If you’re in the market for a new home, you’re probably about to make the largest purchase of your life. So why would you want to risk that investment by taking on the home-buying process without a real-estate attorney by your side?
According to the 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers released by the National Association of Realtors, home prices nationally increased to a median of $235,000 last year. In addition to the challenge of rising prices, over one-third (34 percent) of all homebuyers are novices—first-time buyers. That’s why a real-estate attorney can be an invaluable asset.
Although the actual process of buying a home varies from state to state, there’s one universal feature: It’s complex and often intimidating, especially to a first-time buyer. That’s why most opt to work with an experienced real-estate agent and why savvy purchasers also retain the services of a real-estate attorney to usher them from contract to closing—even in states where an attorney is not required.
Just as buyers benefit by having a real-estate professional to help them find the right home, negotiate the terms of sale and apply for financing, a real-estate attorney will guide his or her client by reviewing the purchase contract, ensuring that all relevant inspections are properly completed and resulting issues dealt with, obtaining a title search and generally protecting the buyer’s interests throughout the entire process.
But while you might be tempted to hire your brother-in-law to handle the deal, or perhaps to use a local general practitioner, most experts suggest you seek out a specialist—an attorney with years of experience handling real-estate transactions, which can also involve other areas of the law that change rapidly such as environmental and tax issues.
"You want to make sure the person you hire has specialized knowledge," Schorr says. "A generalist may know how a contract works, but he or she may not necessarily know the nuances of how a how a typical deal gets closed and the red flags."
Schorr also says that generalists may not be able to read a title report and survey and understand if there are any easements or restrictions that might affect their clients’ use of the property.
To find a qualified real-estate attorney, seek references from trusted advisors such as accountants, bankers or financial planners. Although real-estate agents may proffer an attorney to you, bear in mind that the agent has a financial interest in making sure the deal goes through. Another good source of qualified real-estate attorneys is a state or local lawyer-referral service offered by many local bar associations.