Behind the Scenes: Interview with an Escrow Officer
(PHOTO: From left to right: Patti Schenfeld, Jackie Slater, Nicole Dame)
Escrow can be a complicated subject and with all that they accomplish, it can be difficult to understand what an Escrow Officer does when you buy or sell a home. Jackie Slater has been in the Real Estate industry for 27 years and in Escrow for nearly 22. I spoke to Jackie about her Escrow career, what it means to be an Escrow Officer, and what the escrow process is like. It opened my eyes to the more human side of Escrow, the struggles and beauty of what it is she does for people. She is immensely knowledgeable and has a lot of experience in her field, which is no easy task. It’s a demanding job, but Jackie handles it with grace and humility.
Can you give a brief explanation of what Escrow is and what an Escrow Officer/Limited Practice Officer does?
Escrow is the neutral third party [who collects] documents and funds the transaction once all the conditions of agreement have been fulfilled. [We] provide a safe, secure place for all parties and close the transaction when all parties instruct us to close, never before.
So, you’re kind of a middleman?
Correct, we don’t represent or have affiliations to either party. We’re the neutral party. If the seller is encouraging us to close but the buyer says, “No, this inspection item isn’t done,” we don’t take sides or provide an opinion. We stop and ask for the agreed upon written instructions.
Can you share a little bit about your journey into the industry and why you chose to become an Escrow Officer?
I never dreamt about being an Escrow Officer. I didn’t know what it was growing up, but I was an accounting major [in college]. I wasn’t enjoying my upper-level classes, so I considered other options. My first job was at a Century 21 Real Estate office in Orange County, CA answering phones. My aunt was a realtor in Santa Barbara and suggested I go interview with a Title company hiring for front desk help, so that’s what I did. I worked different desks for a couple years, moved into Customer Service for a little bit and then to the Title department. After that I moved into Escrow as an Escrow Assistant working on Refinances and Sales. Eventually I decided I wanted a new city, so I moved up here. I’ve been in [Washington] over 20 years now. I like the organization of [Escrow]. I like the numbers. I’m a task-oriented person and I like systems, so I enjoy drafting the documents but mostly, I really enjoy helping people.
Can you walk me through a normal workday?
First thing when I come in is check all my emails, see what’s come in overnight- possibly new contracts- and get those over to Order Center. I also check on items that I need to respond to immediately, and then I dive into working on files and see what needs to be done. I put everything on my calendar- I couldn’t live without it. I make sure that I’m working on everything within at least a two-week period – getting the seller scheduled, waiting for loan documents to come in and checking with the lender. We make sure everything that we have ordered out at the beginning has actually come in- that’s what Patti and Nicole, [the rest of our escrow team], work on as well. They pull files two to three weeks in advance and make sure everything is in the file, [check] if we have any missing or outstanding items from our sellers, buyers, or agents, and if we have any issues that were on title. [We] make sure that those are being addressed and cleared up.
Another thing about Escrow I’ve learned- it’s never boring, and it’s never the same day. There’s always something new. We get about 200 emails a day and we aim to respond right away. I never delete an email until I know I’ve dealt with it- that is my to do list. It keeps me on my toes.
What is the difference between being in Escrow and an escrow account?
There’s an escrow account the lender handles and then there’s the process of Escrow which is what we do. An escrow account through the lender refers to an account that involves paying your taxes and insurance through your mortgage payment. People are sometimes confused by the two different escrows, especially when they are buyers, and they are doing a loan. When they’re told their taxes and insurance are escrowed, they assume that we’re paying those for the life of the loan. We explain that that is a separate account that the lender handles.
Escrow is more of a procedure. We do have an account open for their earnest money and all funds received, which is a secure trust account. It is required in the state of Washington. Either you go through an Escrow or Title company or an attorney. Washington is the only state that has Limited Practice Officers (LP). There aren’t classes to learn about Escrow though, so there is a lot of on-the-job learning. It’s all about experience. I’ve had some wonderful mentors over the years, and I try to glean as much knowledge as I can. We learn new things every day. There’s always something that we haven’t dealt with before, so it takes time to really learn everything and develop your knowledge base.
Does Escrow require more than one person?
Yes, it’s definitely a team effort. Starting with the Order Center and Customer Service [who are] talking to people when they drop off their earnest money, to Exam and then the Title department. Then our team of three here process the file. We’re always communicating with clients. Once we process the title and we prepare the closing documents, we schedule signings with our lovely staff Signers. From there, it goes to our Disbursement department, and they take it and finish it up and give [clients] the phone calls. It’s definitely a multi-step group effort.
With your direct Escrow team, the Slater team, what do they help with?
The team is helping with opening orders, getting the files processed, clearing title, speaking with clients, and scheduling signings. They review the purchase contract and title, look for any potential issues, and a few weeks before closing, we “order out” the file, payoffs, HOA, utilities, etc. They are so good with people and dealing with sensitive issues because sometimes clients are going through a lot. There is a very human side [of Escrow] that we have to remember, too. These are not just files; we’re helping people with really important and serious decisions – buying or selling a home.
Every client’s situation is different and we hope that everything is simple for them, but we keep in mind that if they’re stressed out, there’s probably a good reason. That’s one of the many reasons why we strive to make the escrow process as uncomplicated and comfortable as possible.
How have you grown personally, because of being an Escrow Officer?
I’ve learned how to manage my time and be proactive, as well as to have confidence working independently. I’m always looking two, three weeks in advance and prioritizing. I’m making sure that we are on top of all our tasks and that we’re effectively communicating. I’ve learned how to delegate or ask for help when I need it, which hasn’t come naturally and I’m still growing in that regard. I like to be in control- it’s part of being an Escrow Officer. It’s my name on the file and it’s my license, so I take it seriously and I make sure it’s done right. It’s important to maintain my reputation, as well as the company’s reputation, and to always provide a good service.
What do you find rewarding? Why do you stay in Escrow?
We have wonderful agents and lenders we work with who are a lot of fun and are amazing at what they do. Seeing clients, especially first-time homebuyers, is always so much fun when they’re excited to come in and they’re taking pictures at the signing table. Sometimes we help people who are retiring and moving on to the next phase of their life. I try to pop into signings, especially if I’ve been talking to them a lot. It’s nice to see people’s dreams of owning a home come true and making sure that it’s as smooth a process as possible for them.
What makes working at PNWT so special?
I think it’s our team mentality. I’ve worked at six other companies and moved around a bit and this is the best place by far. I plan to retire here. We’re all a big team and we are happy to help each other. If someone’s slower with a particular task, one of the team members is there to help and vice versa. If someone is out of the office for whatever reason, we all pitch in a little more. We all help cover for each other and everyone has a positive mindset about it.
Having Chris as our CEO- [she] is such a positive person. [She believes in] work life balance. She’s also always on the edge of technology, trying to improve our company. I’m never slowed down by a lack of resources and tools. It’s nice to be at the forefront of things, to be innovative, and to always find ways to improve.