Licensed vs. Unlicensed “Controlled”
All escrow companies in California can be classified into two basic categories: Licensed or Controlled. “Licensed” escrow companies are independent businesses licensed by the California Department of Business Oversight. This license regulates the procedures and practices of the companies and subjects them to stringent requirements designed to protect consumers.
“Controlled” escrow companies are non-licensed businesses that can be owned by a variety of entities, including real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, banks, savings and loans, and title insurance companies. Such companies fall under the jurisdiction of a variety of supervising agencies, with regulations and requirements that vary widely. One fact remains constant, however. None of the agencies have regulations as strict as those imposed on the escrow companies licensed by the Department of Business Oversight.
Although the majority of escrow companies are honest and above board, the large sums of money handled by escrow companies can entice unscrupulous individuals to abscond with the funds they are holding in trust. And unless the escrow company is bonded, there is often no safeguard assuring the return of the money to consumers.
Licensed escrow companies are consumers’ best bet for safeguarding their funds. All licensed escrow companies are required to be members of the Escrow Agents’ Fidelity Corporation (EAFC), which provides fidelity coverage for member trust accounts.
The stringent requirements by the Department Business Oversight assure that every licensed escrow company has met the highest standards in the industry. Consumer protection regulations unique to licensed escrow companies include:
- A Certification Program for all escrow officers in the company’s employ, including fingerprinting and background checks by the Department of Justice;
- A requirement that an escrow officer with at least five years experience be on-site;
- Financial stability requirement, including at a minimum one CPA audit a year; and, frequent surprise examinations conducted by the Department of Business Oversight;
- Prohibiting employment of convicted felons or anyone who has been disbarred from the real estate industry;
- Membership with the Escrow Agents’ Fidelity Corporation (EAFC) which provides fidelity coverage for member trust accounts;
- Company’s sole business is doing escrow, which requires a higher level of state regulatory requirements and oversight.
The bottom line is that a licensed escrow company is the best possible neutral third party to complete your real estate transaction. Whether searching for an escrow holder yourself, or looking to recommend one to a client, a licensed escrow company gives you peace of mind.