Buying a home is one of the biggest investments of our lives. Part of the process is signing a legally binding contract. As if that doesn’t induce enough anxiety, most of these contracts aren’t even in plain language. They’re often sprinkled with legal jargon that can get confusing to the untrained eye. Because of their complexity, real estate transactions can involve a whole slew of people to make things go smoothly. Before signing on the dotted line, it’s a good idea to get a professional to look over your contracts, among other things. Here’s where having a real-estate attorney on your side can make a huge difference when navigating the complexities of buying and selling a home.
What Is A Real Estate Attorney?
In order to understand real estate attorneys, you must first understand real estate law. Real estate law involves any regulations involving buying, selling and using land and property. It exists to protect the interests of both the buyer and the seller, ensuring the details of the transaction are clearly defined.
Real estate attorneys are lawyers that support you in all things legal when it comes to buying or selling a home. It’s their job to know the ins and outs of the rules and regulations of everything involved with your home purchase. To become a real estate attorney, one has to attend a law school accredited by the American Bar Association after receiving a bachelor’s degree. One must also pass the bar exam in their practicing state. While all lawyers automatically receive their real estate license after passing the bar exam, not every attorney chooses real estate as their area of focus.
Real estate agents often get confused with real estate attorneys. While their jobs may often overlap, there are benefits to having both. Typically, the real estate agent offers more support on the negotiation side of things and the real estate attorney can provide more support on legal documents and situations that even the most experienced real estate agent could miss.
The role of real estate attorneys are also not to be confused with that of title companies. Title companies merely check the title for legitimacy, then supply the insurance for that home. Real estate attorneys get a much more in-depth look at the title to ensure you as a consumer doesn’t miss anything before buying or selling.
What Do Real Estate Attorneys Do?
Once hired, real estate attorneys have several responsibilities in a given real estate transaction.
Provide Legal Advice
Unless you’re a practicing lawyer yourself, you probably aren’t well-versed in legal jargon. As mentioned, this is an area of expertise for real estate attorneys. When working with a real estate lawyer, you get the satisfaction of being able to make legal decisions with confidence. No more second-guessing if you understood what the document was actually saying. Real estate attorneys are there to translate all of the technical legal language into something you can actually understand.
Prepare, Review And Manage Legal Documents
In most cases, real estate attorneys have the power to act on your behalf when it comes to managing legal documents. They have the authority to draft and manage those documents. This can take a huge weight off your shoulders and allow you to focus on the other things you need to figure out, like moving logistics or additional expenses.
Resolve Transactional Conflicts
If something does go amiss during the home buying process and you find yourself facing legal conflict, real estate attorneys can fully represent you when resolving the conflict. Real estate attorneys are fully trained in resolving disputes between parties regarding property transactions.
Why Work With A Real Estate Attorney?
Some states, such as New York, Florida and Georgia, require a real estate attorney to be involved in order to buy or sell a home. Some even limit the amount of authority non-attorney agents have in giving legal advice and creating legal documents. If it’s required by law for a real estate attorney to be involved in the home buying or selling process, there’s no getting around it.
Another reason to work with a real estate attorney is to have legal representation and support you can trust during your transaction, so you know the amount you’re agreeing to pay and the stipulations you’re agreeing to. It can be difficult to know when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, especially for first-time home buyers. Having the peace of mind of knowing your interests are being protected is well worth it.
Real estate attorneys can help you with a variety of issues that agents may not be able to, including landlord-tenant disputes, foreclosures, short sales, easements, commercial real estate, dealing with someone else’s estate and property included in it, navigating financial roadblocks like bankruptcy, etc.
Danielle O'Brien, a REALTOR® and broker and owner of Parkway Real Estate in Massachusetts, advises all of her clients to use a real estate attorney.
“The main reason is that no deal is the same, and therefore no set standard in the paperwork will be the same,” she says. “As a broker, I am provided only standard Offer or Purchase & Sale Agreement forms by my local Real Estate Board. However, I am not an attorney and therefore not able to edit anything on these forms. Sometimes clients have questions about exactly what they are signing and it’s best to consult an attorney who can truly help them understand the protections and the risks in the language used. And, things can go wrong in real estate deals. I would rather have an attorney part of the process from the start than bring them in once things are messy.”
Characteristics Of A Good Real Estate Attorney
Choosing who to trust with what’s likely the biggest investment of your life can be a tricky task. There are a few defining characteristics that experienced real estate attorneys should have.
Again, this is likely the biggest purchase of your life, and you’re giving someone full access to the organization and accuracy of the legal documentation of your real estate transaction. You’ll want to make sure your real estate attorney is known for crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s, then triple checking just to be sure.
There’s nothing more frustrating than not being in the know about your own affairs. A good real estate agent will keep you in the loop throughout the entire process and touch base with you often. They’ll be ready and willing to provide clarity and answer each and every question you have regarding the more confusing legal aspects of your transaction. The advice they give you should be without bias. A good real estate attorney will lay out every option available to you, then use their experience to suggest a best route.
It’s not what you know, it’s … well, you get it. A real estate lawyer who is well-known in their community could offer you options that more independent attorneys may not be able to. Typically, the amount of connections a real estate lawyer has is directly correlated with the amount of their experience. The longer the real estate lawyer has been in practice and the more people they know, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to solve any problems that arise with your transaction or at least know someone who can.
It’s helpful to work with a real estate attorney who’s well-connected with professionals in adjacent housing-related fields as well. These lawyers may be able to get you deals on other services that other attorneys cannot.
The majority of the time, it’s better to work with a real estate lawyer who has worked with someone you trust in the past over someone you found on your own with no trusted source to vouch for their work. When a real estate attorney is connected to someone you know and has worked with them in the past, you have a real-life example of how that person’s experience was while working with that individual. If you’re lucky enough to have an unbiased review from a trusted source, be sure to take advantage of that connection.
The Bottom Line
While hiring a real estate attorney during real estate transactions isn’t legally required in many states, a strong argument can be made for why you should use one either way. Between having access to strong legal advice, having someone to draft legal documents in your best interest and having someone to represent you in the event of legal discrepancies, a real estate attorney might be just the thing you need to feel confident in your home buying or selling process.