Marsha Gray | Credit: Courtesy

The Independent is pleased to introduce a new columnist to our real estate section. Realtor and author Marsha Gray has been an active part of the Santa Barbara community for decades. While the real estate industry experiences myriad technological advances and ever-changing guidelines, real estate remains rooted in people, lifestyles, and family. Q&A with Marsha Gray aims to bring clarity to the complicating aspects of real estate, so that we can focus on celebrating home. Marsha welcomes your questions, and we welcome her column to its new home in our pages.

Q: Marsha, I am a professional person who thought I had a fairly clear understanding of real estate. My wife and I are currently searching for a home with a hardworking and competent Realtor. My one complaint is that I wish she would explain terminology better. She talks about CMAs, escrow, title, and contingencies. We are also lost when talking with our lender. For example, what does LTV mean? Is this a common problem?

A: I would like to say no … but that’s probably not true. As with all professions, real estate and lending has its own language and terminology. It is our responsibility to explain our alphabet soup — MLS, CMA, LTV, etc. — to our clients. Sometimes the most intelligent, well-educated clients won’t ask for explanations because they feel they should know what the professional is taking about. I urge you to ask them to slow down and explain what they mean. I’ll give you a brief explanation of some common terms you can expect to hear during your real estate experience: CMA, escrow, title, and LTV.

A term you hear frequently is CMA. This acronym stands for competitive market analysis — a method of property evaluation that Realtors use to give a seller or buyer a clear idea of a particular home’s value. Agents are constantly looking at current homes on the market. They know when home listings are active or have a pending sale, and how much homes have sold for in the last six months.

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Sellers and buyers will ask a Realtor for a CMA when they want to know a home’s current value. The Realtor’s evaluation is different than an appraiser’s. An appraiser is always looking at the past and finding value. The Realtor is projecting current and short-term future value. The Realtor’s research is an evaluation for purchase or sale. 

Once a home is under contract, an escrow will be opened. Escrow and title officers are neutral third parties. They are neither on the buyer’s nor the seller’s side. The title officer reviews the home’s title history and makes sure there are no mysterious claims or discrepancies on the property’s title that will affect the transfer of the home to you. They will research all unpaid liens or outstanding loans. They ensure that the home becomes yours free and clear.

The escrow officer’s job is to analyze the contract and see what documents are needed to close the sale. They work with your lender, and ultimately the loan documents will arrive at their office. As their final act, the grant deed and the deed of trust (the loan) will be recorded by the escrow officer with the county clerk, and title will be transferred to the new owner. 

LTV (loan to value) is a ratio the lender uses to evaluate their risk in funding your loan. These ratios are simple to compute: simply divide the loan amount by the purchase price of the property. For example, if you are requesting an $800,000 loan on a home valued at $1,000,000 divide $800,000 by $1,000,000 to get your LTV of 80 percent. This tells the lender you have 20 percent of your own money invested in the purchase. 

From now on, make sure you ask your real estate professional when you don’t understand something. An informed client is a happy client!

Marsha Gray, DRE #012102130, NMLS#1982164, has been a real estate broker in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, real estate services and lending. To read more Q&A articles, visit She will research and answer all questions submitted. Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or

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