If you are buying or selling real estate, it’s a good idea to hire a real estate attorney. Your lawyer is in your corner and looks out exclusively for your interests. The average person is not equipped to sift through the tidal wave of technical jargon contained in most legal documents. Real estate law is particularly tricky because it is so much more technical than many other fields of law. This makes hiring a lawyer all the more important.
Whether you are buying or selling property, here are a few of the things a real estate lawyer can help you with:
1. Helping you understand your purchase contract
Unless you went to law school, the technical details of your purchase contract will almost certainly be over your head. Your real estate attorney will take a careful look at your contract, and then go through it with you to make sure that you are fully aware of what you are about to sign.
2. Negotiating, preparing, and reviewing your contract
It is a good idea to get your lawyer involved in preparing the purchase contract. They understand how to protect your interests and avoid mistakes that could cost you money. Your lawyer can even negotiate the purchase contract for you, if need be.
3. Reviewing and consulting on contingencies
Many buyers place conditions on their obligation to follow through with the deal. These conditions are called contingencies. Typical contingencies include (among other things) obtaining financing (a mortgage), and home inspections to make sure the home is structurally sound and up to code. Your lawyer can explain these to you and how they might affect your sale.
4. Check to make sure that there are no conflicting legal documents that might detract from or affect your ownership/use of the property
The most important legal document in any real estate transaction is the title, or deed. The title tells you who owns the property and has the right to sell it. Your real estate lawyer will perform a title search to make sure that there are no claims on the property (called liens), and that nobody else has any other sort of legal right to or claim on the property. If the title search reveals no liens or other claims, it is called a “clean title.”
Your real estate attorney will also verify that there are no disputes about the boundaries of your property. This will help you be sure that you are buying or selling everything you thought you were.
Or, perhaps the property is subject to certain restrictions (called deed restrictions), governmental rules (called zoning ordinances), or contracts that affect or limit how you can use the property (called homeowner or condominium association agreements). Your real estate lawyer will check on this for you as well.
5. Ensuring that the title (deed) of the property is transferred, recorded, and valid
This is important because it will verify to you that the seller has the right to sell the property, and tell the rest of the world that you are the sole owner of the property you are about to purchase. That way nobody else can ever make a claim on your property.
6. Sorting out issues with the title (deed)
If, God forbid, anything goes wrong with the transfer of the title (deed) to the property, your real estate attorney will be there to figure it out and guide you through it.
7. Arrange title insurance for you
Title insurance protects you from defects that may have been overlooked in your title (deed). This is usually required by the lender (bank) that gave you your mortgage. Your real estate lawyer will coordinate the purchase of this insurance for you.
8. Helping you with your escrow accounts
In every sale of real estate, the buyer’s purchase money will be held “in escrow.” If you don’t know, that means that the funds are held in a special bank account on standby, ready to be transferred pending your deal going through. Your bank will also be able to help you with this, but you will be dealing with a lot of money, and you might appreciate having your lawyer help guide you through. Better safe than sorry!
9. Being present at the closing of the deal to review all of the documents you will have to sign
Most real estate closings go smoothly, but you can completely eliminate your risk by bringing your real estate lawyer with you. If there is a problem at the closing, you will thank your lucky stars you had your attorney there.