It is customary and prudent for a buyer and seller to have a third, disinterested party to assist them in carrying out the terms of their agreement. In California, this procedure is known as an escrow. When opening an escrow, the buyer and seller establish terms and conditions for the transfer of ownership of property. Your escrow is created shortly after you execute the contract to purchase your home. The escrow becomes the depository for all monies, instructions and documents. The Escrow Officer has the responsibility of seeing that all terms of the escrow are carried out.
NOTE: In some states, the process of completing the purchase of a home is known as the “Settlement” process. Often the seller and buyer will come together at the Settlement table where documents are signed and exchanged. There may be a settlement attorney who facilitates this process. In California, the term “Escrow” is used to describe the process of completing the sale of property.
The escrow holds all monies, instructions and documents for the purchase of your home, including your down payment funds and your lender’s funds and documents for the new loan. The escrow officer takes instructions based on the terms of your purchase agreement and your lender’s requirements. The escrow officer can hold inspection reports and bills for work performed as required by your purchase agreement. Other elements of the escrow include hazard insurance, title insurance and the grant deed from the seller to you. Escrow cannot be completed until the instructions (requirements) have been satisfied, and all parties have signed escrow documents.
Your role during the escrow process should be an active one. Don’t wait for the seller to volunteer information – stay on top of it yourself and take reasonable care, along with me, your agent, to protect yourself.
For example, when you review the Transfer and Disclosure Statement, TDS, keep an eye out for questions answered “unknown” or left unanswered. Ask about them until you are satisfied with the answers.
Let’s talk about your specific concerns or plans for the property. Concerned about the open parcel behind the house? Ask about it!
You may also wish to investigate the following non-physical conditions, including:
Sellers of properties built prior to 1978 have the following obligations to you:
California law requires sellers to disclose to you, via a “Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement” or NHD, if properties are located in one of six predetermined “natural hazard” zones. (If the property is not within one of these zones, sellers, of course, have no such obligation.)
The six zones are:
If an NHD is delivered to you after you signed the Purchase Agreement, you will have three days to rescind the agreement. However, if you receive the NHD before you signed the Purchase Agreement then you cannot use the NHD to rescind.
Especially (but not exclusively) if you are buying a home in a newer area, you may be locating into a Mello-Roos tax district, and the seller must provide to you a “Notice of Special Tax” to let you know. If this notice is delivered to you in person, you have three days to rescind your offer. If it’s delivered via U.S. mail, you have five days to decide.
Basically, a “Mello-Roos Community Facilities District” is formed by a local government, district, or agency to finance public services and facilities including police and fire departments, ambulance and paramedic services, parks, schools, libraries, museums and cultural facilities.
If you’re buying a condominium, townhouse or other planned development (for purposes of this discussion, we will call them all “condominiums”), there are things you need to know about common areas (such as greenbelts and recreational rooms) and the homeowner’s association.
You will be required to make monthly payments, known as regular assessments, to maintain common areas, as well as special assessments to replace a roof or repair the plumbing, as determined by the homeowner’s association (HOA.)
Condominiums also may have regulations regarding architectural requirements, limitations on pets, and age restrictions (i.e., senior housing). These must be formally disclosed to you during escrow. You may receive this information via the following documents, to the extent that they exist and are available:
Many smaller HOAs will not have all of these documents, but must provide what they do have. We recommend that you review these documents thoroughly, because they will affect you firsthand.
If a registered sex offender lives in the neighborhood in which you want to locate, you have the right to investigate – this is made possible due to a 1996 statute known as “Megan’s Law.” (Note that the seller does not have an obligation to provide this information to you.)
To investigate, you may: