Only when you try buying a house do you realize that so many different moving parts are involved.
Ideally, all you need in this kind of transaction should be:
- The house you want to buy
- The seller is willing to sell you the house
- The money to buy said house
However, the deeper you get into the process, the more you realize that you need to involve other parties, such as residential real estate attorneys.
Granted, you could buy that house without involving lawyers, but that isn’t possible in every state.
There are some states, such as Connecticut, Kansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, the District of Columbia, and Kentucky (you can get the full list here), that require you to involve a real estate attorney in any kind of home purchase.
So, who are residential real estate attorneys? What do they do, and why do you need them?
Residential Real Estate Attorneys
Residential real estate attorneys handle the purchase process of “real properties” (permanent structures such as houses and buildings that are typically fixed in place).
Most of the things real estate lawyers do involve paperwork and verifications. When you hire a real estate lawyer, they are primarily tasked with the following:
- Preparing any necessary legal documentation that comes with buying or selling the property
- Reviewing all the necessary paperwork involved in the deal
- Drafting any payment agreements made between the seller and the buyer
- Going through the documents received from lenders, if any
- Make sure the title and transfer documents are in order
- Ensuring that money changes hands, and so does ownership of the property
Real estate lawyers often attend closings, whether in person or virtually.
Furthermore, depending on the scope of what the lawyer offers, they may handle additional parts of the purchase process, such as performing title searches and handling the title insurance aspect of the process.
This is often to ensure that there aren’t any liens or claims to the property before buying it.
Finally, it’s part of the real estate lawyer’s duty to solve all legal issues that may arise during the purchase process. They can also be tasked with speeding the process along, especially if the buyer or seller isn’t in the country.
Do You Need a Real Estate Attorney?
This depends on which state you intend to purchase the property in. Every state has its version of real estate law.
In some cases, you will find that what a notary or a real estate agent can do in one state requires the authority that comes with a real estate lawyer in another.
So, you will only need an attorney in these two cases: the state requires it, or you simply want one regardless of the state.
That being said, hiring a real estate attorney to help ensure that your home purchase is above board and seamless is always a good idea.
Here are some reasons why you should hire a real estate lawyer regardless of your real estate transaction:
- The state requires you: If you intend to buy a home in a state such as New York, South Carolina, and North Carolina, you must hire a real estate attorney. Only lawyers in these states can oversee certain aspects of the purchase.
- The lawyer needs to provide a title opinion: In some states, such as Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, the lawyer is required by state law to provide a title opinion on every real estate purchase. A title opinion is simply a declaration indicating that the lawyer reviewed the entire process and has found no legal issue why the purchase can’t proceed.
- To resolve any possible real estate issue: Let’s say that the state where you intend to buy property doesn’t necessarily require you to hire a real estate lawyer for your purchases. In this case, you can choose not to, but that course of action is often ill-advised. This is especially true when dealing with much trickier purchases where there’s a short sale or where the property lines aren’t so clearly defined. An experienced attorney can help with legal matters.
- Your lender may demand it: In many cases, mortgage lenders require real estate lawyers to be part of the entire borrowing and property purchase process. This often means that you, the buyer, don’t have to pay the lawyer because they represent the lender and not you.
- The states require a closing attorney: In some cases, you may find that the state requires you to hire a closing attorney for legal representation on a real estate deal. In this case, while you may be paying the lawyer, they technically don’t work for you as they are required to operate as a neutral party whose sole interest is to see the transaction through successfully.
- Personalized purchase contract: Real estate agents often fill out things like purchase contracts. The problem with this approach is that most real estate agents only have one template for purchase contracts. While that is often sufficient when buying a tiny house somewhere in suburbia, it’s often not good enough to make more complicated purchases such as business properties or international buys. In this case, you will need a lawyer to draft a personalized purchase contract that considers the buyer and seller fully.
- Buying property with liens on it: If you are interested in purchasing a property with liens on it, you will need a real estate attorney to sort through that financial murk.
Do you need a real estate attorney for legal representation?
In many cases, no, unless the state requires you.
However, it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer for real estate cases just to ensure that every property purchase agreement goes smoothly and you better understand your real estate contract.