If you're considering buying a home, it's probably going to be the most expensive investment you'll ever make. In addition to using a real estate agent to deal with the negotiation process, you may want to consider hiring a real estate lawyer to guide you through the legal process.
Real estate attorneys specialize in legal matters related to property, from sale transactions to disputes between parties.
Real Estate Lawyers: An Overview
Many states require that a real estate attorney be present at a closing. Even if your state does not require it, you might want one there for you.
A real estate attorney will review all of the paperwork in advance of the closing on your behalf and advise you of any problems or omissions with the documentation. At the closing, the attorney will represent your interests.
Most real estate lawyers charge by the hour for their services, although some charge a flat fee. The lawyer will advise you of this fee up front. Typically, the range is $150 to $350 per hour, or a flat fee of $500 to $1,500.
- A real estate attorney prepares or reviews all of the documents that are signed at the closing of a real estate purchase.
- The attorney is then present at the closing to represent the buyer's (or the seller's) interests.
- Real estate law is a matter for state and local jurisdictions.
What Real Estate Law Covers
Real estate law encompasses the purchase and sale of real property, meaning land and any structure on it. It also covers legal issues related to anything that is attached to the property or structures, such as appliances and fixtures.
Lawyers who specialize in this branch of the legal system ensure that proper procedures are followed during the acquisition or sale of property. They also may be concerned with the use of property. Real estate law covers deeds, property taxes, estate planning, zoning, and titles.
All of these laws vary by state and by local government. Attorneys must be licensed to practice in the state where the transaction is taking place and must be up to date on any local or state changes that could affect a transaction.
The number of states that require that a buyer bring an attorney to a real estate closing.
The Attorney's Responsibilities
A real estate attorney is equipped to prepare and review documents relating to real estate such as purchase agreements, mortgage documents, title documents, and transfer documents.
A real estate attorney hired to handle a transaction will always attend the closing with the buyer. This is when the money is paid and the title is transferred. The attorney is there to ensure that the transfer is legal, binding, and in the best interests of the client.
During the purchase of a property, the real estate attorney and staff might prepare documents, write title insurance policies, complete title searches on the property, and handle the transfer of funds for the purchase. If the purchase is being financed, the attorney is responsible for paperwork such as the federal HUD-1 Form and related transfer of funds documentation for the buyer's lender.
In the case of a real estate dispute, such as chain of title, lot line problems, or other issues involving contracts, the attorney will resolve the problem.
A real estate attorney may also provide legal representation for either a buyer or a seller when a dispute winds up in a courtroom. The real estate attorney obtains facts from both sides of the dispute and tries to bring them to a resolution. This may mean hiring a surveyor or title company to work through some of the details.
Like any lawyer, a real estate lawyer has earned a law degree, which typically takes three years of study for a full-time student, and has passed the state bar exam administered by the state in which he or she practices.
Training for a specialization like real estate law may begin with elective courses and internships during law school and may continue afterward for certification in real estate law.
When You Need a Real Estate Attorney
As noted, some states and the District of Columbia require that a real estate attorney be present during any real estate transaction. Those states include 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.
If you don't live in any of these states, it's up to you whether you want to hire an attorney. It may depend on your confidence in your own knowledge of the ins and outs of real estate law.
Hiring one is certainly worth considering if you're trying to navigate a particularly murky or complex situation like a foreclosure or a short sale.