When you purchase real estate -- whether it's commercial or residential -- there's someone who ensures your escrow monies are in good hands. That person is an escrow officer, the real estate professional who manages the administrative tasks associated with buying property. Escrow officers don't work for the buyer or the seller of the property, however. They're an impartial party to the transaction and are, therefore, fundamentally neutral. Lamont Corprew, CPA, a Washington, D.C. area chief financial officer who has worked with escrow officers for many years, as well as clients who deposit escrow funds, answered several pertinent questions about how to become an escrow officer.
What Exactly Does An Escrow Officer Do?
"If you want variety, including variety in the types of people with whom you regularly interact, you may really enjoy being an escrow officer," says Corprew. Escrow officers essentially close real estate transactions, but they also perform a number of other tasks, such as interface with title company representatives to ensure the property has a clear title. In addition, they handle funds that have been deposited, monitor the status of earnings on those escrow funds to make sure they're returned to the party who deposited the monies and review contracts and titles to ensure proper filings with local assessors and county records officers. An escrow officer is the person who performs the final steps in property acquisition.
What Kind of Degree Does an Escrow Officer Need?
"A degree in finance, accounting or business management would be ideal; however, there are no specific degree requirements or academic credentials required for a career as an escrow officer," says Corprew. Having a real estate license or deep expertise in real estate is particularly useful, since escrow officers work closely with buyers, sellers and real estate agents and brokers. In addition, you can usually find certification programs useful for continuing education in the field. Importantly, escrow officers learn many of their duties through on-the-job training.
Don't I Have To Be Licensed To Work In Real Estate?
It depends on where you intend to work, because state laws vary. Corprew advises aspiring escrow officers to research the state laws, check the state's licensing requirements and determine which states, if any, offer reciprocity so you can work in neighboring states if your geographic location is near state boundaries. For example, Maryland has licensing requirements for real estate agents, but the Maryland Real Estate Commission doesn't offer licensing for escrow officers. On the other hand, Texas has strict requirements for escrow officer licensing, which includes fingerprinting, bonding, criminal history check and a nominal licensing fee, which is $35, as of publication.
How Much Can I Expect to Earn?
"Because an escrow officer's job is uniquely tied to the real estate market, you may experience the ebb and flow of that market," is Corprew's answer to the usual question that aspiring professionals in any field ask. If you work for a brokerage house with its own escrow department, you could easily have a steady stream of work and, consequently, great earning potential. An escrow officer's salary could be around an annual range of $50,000, but with experience and excellent performance, the salary could be considerably more.
What Are Necessary Characteristics?
"An escrow officer's integrity and reputation must be above reproach -- always," says Corprew. It's one thing to have a clean criminal history. But your commitment to always providing the buyers and sellers with accurate information, calculating exact funding and ensuring the escrow funds are safely kept is fundamental to your success in this field. "Cutting corners or dishonest dealings will end your career," is Corprew's strongest caution to future escrow officers. "You must always perform your duties with clean hands," Corprew says.