Real estate transactions, and the escrow processes that make them happen, sometimes have a level of industry jargon that can be confusing or intimidating to buyers and sellers who aren’t familiar with the meaning behind the words.
This is a definitional post designed to better inform buyers and sellers about the escrow process and the terminology used during the course of a transaction.
The escrow procedure, at its core, is where a neutral, trusted third party holds onto an item for sale until something happens, usually until the buyer pays the seller. As real estate transactions have grown in complexity, so has the business of escrow. Now an escrow agent watches over all the details of the sales agreement, facilitates the transaction paperwork, and coordinates the interests of many different parties with an interest in the sale. They also make sure that the seller gets their proceeds, and the buyer gets their title, when all is said and done. For a detailed explanation of escrow, see this earlier post.
Deed of Trust
In many states, including California, this document takes the place of a mortgage. The Deed of Trust places a property’s title in the hands of a Trustee, usually a title company, along with the specifics of the buyer’s loan and repayment provisions. If the owner defaults on the loan, the Trustee has the legal right to foreclose, and give the lender the proceeds. When the loan is paid off, the Trustee reconveys the title to the owner.
This is a legal claim on a property by someone the owner owes money to. In real estate transactions, the lender will attach a lien to the property title, saying any money from sale of the property will first be used to pay off the loan.
In a real estate deal, the escrow agent will need to figure out the buyer’s and seller’s portions of expenses that get paid according to a certain date – eg taxes, interest or utility bills. The agent will pro-rate the expense, doing the arithmetic based on the transaction’s closing date.
This is the actual document of the real estate sale. It states that the seller, or Grantor, is selling the property to the buyer, or Grantee. It states the specifics of the property, and that the seller has revealed any liens or encumbrances. The Grant Deed is usually notarized and recorded.
This is the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s official settlement form, used in most real estate transactions to detail exactly what settlement costs occur in the sale, and whether the buyer or the seller is paying them. You get this form at or shortly before the closing. It represents a complete accounting of every cost of the transaction.
This is an insurance policy for buyers that protects them against unanticipated defects in the property title. These could be anything from hidden liens, ex-spouses, unrevealed heirs, or recording errors, to forgery. Title insurance policies carry different specifics and exceptions, so examine yours carefully.
Additional terminology will be defined in future posts. If you have a term you would like clarified or defined, leave us a note in the comments section of this post.
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