A home is likely one of the biggest financial purchases you will make, and you may be overwhelmed by all the people involved with the process: real estate agents, mortgage brokers, appraisers, inspectors, and more. Hiring a real estate attorney (also known as a property lawyer or realtor attorney) may seem like just another added cost, but it could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run by preventing problems before they arise.
Many states require a real estate attorney to be present at closing. In other states having an attorney is optional. Knowing what a real estate attorney does is the first step to ensuring that you and your family are in the best position to make a decision before buying or selling a home.
What does a Real Estate Lawyer do for Buyers?
A real estate lawyer can help the transaction go smoothly and mitigate risk. They can advise the prospective homeowner’s search for the best property, deal with brokers, write and review purchase agreements, negotiate and execute of a contract of sale, procure a mortgage, and attend the closing of the mortgage where the deed is transferred, to name a few.
While most basic transactions in most states don’t require a real estate attorney, there are still many situations in which an attorney is not only helpful but necessary. When buying a new home, you’ll want to hire an attorney if:
- You’re from out of town
- The property has physical damages
- There is an illegal dwelling on the property such as an in-law unit
- The land is owned by the bank
- The area is subject to adverse weather (floods, tornados, hurricanes, etc.)
- You need to evict tenants
- You need to back out of a contract
- You need to fix a title problem or confirm ownership (often through a quiet title action)
What does a Real Estate Lawyer do for Sellers?
As a seller, you’ll want to hire an attorney if:
- You’re selling land of a deceased relative
- The property has structural problems
- You have a history of property liens (due to debt)
- You’re negotiating a divorce and need to split the assets
- You are in the midst of a short sale or foreclosure
- You require a partition lawsuit to force the sale of the property
It’s especially important to consult with a real estate attorney if anything in the house or contract seems dodgy, to avoid further problems down the line.
Do I Need a Real Estate Lawyer at Closing?
Whether or not you need a lawyer at closing depends on your location. The states that require a real estate attorney to be involved include Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. This list is subject to change as states frequently pass new legislation, so make sure to check your local laws.
Each state decides how to handle home closings. Georgia, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, for example, require that an attorney be physically present for each real estate transaction. Some states, such as North Carolina and Alabama, limit the amount of power a non-attorney can have in closings, including drafting legal documents and giving certain legal advice. These laws can often be vague and difficult to understand without the interpretation of an attorney.
How Much does a Real Estate Attorney Cost?
An attorney typically charges hourly rates between $150-$350, or a flat fee at closing. While hiring a lawyer may be more costly upfront, it can save you money in the long run by preventing problems before they arise – for instance, buying a home with a tax lien or one that is susceptible to natural disasters. Having a real estate lawyer in your corner can provide peace of mind during one of the most expensive and complex purchases of your life.
How to Find a Real Property Attorney
When choosing your real estate attorney, it’s always in your best interest to come prepared with a list of questions. You want to select someone with whom you are comfortable and someone who is experienced with your specific type of transaction. Consider asking:
- How long have you been a real estate attorney?
- How many similar transactions have you dealt with before?
- How would you handle my case?
- Can you tell me your overall strategy?
- Will you specifically work on my case and attend my closing or will your paralegal or someone else in your office handle it?
- Does your fee include due diligence?
Real estate lawyers are experts at navigating the complex world of real estate law. Many states require a real estate lawyer to be involved in a home buying or selling transaction, but if yours doesn’t, hiring an attorney is still worth considering. They can help you navigate documents, resolve disputes, and make informed choices, so you can rest assured that your transaction is airtight. After all, buying a home is one of the most important, expensive, and life-changing decisions, and you’ll have more peace of mind with a professional by your side.
Note: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should contact their attorney for advice on any particular legal matter.