Most people know that escrow is the party that handles the money, paperwork and closing details of a transaction in California (and other states – the remaining states use attorneys for closings). But many do not know that escrow and escrow officers can fall under two regulatory categories, and that this could have an effect on their duty to remain a neutral party to both sides of a property sale.
2 Types of Escrow Companies in California
Independent or licensed escrow companies are independent companies that are licensed by the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO), which are governed by strict regulations designed to protect consumers.
Some of the requirements of independent escrow companies are that they are subject to management and bond requirements, are trust fund insured, are subject to annual financial and procedural audits and Department of Justice investigations of all employees, as well as escrow license requirements.
Controlled, or non-independent, escrow companies are nonlicensed businesses owned by third parties, such as real estate brokerages, attorneys, banks or title companies. These controlled companies are regulated by different licensing and regulatory authorities, which can vary amongst jurisdictions and are not governed as strictly as independent escrow companies.
Escrow officers have a difficult role in that they need to represent both parties in a property sale transaction while remaining neutral. An independent escrow company is the best choice, in my opinion, for real estate parties and clients, as there is more protection offered and there is not the threat of compromised neutrality.