A real estate attorney is an attorney who specializes in property law and uses their skills to oversee disputes, transfer of property, and transactions between parties. Although it’s not necessary to have an attorney at every transaction, having the input of an expert is especially useful when buying or selling a home. In fact, it is necessary for buyers to hire a real estate attorney in certain states (we recommend talking to your Realtor to see if you will need to hire an attorney).
Whether you’re seeking an expert opinion by choice, or you are required to have the help of a property law specialist, it is important that you know how to hire the best real estate attorney for you.
Finding Your Real Estate Attorney
Unless you already know a good real estate attorney, it can be hard to know where to start looking.
We recommend you start looking for a good attorney before you get to the stage of requiring a contract to be negotiated and drawn up; tensions are understandably heightened at this point in a sale, and the pressure to keep things moving could lead you to make a hasty choice. Instead, start looking for an attorney once you start house hunting and you will be able to search at your own pace.
Here are things you should consider when hiring a real estate lawyer:
- Are they versed in local property law? Property laws in NYC are not the same as those in LA, so make sure that you’re getting someone appropriate for the area you are buying in.
- How many clients do they take on at once? If you pick a lawyer who takes on a high volume of cases then they may use a cut and paste approach to save time. This means they might not take the time to look at your individual needs and get you the best possible results.
- How much, if any, of their fees are refundable if the deal falls through?
Of course, referrals are generally a good way to find a competent lawyer, but you should be wary of where the referral comes from. Referrals from friends and family are often best. Referrals from individuals or services that make a commission off their recommendations may be less trustworthy.
Vetting a Real Estate Attorney
Once you have the name of a good attorney, you should contact them to discuss their services, fees, and your aspirations in terms of properties. Each property sale is different, so there is no ‘right’ approach, but there are some things you should do when hiring a real estate attorney.
1. Ensure They are Certified: check with the state bar association to make sure that the attorney you have your eye on is allowed to practice in your area. They will also be able to tell you if their certifications are up-to-date.
2. Book a Consultation: arrange a face-to-face meeting so that you can get a sense of their experience and approach. Remember this consultation won’t be about specific legal advice, but rather about you figuring out if this attorney is a good fit for you. Ask them about how they administer the managing agent questionnaire (it would be better if they do it themselves, rather than delegating to a paralegal).
3. Clarify Their Fee Structure: if you are sure that they’re someone you would be happy to work with, you should ask about their fees. You should expect to pay anywhere from $400 to $1,500 for an average transaction. Make sure that the fees they quote include due diligence, and what they expect in terms of a retainer.
Hiring an Attorney
Once you have an attorney in mind, you should begin the process of hiring them as soon as you are comfortable. You may need to start by paying a retainer, or the flat fee which your attorney requires to begin the process. At this point, you should provide them with any appropriate documentation and make sure that they have everything they need to begin work.
A good real estate attorney will make the process of buying or selling a home easier, but they rely on your cooperation so make sure you ask any questions and provide them with what they need quickly! If you do this you’re much more likely to find an attorney who suits you and make the process of buying or selling your home smooth.