Title Agency vs. Escrow Agency: What's the Difference?

Is there any difference between a “title agency” and an “escrow agency” or are these just two different names for the exact same thing?

And to be clear, I’m not talking about the title insurance underwriter (the huge company that issues your title insurance policy). I’m talking about the brick-and-mortar office where you go to sign documents and either drop off your check or pick up your check.

In some states, I’ve noticed people refer to their closing office as the escrow company. In other states, everyone calls it the title company (not title insurance company, not title insurance underwriter, just “title company”).

Is there any technical difference between the two, or just a different name used in different parts of the country, referring to the exact same thing?

@retipsterseth, interesting, I’ve been assuming these can be used interchangeably, in that (at least in the couple of states where I’ve worked so far) the office we’re referring to generally handles both the escrow of funds as well as the preparation and recording of title, but I’m interested to see if others view that differently.

Other than just differences in local terminology, the other possible explanation that comes to my mind is whether in states that require the deed (title) be drawn up by an attorney, and that attorney might not work for the closing agency directly, perhaps they might use the term “escrow agency” since they are not preparing title (although they’re probably still recording it). Just a wild guess though.

I think this confusion is coming from over-generalized terms that have worked their way into the vernacular of many real estate professionals.

A title insurance company is usually a very large, publicly-traded company that underwrites and issues title insurance policies in real estate transactions. Examples of title insurance companies are Fidelity, First American, Old Republic, Chicago Title and Stewart Title.

A title agency is a much smaller office that serves a local market by handling the title research, preparing paperwork, facilitating closings and collecting/holding/transferring funds in a real estate transaction.

Here’s where the terminology starts to get muddled:
Many of the big title insurance companies also have their own title agency branches. For example, Chicago Title, Stewart Title and First American are not only title insurance companies, they also have title agency offices around the country (the brick-and-mortar place where you go to sign documents and either deliver a check or collect a check).

However, there are also many independently operated title agencies that are NOT owned and operated by one of the big title insurance companies. These independent agencies can choose to work with one or more of the above-mentioned title insurance underwriters to provide title insurance policies to their customers, but all of the hands-on work of closing real estate transaction (title searches, preparing closing documents, getting documents signed, collecting and transferring funds, etc) is done by the independently operated title agency.

When someone uses the term “title company”, they could be referring to either a title insurance company or a title agency, or both. Most often, I’ve found they are referring to the title agency (because that’s who they are working with directly to get the deal closed, not the underwriting office), but it ultimately depends on the context of what is being said and who is saying it.

An escrow agency (also known as an “escrow office” or “escrow company”) is essentially the same thing as the title agency described above. It’s the branch office that handles the facilitation of closing, including everything from title searches to paperwork preparation to scheduling closing meetings and transferring funds between all parties.

In some circles, people refer to their closing agent using the word “escrow” and in other circles they use the word “title”.

I personally think “escrow” is a better describer word for the local branch, because “title” is more of an umbrella term that could be referring to one of a few different things. “Escrow” is only ever used for the local office that is literally holding the funds in escrow and doing 90% of the work of closing deals.


Wow, awesome reply @donyost - thanks for clearing that up for me!