Finding a Good Real Estate Attorney: What to Look For
Some people don’t give any thought to hiring a lawyer until they have to go to court or settle a matter. But this isn’t the only time to use an attorney.
You might also hire a real estate attorney when buying a home.
In some states, using a residential real estate attorney is mandatory when buying a property. This is the case in Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and a few other states.
If you live elsewhere, though, an attorney isn’t required, but still worth considering.
If you use a real estate agent when buying a home, you might feel that this is all the representation you need. But while real estate agents can help you find a property and negotiate a purchase price, they can't do everything.
A real estate attorney can handle many unique contract and negotiation issues that arise. But of course, you must first understand the following.
What does a real estate attorney do? How to choose the right one?
What Is the Job of a Real Estate Lawyer When Buying a Home?
Real estate attorneys handle a variety of real estate transactions related to both commercial and residential properties.
They typically represent their clients with foreclosures, short sales, liens, and leasing. But also handle run-of-the-mill buying and selling transactions.
When buying a home, your real estate attorney can oversee the closing process and review any paperwork you need to sign.
They’re responsible for preparing documentation for closing. And they can also assist with title insurance.
Some people choose to use a title and escrow company to prepare their documentation and handle the entire process.
This is an option.
Downsides of a title or escrow company
Just know that a title or escrow company doesn’t offer legal counsel.
So there are certain pieces of advice that they can’t give.
A law degree isn’t required to become a title agent. If you have legal questions about the contract or negotiation process, your title agent won’t be able to help you.
A title company works for the title insurer—they don’t work for you as the buyer.
A real estate attorney, on the other hand, does work for you. And as a result, they have your best interest in mind.
A real estate attorney can offer advice on the best way to handle legal issues.
If unexpected problems arise during a title search, it’s helpful to have a real estate lawyer on your side. They can provide guidance on this issue too, whereas a title agent can’t.
What Is the Typical Fee for Using a Real Estate Attorney?
Quite often, homebuyers find that a title company and a real estate attorney charge roughly the same.
But again, attorneys offer more for the money.
Attorney fees vary, but real estate lawyers typically charge between $150 and $500 per hour.
Sometimes, a real estate attorney will charge a flat fee for representing a buyer in a real estate transaction.
Signs of a Good Real Estate Attorney
If you choose to use a real estate attorney, the next step is finding a qualified lawyer to handle your transaction.
If your real estate agent has a relationship with a real estate attorney, they might make a recommendation. Understand, though, you don’t have to use their agent.
It’s perfectly okay to do your due diligence and find an agent on your own. But it’s also important that you don’t choose a random real estate attorney.
Buying a home is one of the single most expensive transactions you’ll make. So it’s imperative to have an attorney that’s experienced and competent. This helps ensure a smooth transaction.
Signs of a good real estate attorney include:
1. Knowledge of the local law
When choosing a real estate attorney, it goes without saying that you need an attorney that’s licensed to practice law in your state.
However, you should go a step further and choose a real estate attorney with knowledge of your local area—more specifically, your city.
This is crucial because real estate law can vary from city to city within a state. Your agent should be highly familiar with the laws in your city.
It’s smart to consult with more than one real estate attorney before making a decision. But while you want someone who’s knowledgeable, it’s also important to choose someone you’re comfortable working with.
You may have questions and concerns throughout the process. So you need a real estate attorney who’s patient and willing to explain complicated terms.
If a lawyer appears to be impatient, rude, or rushes the initial appointment, they might not be the best attorney to represent you.
3. Great communicator
You also want a real estate attorney with good communication skills.
In other words:
They respond to your calls or emails in a timely manner.
If you call to set up a consultation with a real estate attorney, and it takes the attorney a week or more to return your call, this could be a sign of what to expect as a client.
4. Good reputation
It’s also wise to choose a real estate attorney with a good reputation in the community.
Again, you can take recommendations from your real estate agent, but it’s also important to do your own search.
Consult with friends or family who have used a real estate attorney in recent months or years.
Ask for recommendations.
If they’ve had a positive experience working with a particular attorney, you might have a similar experience. You can also read local reviews online.
In addition, you can contact your state’s Bar Association for a list of real estate attorneys licensed to practice in your state.
Questions to Ask When Meeting With a Real Estate Attorney
When meeting with a real estate attorney during the initial consultation, you need to be an active participant in the conversation.
Here are a few questions to ask before choosing a lawyer:
1. What type of experience do you have with real estate law?
For the most part, you want an experienced attorney.
Real estate transactions can become complicated, so your attorney should have the knowledge and experience to quickly handle various issues. This helps keep closing on schedule.
Inquire as to how long they’ve practiced real estate law, and how many residential real estate transactions they’ve handled. Depending on their answers, you can determine which attorney you’re comfortable working with.
2. Can you provide references?
It’s also okay to ask a real estate attorney for references. This includes references from other clients—not colleagues, family, or friends.
Think twice about using a real estate attorney that’s hesitant, or can’t, provide references from previous clients.
3. What issues could arise?
It’s important to go into a real estate transaction with your eyes wide open. Some people are fortunate and don’t run into major issues when buying a home. Others aren’t as fortunate.
Ask your attorney about problems that could arise throughout the process, and how they would handle these problems.
4. Are you also a title agent?
Interestingly, some real estate attorneys are also title agents. Or if they’re not a title agent, they might employ one in their office.
Title agents and real estate attorneys typically work together during the closing process. And with all the back-and-forth communication, paperwork can fall through the cracks and closing delays can happen.
If your real estate attorney also provides title services, you'll receive one-stop service that could prevent potential delays.
5. Will you work on my case?
This is need-to-know information because depending on an attorney’s workload, the person you meet with might not be the person working on your case.
Instead, the attorney might pass your file to a junior lawyer or a paralegal. If so, what’s the experience level of the person working on your case?
If another lawyer or paralegal handles your file, ask for their name and contact information. If you have questions or concerns, it might be easier and faster to get a response from this person.
The home buying process can be complicated, slow, and frustrating. For this reason, it’s smart to have competent, experienced professionals in your corner.
This includes working with a dependable real estate agent, as well as finding a trustworthy and knowledgeable real estate attorney.
A real estate lawyer might not be required where you live, but you can still benefit from their services.
An attorney can provide legal advice, prepare closing documents, and help ensure a smooth transaction.
Make sure you do your research, though, and ask questions. This is the only way to find the right attorney for your home purchase.