What Is Escrow in Real Estate?

Karen D. Friedman
May 25, 2020
5 min

Escrow is commonly associated with real estate but it’s not exclusive to it. Escrow is a neutral third party used to hold and distribute money or property once contractual obligations are met. Escrow is used across many fields of business such as banking, the buying and selling of intellectual property, and in mergers and acquisitions of large companies. But let’s talk more about how it’s used in real estate.

What is Escrow in Real Estate?

Now maybe you have heard the term but you’re not exactly sure what escrow does in a real estate transaction.  In simple terms, escrow in real estate is a neutral third party that protects the integrity of the transaction. So what does this mean? Let’s explore how escrow in real estate plays a part in that.

So Where Does Escrow in Real Estate Start?

It starts with you as a real estate agent getting a buyer and a seller together. That can be to either acquire or sell a property depending on who you are representing. When everyone is happy and in agreement, both parties will enter into a legal and binding contract called the RPA or Residential Purchase Agreement.

The RPA is integral to the transaction because it covers all the terms, conditions, and stipulations that have to be met according to what the buyer and seller have agreed upon. It acts as the blueprint for escrow to carry out.

When Does Escrow Step In?

When you have a fully executed contract that’s when escrow steps in. A “fully executed” contract means that the buyer, seller, and their respective agents have all signed off the Residential Purchase agreement as well as any other addendums or amendments that include the conditions of the sale.  

The main purpose of an escrow company is to now take the RPA and make sure that all the conditions are met in the transaction. As a matter of fact, escrow will not close until that happens. Not only will they make sure that all the stipulations are met, but they are also responsible for keeping everything on schedule and accounting for every penny.

So what happens if you’re going through escrow and a condition has not been met? What happens then? Does escrow still close? As we just discussed it’s escrow’s responsibility to make sure that all conditions are met. Let’s talk about how escrow handles the situation when they aren’t.

Meeting all Conditions in the Contract

So, let’s say we have opened escrow and so far everything  has been on schedule. All items have been accounted for, we’re nearing the close and everyone is happy.  Escrow is reviewing their final paperwork to make sure all stipulations have been met and they happen to notice that the seller agreed to give the buyer a termite report. It was never ordered. Now we have a problem.

Or do we?

A missing termite report could be considered a minor issue. This is not an expensive report and can be obtained fairly easily.  Should escrow worry about it or just close the deal?  

Knowing what you do up to this point, what do you think needs to happen? If you said, “Get the termite report done,” then you are right!  Why? Because it’s in the contract. So even though you may have been near the end, everything has to stop. It’s a stipulation and all stipulations need to be met before escrow can close.  

Remember, escrow will uphold the integrity of the transaction regardless of whether the stipulation or condition is small or large. This is escrow’s primary purpose. So what else is escrow responsible for?

Other Escrow Responsibilities

Let’s talk about the other aspects that escrow is responsible for in a transaction. Aside from the stipulations that have to be met, they are involved with other areas of the transaction such as:


What is the property title? The property title is the transfer of ownership from the seller to the buyer. Escrow is in communication with title to get the property information and to make sure that all the information is accurate.


The Grant Deed is a document that ensures the new buyer is clear to hold the title of the property.  Escrow prepares the grant deed and sends it to the seller. The seller signs it in front of a notary and returns it to escrow. At close, the escrow holder will record it.


During escrow, they will receive and hold funds for the seller’s existing loan. Escrow is also in contact with the buyer’s lender. This is to ensure that everything with the loan is on track. This also allows escrow to be aware of any issues that may arise to prevent the closing of escrow.

They prepare the Final Closing Statement for the buyer and seller.  This is an accounting of funds made to the seller (seller’s statement has proceeds amount) and to the buyer (buyer’s costs and credits). This is prepared before escrow formally closes escrow or funds the loan.

Escrow is an excellent resource for both you and your client. All you have to do is reach out to your escrow officer and they can let you know everything they can do for you.

Final Thoughts on Escrow in Real Estate

As you can see, escrow is a vital part of the real estate process. Because they are a neutral third party, you can be assured that everything is on the up and up in the transaction. Escrow makes sure that everything in the contract is honored and frees up the real estate to do what they do best. Getting more deals!

Have you had an encounter with an escrow company that went above and beyond?  Share your experience with us.

Every week, we release in-depth videos to help viewers become successful real estate agents on our CA Realty Training YouTube Channel. Also, if you enjoyed reading this article, we would love if you could share it with a friend who you think would get something out of it.

Karen D. Friedman
May 25, 2020
5 min