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Buying or selling real estate is a big decision — and a big investment. When you consider the complexity of real estate laws, even the smallest mistake can cost you money. This is why for some transactions you need a real estate attorney, or real estate lawyer, to navigate all the necessary legal requirements. They can also help you avoid landmines so you can protect your real estate investment.
Here are the different services offered by real estate attorneys and the situations when hiring one makes sense — or when you might not need one.
What is a real estate attorney?
A real estate attorney is a licensed professional who handles legal responsibilities related to real estate transactions. The attorney may represent the interests of the buyer, seller, or lender. One of their main tasks is to prepare and review the relevant documents necessary for the sale and purchase of the property.
What does a real estate attorney do?
Services offered by real estate attorneys vary. Some deal with transactions related to commercial buildings, such as office space; Others focus on developing, selling and buying residential properties; And some have more general knowledge that includes all asset types.
Here are some things a real estate attorney can do during a transaction.
Negotiate real estate deals
A real estate attorney will perform due diligence to ensure that you are included in an agreement that protects your interests. They also recommend that the transaction comply with state and federal laws.
Drafting and review of real estate contracts
The lawyer will ensure that the contract, such as a purchase, mortgage or rental agreement, is airtight and includes all legal requirements and necessary terms.
Perform topic searches
Real estate attorneys also conduct title searches. A title search is necessary in many cases to ensure this:
- The seller has the legal right to transfer the property to the buyer
- There are no debts on the property
- There are no ongoing issues affecting the buyer’s ability to hold the property
- There are no restrictive covenants or zoning laws that limit land use
- All property taxes have been paid
Draft title insurance policies
A title insurance policy covers any third party claims after the real estate transaction closes and is not disclosed during the initial title search. In addition to writing title insurance policies, a real estate attorney can review the policy for exclusions and exceptions.
Prepare closing documents
A real estate attorney can handle the loan closing process and also ensure that all necessary documents – such as deed and closing statement – are properly filed.
Take care of real estate disputes and disputes
The attorney can represent you in a real estate dispute – negotiating a settlement or representing you if it escalates to litigation.
Act as a representative in foreclosure actions
Real estate attorneys are also needed in court foreclosures, which is when a lender files a foreclosure lawsuit in court to seize property that the owner has not paid.
Work on zoning and land use issues
Local governments have specific regulations governing land use. Sites are zoned for single-family homes, apartment buildings, commercial use only, or mixed use. A real estate attorney can help a property owner or prospective buyer request a change in how the land is used or re-enforce it on behalf of other owners.
Related: What is a land lease?
Security Title Actions File
If an issue is discovered during the title search that the real estate attorney is unable to correct by correcting the title in the public records, then a quiet title lawsuit must be filed. This is a lawsuit naming all parties who have a claim to the property to respond or have their rights denied in court.
Lease contract drafting and evaluation
Real estate attorneys help with leases and leases for both residential and commercial properties. They can review them on your behalf to make sure there are no potentially problematic words.
Construction loans and contracts
A real estate attorney helps negotiate and draft a construction contract, and oversees the closing of a construction loan. These loans tend to be more complex than home purchases, covering issues such as costs, deadlines, liability, and more.
Handling disputes and negotiations
Whether it’s a dispute over a fence or building, or negotiating the use of a portion of the property, you need the help of a real estate attorney to protect your interests.
Prepare and review commitments
A real estate attorney can help homeowners associations draft covenants that determine what owners can do with their property. You can also review covenants before you buy—to identify rules that limit your ability to make improvements to the land or property.
Other unusual conditions
Finally, there are also less frequent situations where you may benefit from the help of an attorney. It could be buying or selling property as part of an estate sale, short sale or foreclosure auction, buying property in a different state than where you live, selling it as part of a divorce settlement, or selling property to pay off debt.
When do I need a real estate attorney?
Although whether or not you need a real estate attorney for most services is up to you, there are certain situations when you should hire one.
Many states have laws requiring the involvement of a licensed real estate attorney in transactions, especially at closing. These include the District of Columbia and the following states: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, 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.
The exact requirements vary based on the state, but be sure to check what the law requires in the area where you plan to buy or sell property.
Depending on state law, some lenders require that a real estate attorney be present at closing. For example, Rocket Mortgage requires you to have an attorney oversee your closing if the property is located in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina or West Virginia.
Should you hire a real estate attorney?
If the transaction is not in a situation where a real estate attorney is involved, you must decide whether or not it is worth hiring one.
When should you hire a real estate attorney?
There are times when it makes sense to work with a real estate attorney, such as:
- You want an independent third party to review the contract and represent your interests throughout the transaction.
- Depending on the fee, hiring one can be a worthwhile investment to avoid ending up with any legal exposure or liability.
- An expert can guide you through all the complex legal issues related to real estate transactions and help you make the right decisions.
When not to hire a real estate attorney
Also, hiring a real estate attorney may not be the best idea, for example:
- It can be expensive, especially if your state doesn’t require a real estate attorney and your transaction is simple.
- Hiring a real estate attorney can have the unintended effect of making the transaction more complicated than it needs to be, because lawyers are now involved.
- If you are making a simple home purchase, the services of a title company are sufficient, especially if you do not need legal advice.
How to find a real estate attorney
If you decide to work with or hire a real estate attorney, there are ways to find the best professional to work with.
- Ask for recommendations. Recommendations from friends, family or professional contacts, especially those who have recently used a solicitor to buy or sell property, can go a long way.
- Use the American Bar Association directory. You can use the directory to find your state’s website and see real estate attorneys in your area.
- Read reviews. Use online review websites to find information on top-rated real estate attorneys in your area, including their specialties, fee structures, and reviews to inform your decision.
Related: Is buying a house a good investment?
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