The Escrow Process and Reasons for Falling Out
There are all sorts of reasons why escrow falls through, but they fall into three main categories. They can best be described as failures of qualification, failures of the property itself, and failures of execution.
Before I get into the main subject matter of the article, I need to define a contingency period. This is a period built into the beginning of the escrow process when one party or the other can walk away without consequences or penalty, usually for a specific reason. For instance, the default on the standard forms here in California is that all offers to purchase are contingent upon the loan for seventeen calendar days after acceptance. If the loan is turned down on the sixteenth day and the buyer notifies the seller that they want out immediately, the seller should allow the deposit to be returned by escrow. If it happened on the nineteenth day, the buyer should be aware that their deposit is likely forfeit. A contingency, just like anything else, is something negotiated as part of the purchase contract. If it's in the contract, you have one. If it's not, you don't, although some states may give buyers certain contingency rights as a matter of law.
Failure to qualify means that something goes astray with the buyer's quest to acquire necessary financing. They cannot qualify for the loan, they do not qualify within the escrow period under the contract, they allow their loan officer to spin all kinds of fairy tales about what the market is doing or likely to be doing when the plain fact of the matter is that the loan officer just can't do the loan on the terms they indicated when the poor unsuspecting consumer signed up. Maybe it existed at one time, or maybe they just hoped it would. In any case, it wasn't locked in and it certainly doesn't exist now, so rather than pay the difference out of their commission, the loan officer delays and hopes for the market or a miracle to save them. Or they told the consumer about a loan they thought they might be able to qualify them for, only to find out they don't, and they're stalling, hoping a better alternative will open up. Fact is, that if a loan officer can't get the loan done in thirty days, I'll bet money they can't do it on the terms stated in the initial documents. Jokers like this are a large part of the reason you should have a back up loan if you can find someone willing. Chances are much better that both loans will be ready to go with a lot fewer games played.
Sometimes it does happen that consumers don't qualify for the loans due to real problems that just don't come up until the file is in underwriting. Since this can cause you to lose your deposit, it's a good idea to ask your loan officer about any potential problems before you make an offer. You know your personal financial situation but you probably don't know what all of the potential disqualifying issues for a lender. The loan officer should know what the issues are that may cause lenders to have difficulty approving your loan, but they don't know your history unless you tell them. Many things that underwriting will catch do not necessarily show up on a loan application or credit report, so if you have an unpaid collection, monthly expenses that might not show up, a lien, a dispute in progress, any issues with your source of income, or anything else in your background that you have any questions about whether it could impact your loan, it's a good idea to ask right upfront, before you get into the process. Sometimes these issues mean that you flat out do not qualify, sometimes they mean that instead of 100 percent financing, you only qualify for 70 percent. Unless you have that extra 30 percent of the purchase price lying around somewhere, the transaction isn't going to fly, and the sooner you find out, the better. A loan officer who can't show you a loan commitment with conditions you can meet before the end of the contingency period is not your friend.
The second category of reasons escrow fails are failures of the property. Some defect is disclosed by the inspection process that the owner does not want to correct or is unable to correct, and the buyer decides that the property is not for them under the circumstances. Mold, termite damage, seepage, damage to the foundation, and all of the other usual suspects fall into this category. Title issues are here also, although they usually become unsolvable when they impact the loan. If the seller can't deliver clear title, the title company won't insure it, the lender won't lend the money, and any rational buyer should want to walk away. Why do you want to give someone money when they are likely not legally entitled to sell you the property?
For defects, both structural and title, providing it was discovered within the contingency period, it's up to the seller to convince the buyer they should still be interested. After the contingency period is over, things are more complicated as there is the possible forfeiture of the deposit to weigh. Good agents that you want to recommend to your friends get out and get the inspections done right away to avoid this issue. Agents that are looking to line their own pocket wait until the contingency period is over before doing so, as this gives the buyer more incentive to stay in the transaction. Let's say you've got a $5000 deposit on the line and seventeen days to remove contingencies, as is the default here in California. Would you rather your agent got an inspector out within a couple of days, or waited three weeks? Keep in mind that you're going to pay the inspector, but that's money you're going to spend regardless. The first possibility means that you find out about potential defects while you can still recover your deposit, while the second possibility means the seller can likely keep that deposit. I know which situation I'd rather be in.
Failures of execution are likely to be because someone messed up. The seller didn't do this. The buyer didn't do that. One agent or the other dropped the ball. The escrow officer didn't do their job. Loan officer failures would be here if loans weren't a whole category on their own. This category covers all the little details in the purchase contract, each of which has to be met before the escrow officer can close the transaction. These failures may or may not be actionable, in the sense of you being able to hold them responsible for their failure. Many times, the escrow officer is used as a whipping post for the failures of other parties, but some escrow officers do screw up big time. Sometimes it takes an outside expert to dissect things dispassionately in order to figure out what went wrong where and whose fault it was, but outside experts cost money, so most of the time everybody just fades into the sunset pointing fingers at each other, unless there's some pretty significant cash involved. The transaction is dead and it's not coming back. Unless there's a good possibility of recovering enough money to make it worthwhile, let it go.
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