How to Find a Great Real Estate Attorney

Chris Heller HeadshotChris Heller, Licensed AgentAugust 19, 2022

Mediation,Client,Meeting,Lawyer,Consulting,Government,Help,,Businessman,And,MaleA real estate attorney is responsible for reviewing transaction documents, ensuring the legality of transactions, resolving conflicts, and keeping buyers and sellers from making expensive mistakes. If you need real estate legal services, it’s important to find an attorney that will provide you the best assistance possible. This article will discuss what a real estate attorney does and how to find the one that’s best suited to your needs.

What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do?

Real estate attorneys specialize in property transactions including buying, selling, home ownership, disputes, title issues, management, and compliance. They ensure that all contracts are drawn up accurately and reflect the terms of the deal. The provide a variety of services including the following:

  • Ensuring that the ownership of the property belongs to the seller
  • Identifying all liens against the property and making sure they are paid off, so the transaction runs smoothly
  • Arranging for title insurance
  • Reviewing and negotiating contracts to determine how money will be distributed
  • Preparing the deed, disclosures, mortgage, or note to secure debt as per the mortgage lender’s instructions and clearly explaining documents to the client
  • Searching for taxes, homeowner association fees, utility charges and other obligations and prorating them to match how they were allocated in the contract
  • Preparing a settlement statement that shows agent commissions, charges involved in the transaction, attorney fees, underwriting fees, taxes, funds from the buyer, loan discount points, and more
  • Hosting the closing event which involves collecting signatures and confirming identification
  • Confirming all parties have fulfilled their contractual obligations and resolving any disputes that may arise.

 

Who Does a Real Estate Attorney Represent?

There are typically a few real estate lawyers involved in a transaction. They include one that represents the buyer, one that represents the seller, one that represents the mortgage lender, and one that represents the title company.

A real estate lawyer works for the buyer by ensuring the offer made is valid. They work for the seller by negotiating the terms of the sale.

Do I Need A Real Estate Attorney?

Agent,And,Customer,Meeting,And,Handshaking,After,Good,Deal,ForReal estate attorneys are required in some states but not all of them. Most states that require them will only mandate that they are there during closing to represent the buyer’s lender. However, this leaves the seller unrepresented in a situation where legal assistance may be needed.

But regardless of whether you are required to hire a real estate lawyer, they can be a valuable ally in the real estate process.

Many people don’t hire real estate attorneys because they are an added expense. However, they can save you money in the long run.

Here are some reasons why you may want to hire a real estate attorney:

  • They minimize the risk of errors in mortgage loan and title documents
  • They reduce survey problems that aren’t covered by title insurance
  • They ensure you get the full property you are buying by checking on zoning laws
  • They ensure you have all the documents you need for your transaction
  • The solve disputes over who is going to pay for repairs, deposit money, etc.
  • They look over contracts to ensure they contain all the necessary clauses and stipulations
  • They prepare and review purchase contracts and customize them to your needs
  • They ensure the title insurance on your home protects you from certain issues
  • They explain all mortgage documents to the buyer at closing
  • They review all legal documents involved in the closing

Here are some less typical scenarios in which you might need a lawyer:

  • If you are buying a home that’s a part of a special type of sale such as an estate sale, a short sale, or a foreclosure
  • If you are buying a home in another state
  • If you are selling a home involved in a divorce settlement
  • If you are selling a home that belonged to a family member who left you in charge of their estate
  • If you are buying or selling a home with major issues like structural damage
  • If you are trying to sell a property that has liens on it that you are unable to pay off

 

How Much Does a Real Estate Attorney Cost?

The price you pay for a real estate attorney will vary depending on what you are hiring them for. For example, if you need an attorney for a small job such as reviewing a contract, they may charge you a flat fee of, say $500.

If you are hiring an attorney to help you throughout the entire real estate process, you are likely to spend between $2500 and $3000.

An attorney will change between $550 and $1150 for a standard closing. If complex issues are involved, the fee may go up by $195 to $595.

 

How to Find a Real Estate AttorneyHandshake,After,Good,Cooperation,,Businessman,Handshake,Male,Lawyer,After,Discussing

Finding a real estate attorney can be as simple as a Google search. But how can you be sure if the attorneys you are considering are reliable and skilled? Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Ask a Friend or Relative: If you have a trusted friend or relative that recently used an attorney for a real estate transaction, you can ask them what their experience was like and if they can recommend them.
  • Use Your State Bar Association Directory: Searching the Bar Association Directory will provide access to listings of real estate attorneys in your area.
  • Use a Legal Online Review Site: Legal online review sites will tell you how much the attorney charges and what they specialize in as well as reviews from former clients.
  • Create a Contact List of People Who May Know Real Estate Attorneys: These include agents, title company employees, mortgage bankers, court reporters, and business owners. They are likely to be able to refer you to reputable lawyers they have worked with in the past.

 

What to Ask a Real Estate Attorney

Businessman,Signing,Document,Concept,,Focus,On,Male,Hand,Holding,Pen,Once you get a list of lawyers together, narrow them down to the three you feel would be best for your situation. Then interview them via phone or email. Email may be best as you will have the answers in writing so you can review them at your leisure.

Here are some questions you should be asking the lawyer during the interview process:

Cost and How They Charge: Some lawyers charge a flat fee while others charge by the hour. This can vary depending on the service they are being asked to provide. In addition to finding out how much they charge and how they charge, you should also ask them if they add extra fees for reviewing documents, attending the closing, and negotiations.

Availability: Real estate transactions can be stressful. It’s important to find someone who can see to your concerns as they come up. You can determine a lawyer’s availability by asking them about average response times and the best way to reach them. You can also inquire about their client load to find out if they can provide the undivided attention you require.

How Many Real Estate Transactions Do You Attend to Per Year: This will give you an idea of the attorney’s expertise. It will also tell you if the attorney is popular, in-demand or over-committed.

How are You Typically Involved in the Real Estate Process: Attorneys can be brought in to oversee various tasks in real estate transactions. They may review documents, attend closings, be involved in negotiations, and more. It’s important to find an attorney that has a good amount of experience in the tasks you need them for.

Are You Experience in This Type of Transaction: In addition to determining what tasks the lawyer has experience with, you will also want to know what types of transactions he or she has worked with in the past. Examples include resales, new construction, investment properties, short sales, luxury market and more. It’s essential that the attorney you hire has experience with the type of transaction you are dealing with.

Are You a Member of the Real Estate Section of Your Local Bar Association: This will ensure that the lawyer is skilled with real estate law.

Which Title Insurance Company are You Authorized to Represent? Not all title insurance companies are created equal. You should make sure the lawyer is authorized to represent a title insurance company you are happy with.

Property,Auction,,Gavel,Wooden,And,Model,House,On,Natural,GreenAre You On the Approved Attorney List for Closing Loans for Several Large Banks: If the attorney is on the approved list for the closing of several large banks, it means they have exceptional expertise in their field.

Is There a Difference in What You Charge for an All Cash Transaction vs. a Financed Transaction: Some lawyers may charge less for an all-cash transaction because it comes with fewer requirements than a financed transaction. This is a question worth asking if you are taking the all-cash route.

Can You Provide References: It’s a good sign if a real estate attorney can provide references from past clients that were pleased with his or her work. You can go from there to contact the references to find out about their experiences with the attorney.

What Issues Could Arise and How Would You Handle Them: It is hopeful that no issues will arise during a real estate transaction. But if they do, you want to be working with a lawyer who knows what pitfalls to look out for and how to handle them.

Are You Also a Title Agent: Many attorneys are also title agents or they work with one in their office. This can be advantageous as it allows for smoother communication that can make processes go faster. It also minimizes the risk of paperwork falling through the cracks.

Will You Be Working on My Case: It is not unusual for a lawyer to act as the figurehead of the company answering all your initial questions and concerns. But when you start working with them, you may find your case was passed on to a junior lawyer or paralegal. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But in these instances, you will want to talk directly to whoever will be handling your case to determine their level of experience.

 

Things to Look for in a Real Estate Attorney

Male,Notary,Lawyer,Or,Judge,Consult,Or,Discussing,Contract,PapersWhen interviewing a real estate attorney, you will not only want to focus on the quality of the answers he or she is providing. You will also want to think of how they come through in terms of knowledge and mannerisms. Here are some traits to look out for.

Knowledge of Local Law: The attorney should not only have a strong knowledge of real estate law in general, but they should also have specific knowledge of the law in your city. Real estate law can change from state to state and city to city. Therefore, you will want to find a lawyer who is familiar with the legal system as it pertains to your specific area.

Personable: It’s essential that the attorney you choose is someone you feel comfortable working with. They should seem willing to take the time to explain complicated terms to you and see to your concerns. If they seem impatient or rude, they may not be the best attorney for your needs.

Great Communication: The right real estate attorney will respond to your calls and emails in a prompt manner. This is something you will be able to determine in setting up the consultation. If it takes a week or two before you can even set up an initial appointment, you may want to move on.

Good Reputation: An attorney’s reputation will come through in references and customer reviews. While you can follow up on the references the attorney provides you, you should also do your own research. This will ensure that you reach people beyond those the lawyer knows will say positive things about them.

A real estate attorney can be extremely valuable in the transaction process. But it’s essential to find the one that’s right for you. The tips in this article should have you headed in the right direction. What characteristics will you be looking for when you decide to shop around?

Chris Heller Headshot

About the Author

Chris Heller brings 27 years of experience in real estate. Chris serves on the AgentAdvice Editorial Board and is the Chief Real Estate Officer at OJO Labs. Chris brings deep expertise having held influential industry positions including CEO of mellohome and former CEO of Keller Williams Realty International.

Last Updated: 8/19/2022

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