Real Estate Attorneys: What They Do and Why You Need One
A real estate attorney can help you prepare and review the legal documents of a sale and title transfer of a home. You’d also need a real estate lawyer to make sure the sales agreement you sign for your new home protects your interests.
Several states require a real estate attorney to be present at closing, but there are other reasons you should hire one regardless. They can guide you through a complicated transaction, like buying a condominium for example, or mediate a property transaction that goes sour.
What does a real estate attorney do?
A real estate attorney’s role is to oversee the legal aspects of the sale of real property, which includes land for residential or commercial use. Depending on whether you’re buying or selling the home, your real estate attorney’s role will differ.
What does a real estate attorney do for a seller?
As a home seller, a real estate lawyer can act as your advocate in negotiating the terms of the purchase agreement (excluding price) and help you have a smooth transaction. An attorney can give you peace of mind — you have a higher chance of being sued for failure to disclose certain information about the property without one.
Real estate lawyers can help a home seller with the following, according to Marc J. Blumenthal, a real estate attorney practicing in Illinois:
- Reviewing and negotiating the terms of your real estate contract with your potential real estate broker
- Ensuring that you’re paying an appropriate commission to your real estate broker based on the services you receive
- Obtaining all documents needed to clear title and your obligations under the real estate sale contract
- Preparing the deed and other transaction documents
- Preparing a detailed report of transaction fees that you’ll incur at closing
- Determining the location and time of the closing
What does a real estate attorney do for a buyer?
As a homebuyer, a real estate attorney can help you understand every document during the closing process to ensure a smooth transfer of property, which can put your mind at ease. Keep in mind that an attorney who acts as a settlement or closing agent also represents the seller, lender and other parties involved in the home sale. In this case, you’d still want to hire your own lawyer to protect your interests without bias. Real estate attorneys can represent buyers in the following ways:
- Inspecting the property and making helpful judgments on the property
- Clearing up property-related issues, such as properties that don’t follow zoning and environmental terms and conditions
- Reviewing title documents, which define the legal ownership of the property
- Conducting a title search to ensure the property is being sold without obstacles, like liens or outstanding judgments
- Preparing the sales and purchase agreement
Additional issues real estate attorneys can help with
Real estate attorneys can also help with more complicated issues, such as homeowners association (HOA) problems after buying a condominium or townhouse. For instance, the HOA board of directors might neglect to make needed repairs or allow one homeowner to build an exterior structure while another isn’t permitted to do the same. If an initial conversation with the HOA board doesn’t resolve the issue, you can hire a real estate lawyer to negotiate and potentially litigate if needed.
When should you hire a real estate attorney?
Ideally, you should hire a real estate attorney before signing any agreements to buy or sell a property. Having a lawyer in your corner can put your mind at ease during an already complicated transaction. Additionally, certain states require an attorney to be present during the home closing process, including:
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Even if you aren’t in one of the states requiring that a real estate attorney be present at the closing table, hiring one to navigate conflicts is critical.
How much does a real estate attorney cost?
Real estate attorneys can charge either an hourly or flat rate, starting from $150 to $350 per hour. So a standard buy-and-sell transaction could end up costing you anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000. When planning to hire a real estate attorney, you should consider if they charge flat fees for processes like preparing closing documents or if the lawyer would itemize costs for printing, phone calls and travel to the closing site.
Typically, a real estate lawyer gets paid after closing, so getting a lawyer that tries to negotiate payment in advance could be a red flag. Also, keep in mind that complex transactions, such as dealing with inherited property or working with international buyers, could drive the cost up. To make cost expectations clear, arrange the agreement with your real estate attorney in writing.
Before hiring a real estate attorney, make sure you ask the right questions to understand the total costs and ensure that the attorney represents your interests alone. Here are important questions to ask before you hire a real estate attorney, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):
- How much would it cost to negotiate the sales agreement, review documents and counsel concerning those documents?
- What is the charge for being present at the closing appointment?
- How much would it cost to review instructions to the escrow agent or company?
- Will the attorney represent anyone other than you in the transaction?
- Will the attorney be paid by anyone other than you in the transaction?
How can I find a real estate attorney near me?
You can find a real estate attorney near you by getting recommendations from your state or local bar associations, friends and family members. You can also find attorneys online, though a personal recommendation is likely the most effective. Your real estate agent or broker might recommend an attorney, but it’s a best practice to hire your own attorney. Remember, part of a real estate attorney’s job is to review the listing agreement, so having one independent from your agent can ensure the attorney is acting in your best interests.