Opening a Real Estate Broker Trust Account

The Law:

G.S. 93A-6(g) states that “a broker’s trust or escrow account shall be a demand deposit account in a federally insured depository institution lawfully doing business in the State which agrees to make its records of the broker’s account available for inspection by the Commission’s representatives”

North Carolina Real Estate Commission Rules:

21 NCAC 58A .0117 (b) states that “a trust or escrow account shall satisfy the requirements of G.S. 93A-6(g) and shall be designated as a “Trust Account” of “Escrow Account”. All bank statements, deposit tickets and checks drawn on said account shall bear the words “Trust Account” or “Escrow Account”. A trust account shall provide for the full withdrawal of funds on demand without prior notice and without penalty or deduction to the funds.

 21 NCAC 58A .0117 (4)(c)  states “a broker may maintain a maximum of one hundred ($100.00) in company funds in the trust account for the purpose of paying service charges incurred by the account.  In the event that the services charges exceed one hundred dollars ($100.00) monthly, the broker may deposit an amount each month sufficient to cover the service charges. A broker shall maintain a separate ledger for company funds held in the trust account identifying the date, amount and running balance for each deposit and disbursement.”

Why do Brokers sometimes have difficulty opening a Real Estate Broker Trust Account at a bank or federally insured depository institution?

Sometimes a broker runs into difficulty opening a trust or escrow account at a bank or federally insured depository institution.  Most often the problem is a result of the banker requiring the broker to provide them with a formal trust agreement.

So why the confusion? It is fairly common for individuals and families to create a formal trust agreement for the purpose of distributing assets upon an individual’s death.  This may be done to protect property in an estate or to avoid probate. The person who manages a trust on behalf of a beneficiary is a trustee. So, the banker hears you want to open a trust account and then requires that the broker provide a written trust agreement to establish the account.

In real estate brokerage, the broker is a fiduciary to the people whose money is held in the trust or escrow account.  Though this fiduciary relationship exists, the broker is not a “trustee” and there is no formal trust document.

When Establishing a Trust or Escrow Account – Give the Following Information to the Banker.

  1. Ask to open a business checking account (this is a demand deposit account).
  2. Verify that the account is “federally insured”.
  3. Have the banker designate the account(s) as a “Trust Account” or Escrow Account” by adding the designation to all bank statements, deposit tickets and all checks drawn on the account.
  4. Explain that no written trust agreement is required.

The broker may need to tell the Banker that the account is similar to an attorney trust account, in that there is no trust agreement.

If the broker provides the preceding information and the banker still insists on requiring a formal trust agreement, the broker may want to consider using another bank or depository institution.  There are probably tens of thousands of real estate trust or escrow accounts in the State of NC, so it should be relatively easy to find a banker to open your real estate broker trust account.

Other Considerations or Recommendations

  1. The broker can open and maintain the account with a maximum of $100 of broker or company funds for the purpose of paying service charges incurred by the account.  However, the broker does not have to have any personal or company funds in the account.  If the firm also maintains an operating account (non-trust acct) at the bank, the banker may be able to deduct any service fees incurred from the trust account from the non-trust operating account.
  2. Many brokers that engage in property management prefer to open several trust or escrow accounts.  Often brokers decide to open separate accounts for tenant security deposits and rents.  Many brokers have found it beneficial to make the checks different colors, as a way to easily identify the account.