OK, your purchase contract and counter offers are signed, and it's time to open escrow! This ends one phase of the real estate transaction and begins a new one.
Escrow is both a process, as well as a company. The escrow company will execute the details of the contract from a legal, and financial perspective. In my corner of the world in San Diego, the home seller generally has the option to select escrow and title vendors. If you don't have these vendors already pre-selected, chances are the buyer or buyer's agent will have a preference. I advise you to review escrow companies either through a site like yelp, word of mouth, or Google. There are differences in service levels of escrow companies, and there are differences in fees. You want to be sure to get an upfront quote of escrow costs before you start a new escrow. The same goes with title companies.
To open escrow, send your signed contract and counter offers to the escrow officer you choose. Give the escrow officer all the pertinent information about the property and the buyer's or buyer's agent Realtor. Once you done that, let the buyer side know where you opened escrow. The most important item to track is the buyer's security deposit. It needs to get to escrow within 3 days per the Residential California Purchase Contract.
After escrow is opened, your job is to let the home buyer do his or her job. The buyer will want to schedule a property inspection, any any other specialized inspections the buyer deems necessary (i.e. roof, foundation, landscape). The buyer has the right to conduct these inspections and as a seller, you will want to cooperate with these activities. During this initial period, the buyer will want to have their lender order an appraisal (unless it is a cash purchase).
As the seller, your job is to order any inspections that buyer requested you handle (often termite, and obtaining any relevant HOA documents). In the first week of escrow, the seller will need to complete a package of seller disclosures, which are the most important thing you will do from a legal perspective. More on these tomorrow! Stay tuned!