When buying a home, you might wonder, “Do I need a real estate attorney, or is my real estate agent enough?” Before we dive into the details, let’s talk about what services a real estate attorney can provide. When you hire a real estate attorney, you’re getting someone who is licensed to practice law with industry specific experience. Their job is to make sure the sale from the seller to the buyer happens within the confines of the law, while also looking out for your best interests. They are your guide through the whole property buying process, making sure everything goes smoothly and keeping things on track all the way to the closing.

An attorney offers valuable protection and knowledge for you as a buyer. Even though it might seem like another expense at first, it’s an invaluable investment to protect your interests. Plus, in some states, such as Massachusetts, some aspects of the transaction, such as a title examination of the drafting of a deed, are considered the practice of law and therefore require the involvement of an attorney..

What does a Real Estate Attorney do?

Document Review and Preparation

A real estate lawyer focuses on reviewing and creating important documents, especially the Purchase and Sales agreement. This agreement is a binding contract that outlines the rights and obligations of the buyer and seller during the whole buying process.

The attorney will advocate on your behalf as a buyer to include the most favorable terms to protect you. Their job is to pay close attention to every detail to make sure the agreement includes all the legal requirements. They use their knowledge of the law to add special conditions that help if things don’t go as planned, like what happens if the buyer can’t get a loan or if there are problems with the property. Language for contingencies, such as a home sale contingency should be drafted by your attorney to help prevent unintended consequences down the road.

They can also assist with reviewing mortgage documents and loan negotiations. As well as representing the buyer at closing, in some instances they can attend on your behalf. They will ensure that all closing documents are accurate and address any last-minute issues. This is particularly important because you want to keep your closing on track and there are many requirements in the law regarding the timing and content of your closing documents.

Negotiating the Fine Legal Points

When it comes to negotiations, your Realtor’s job is to negotiate the best terms and conditions for your purchase. But when it comes to drafting those terms and conditions into a legal document, having an experienced real estate attorney is indispensable.  Plus, having them handle your legal negotiations makes the process a lot less stressful. A real estate attorney can review the contracts and ensure that the agreements adhere to all state laws and precisely reflect your intentions and interests. 

They talk you through the details and make sure you are happy with the terms. Whether it’s fixing things, setting clear deadlines, or adjusting contract provisions, they’re focused on protecting your interests as a buyer. With them on your side, you can feel confident that you’re getting a fair shake in negotiations.

Title Searches

Your attorney will also perform what is called a “title exam” or “title search,” a crucial step in the home-buying process to ensure the property is free of any liens or encumbrances. This search determines if the seller has the legal right to sell the property. While anyone can go online and search records at their local register,  an attorney can perform a thorough and complete exam that will give you peace of mind as a new homeowner.

If the title search uncovers any issues, such as an outstanding lien, a lawyer can continue to assist in negotiations and find solutions while keeping the deal on track. Additionally, the lawyer may offer suggestions or connect the seller with financing options to resolve any claims promptly.

When Do I Need an Attorney?

When to hire a real estate attorney depends on several factors. While some situations might not need legal assistance, most can significantly benefit from their expertise. It’s essential to consider these scenarios:

 State Requirements: Some states like Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia require an attorney to be involved in the real estate closing. This is usually because certain aspects of the closing fall within the definition of the “practice of law.” Other states do not necessarily require an attorney to be involved and are usually referred to as “escrow” or “title company” states, where the closing is handled by a neutral third-party title company.

 Legal Issues: Should disagreements come up during the property transaction or unexpected legal issues arise, having a real estate attorney by your side can be extremely useful. Whether it’s negotiation, mediation, or courtroom representation, they provide the expertise needed to navigate these challenges effectively.

Complex Transactions: When deals involve multiple parties, commercial real estate, or atypical provisions in contracts, it is recommended that you hire an attorney. They ensure all legal requirements are covered and that all your contracts are clean and error-free.

How to pick a Real Estate attorney

Now that you know why you may need a real estate attorney, the next step is to find one that is right for you. Just like finding a REALTOR that aligns with you, finding the right attorney is just as important.

The best place to look first is within your circle. Start by asking family, friends, or coworkers who’ve bought or sold homes for recommendations. They can let you know firsthand how their experience went. Be sure to also ask your real estate agent, they might know someone good that they have worked with before. 

Lastly, you can always check out the American Bar Association website or your state/local Bar Association for options. Many states have a Bar Association specifically for real estate attorneys. Once you have found one that might be a good fit, then meet with them to talk about your needs and see if you feel comfortable working with them. That way, you’ll find a lawyer who’s just right for you.