Table of Contents

8 min read May 25, 2023

What is Escrow? Understanding its Role in Real Estate Transactions

Escrow is a secure process where a trusted third party holds funds or assets until the completion of a transaction. Moreover, in a real estate deal, it will protect both the seller and the buyer.

This article provides an overview of how escrow works and its significance during a real estate transaction.

Key Takeaways

  1. What is Escrow? Escrow is a financial arrangement between two people who trust a third party to hold funds or assets. The funds remain with the neutral party until all agreed-upon conditions are complete.
  2. What is an Escrow Account? An escrow account works as a savings account that’s managed by a mortgage servicer.
  3. Cost of Escrow? The cost of an escrow varies depending on the value and complexity of the transaction.
  4. Can Escrow be Avoided? Yes, you can avoid escrow in certain transactions if both parties agree and choose an alternative method of securing the deal.

What is Escrow?

Escrow is a legal arrangement between the homeowner and the buyer in real estate. A neutral third party will hold money or property until a specific condition is fulfilled.

Let’s look at an example of how escrow works:

A buyer and seller agree on a purchase price for a house. The mortgage lender will set up an escrow account for the buyer as part of the closing process. The buyer will make monthly payments into the account.

The lender utilizes funds from the account to pay the buyer’s property taxes and insurance when they become due. This ensures proper handling of expenses and aids the buyer in managing homeownership costs.

What is Escrow in Mortgage?

In a mortgage, escrow is a financial arrangement where a neutral third party holds and manages funds on behalf of the borrower and the lender. An escrow account in a mortgage ensures that funds are available for property-related expenses.

The lender collects a portion of the monthly mortgage payment and holds it in the account. The lender uses the funds to make property tax and insurance payments when they are due.

Escrow simplifies budgeting and reduces risk for both the borrower and the lender. Some mortgages require an escrow account, while others allow the borrower to pay expenses directly.

What is an Escrow Account?

Escrow is a neutral account that holds funds and documents for real estate transactions. It ensures compliance, covers expenses and enhances security and transparency.

The account holds funds and important documents for real estate transactions. Moreover, it ensures compliance with agreed-upon terms.

It holds money for property taxes, insurance premiums, or mortgage payments.

Types of Escrow Accounts

The two most common types of escrow accounts in real estate are

Escrow Accounts For Home Buying

A good faith deposit is part of the purchase agreement when you buy a house. If the contract falls through due to the buyer’s fault, the seller keeps the deposit. If the purchase is successful the deposit will turn into the buyer’s down payment.

To protect both parties, the account holds the deposit until the transaction closes. An escrow holdback may be considered in case the agreed-upon terms are not met during the closing. The holdback will act as insurance.

An escrow holdback can be an appropriate solution if repair work or new construction approval prevents you from closing on schedule.

Escrow Accounts For Taxes And Insurance

In most cases, mortgage lenders open escrow accounts for home buyers. This account holds a portion of the monthly mortgage payment for the property taxes and insurance premiums. The amount required to cover these costs can change yearly.

The mortgage servicer decides the amount based on your previous year’s expenses. Remember, this will be an estimate and you may need to add extra funds to cover any shortfalls. Typically, lenders hold a minimum of 2 months’ worth of extra payments to avoid shortfalls.

The account will get an annual review to check for excess or shortage. If there is excess money in your account you may receive a refund.

Who Manages an Escrow Account?

An escrow agent or company will manage the account. They actively oversee the account and handle funds and documents according to the agreed-upon terms. Moreover, they ensure a secure and transparent transaction for all parties involved.

Depending on where you are at the transaction, your escrow account would be managed by either of the two:

1. Escrow Agent

An escrow agent manages the account as an unbiased third party. They securely hold funds and documents and ensure transaction terms and conditions compliance. Moreover, the agent is crucial in facilitating a smooth and reliable process for the buyer and seller.

2. Mortgage Servicers

Mortgage servicers manage loans for lenders and investors. Here are 5 of their main duties:

  1. Collect monthly mortgage payments from borrowers
  2. Manage escrow accounts for property taxes and insurance
  3. Send statements and payment reminders to borrowers
  4. Process and credit received payments
  5. Provide customer service and handle inquiries from borrowers

How Does Escrow Work?

Here is a step-wise breakdown of how escrow works in a real estate transaction after signing the purchase agreement:

  1. Opening the Account: The buyer and seller select an escrow company or attorney to open an escrow account for them.
  2. Depositing Earnest Money: The buyer will deposit a percentage of the purchase price in the account, as per the contract.
  3. Submitting Documentation: The escrow agent collects and reviews necessary documents, such as the purchase agreement, title documents, and financing details.
  4. Reviewing and Clearing Contingencies: The agent verifies all contingencies of the transaction mentioned in the contract. These may include home inspections, repairs, and title searches. The escrow agent addresses any outstanding liens or encumbrances.
  5. Closing the Sale: The escrow agent prepares the final settlement statement upon satisfaction of all conditions. The buyer and seller review and sign the paperwork.
  6. Disbursement of Funds: The buyer’s funds and the seller’s proceeds go into the escrow account. The agent distributes the funds to the respective parties, such as the seller, real estate agents, and lenders.
  7. Title Transfer: The escrow agent ensures the transfer of the property’s title to the buyer. The local government authority will record the deal.
  8. Closing the Escrow Account: After the new homeowner’s details are registered in the public records the escrow account is closed.

The Benefits of an Escrow Account

In real estate, it provides a secure and impartial way to handle funds and documents during the transaction.

Let’s look at the advantages for each party involved in a real estate deal

For Home Buyers

The advantage for home buyers is that it safeguards their money deposit until the completion of the transaction. It provides assurance that the funds will go to the right party according to the conditions of the sale.

For Homeowners

The advantage for homeowners is that it helps manage their funds for property taxes and insurance. It ensures timely payments while providing financial security and peace of mind.

For Lenders

The advantage for lenders is that it ensures the timely payment of property taxes and insurance premiums. It helps protect their interests by mitigating the risk of non-payment and maintaining the property’s value.

The Risks of an Escrow Account

There are a few drawbacks, especially for the homeowner.

Let’s look at the drawbacks for each party involved in a real estate deal

For Homeowners

Escrow for homeowners requires setting aside extra funds at closing. Funds are held until repairs or improvements are completed. This ties up money and limits financial flexibility for homeowners.

Homeowners must provide proof of completion for the release of escrowed funds. The process can cause delays and inconvenience for homeowners.

For Home Buyers

The biggest drawback of escrow for homebuyers is higher closing costs. Most mortgage lenders require buyers to prepay at least 2 months’ worth of funds. This can cause a strain on the buyer’s budget.

For Lenders

Lenders who also act as escrow agents must coordinate with multiple parties to facilitate the process. This can bring in administrative costs and burdens. Moreover, delays in relaying funds can impact the lender’s cash flow.

Should You Open an Escrow Bank Account?

The answer depends on your financial discipline and ability to save for taxes and insurance. It is better to let your lender handle payments if you are not good with savings.

Failure to pay can lead to penalties, coverage lapses, or liens. However, if you’re good at saving, you may prefer to manage the process yourself.

An escrow account can offer peace of mind. You don’t have to go through the pressure of paying a lumpsum amount since the escrow takes care of taxes and insurance.


1. What does escrow on a house mean?

A third party actively holds money or property in escrow until a condition is met, such as fulfilling a purchase agreement. It is a legal arrangement ensuring secure transactions.

2. Who owns the money in an escrow account?

The buyer owns the money in the escrow account. Once the seller meets all requirements the funds will be transferred via the escrow agent.

3. Is it better to have escrow or not?

Most borrowers do not require an escrow account, but having one actively helps secure the best rate and maintain peace of mind.

4. Can I take money out of my escrow account?

No, you cannot withdraw money from your escrow account. It is held by the lender or loan servicing company for a specific purpose, and homeowners usually do not have access to it.

5. How is my escrow payment calculated?

Escrow payments are calculated by dividing the total annual expenses (such as property taxes and insurance premiums) by 12 months. The resulting amount is added to the monthly mortgage payment.

Related: escrow definition, escrow meaning, escrow balance


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