from the lender. After the escrow closes, the escrow officer distributes funds accordingly, including escrow fees.


Congratulations, the buyer is now the new owner! A final walk-through is typically scheduled before or on the close of escrow date to ensure no new damage has occurred, and that any agreed-upon repairs were completed. After the final walk-through and the close of escrow, the buyer officially becomes the new owner. The keys are handed over, and the first-time buyers can celebrate their new home!


The End of the Road

In the state of California, and indeed most states, the escrow closing marks the end of the real estate transaction. The entire escrow process, from the moment the purchase contract is signed until the keys are in the buyer's hands, can be intricate, requiring timely actions from various parties. That's why an escrow officer or an escrow provider is essential to ensure everything runs smoothly.


Now, while this process might sound daunting, especially to first-time buyers, the good news is that everyone involved in the escrow transaction is there to help. The real estate agent, the escrow agent, the loan officer, and even the home sellers all play a part in making the process as smooth as possible.

So how long does the escrow process take? The escrow process timeline typically ranges from 30 to 60 business days from when the escrow account is opened until the closing date. Various factors can affect this, such as inspection periods, financial institution procedures, and financing contingencies.


However, a cash offer can often expedite the escrow process, as it removes the need for a mortgage lender's approval. The escrow period might be reduced significantly, allowing for a faster closing process.


Conclusion

In conclusion, while the escrow process can seem complex, it is a critical and necessary part of any home purchase. It provides security for all parties involved, assuring that every agreement in the purchase process is met and that the transfer of the property is executed in a fair and orderly fashion.


From the earnest money deposit to the escrow instructions, the title fees, the necessary documents for your mortgage lender, the listing agent's input, and your final approval, each step is an important part of the journey to your new home. Despite the complexities, it's an exciting adventure and one of the main reasons why buying a home is such a landmark event in one's life.

So, take a deep breath, put your trust in the professionals guiding you through this process, and look forward to the moment you step over the threshold of your new home. As your key turns in the lock for the first time, you'll know that every step, every document, and every business day was worth it. The escrow process is not just about purchasing a property—it's about making a house your home. And that's an investment worth every penny.


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