What Is Escrow?
Escrow is when a neutral third party holds on to funds during a transaction. In real estate, it’s used as a way to protect both the buyer and seller during the home purchasing process. After a property is purchased, the new homeowner continues to put money into escrow as a means of paying mortgage and insurance payments.
For example, earnest money is an amount paid in to escrow early in the home purchase process to essentially put a “hold” on the property for the buyer. It’s a way of showing serious intent that the buyer is going to stay true to their offer, and protects sellers from having to deal with buyers putting out multiple offers or going into negotiations on multiple properties. At closing, the earnest money payment is generally taken out of escrow and put toward the buyer’s down payment.
The purpose of escrow is two-fold. It guarantees the seller that the buyer has the funds needed for the purchase and that the money will be handed over once the title is transferred, and it guarantees the buyer that they won’t be scammed by a fraudulent seller who actually holds no claim to a title. Ultimately, escrow helps ensure trust in a high-stakes transaction where neither party may be familiar with each other and where both have a lot to lose.
Escrow vs Escrow Account
Here’s a set of terms that are closely related but not to be confused with each other. Many people have trouble understanding real estate escrow because they mistake it for an escrow account, so it’s important to know the difference.
An escrow account is a separate account managed by a lender to collect advance insurance payments and tax payments from a homeowner. Usually, a lender will add up the total amount due for these payments in a year, divide it by 12, and tack on that extra amount to each mortgage payment. When those payments are due to either a homeowners insurance agency or the IRS, the lender pays them for the homeowner out of the escrow account. Many states, but not all, require lenders to pay interest to homeowners on their escrow account.
The simplest way to think of the difference is Escrow happens during the process of buying/selling the home. After the house is sold or purchased, Escrow Accounts are where your mortgage payments are partially paid to in order to pay for your PMI payments and property taxes.