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Do You Need a Real Estate Lawyer?

In certain states, you can’t buy or sell a house unless a real estate lawyer is present. So unless you live in a place like Georgia, Vermont, Kentucky or Maine, for example, you might be wondering whether you need to spend the money on legal fees to have a real estate lawyer. Having an experienced attorney within reach can keep you from unintentionally breaking a law or doing something that could delay your real estate closing. If you’re not sure what real estate lawyers do, we’ll fill you in.

What Is a Real Estate Attorney?

A real estate lawyer is someone whose job it is to know the rules and regulations related to real estate transactions. Real estate attorneys help their clients understand contracts and other legal documents. They deal with zoning issues and mortgage fraud, negotiate on behalf of the parties they represent, oversee the transfer of deeds and titles and verify whether a commercial or residential property has a lien, a restrictive covenant or another legal issue.

Real estate attorneys can work with both individuals and corporations. Whether or not you’ll need one will ultimately depend on what you’re trying to accomplish.

When You’ll Need a Real Estate Lawyer

Do You Need a Real Estate Lawyer?

Linking up with a real estate attorney can be a good idea when you’re facing a difficult circumstance such as a foreclosure or short sale, or when you want to purchase a property that’s owned by the bank. Your lender and your title company might want you to get an attorney in order to confirm that there’s nothing wrong with a property’s title. And having an attorney can be particularly helpful if you’re trying to buy or sell a commercial property since the rules regarding tenant relationships and a company’s tax filing status can be quite complex.

If you’ve had a judgment filed against you or you’ve filed for bankruptcy, it’s in your best interest to consult a lawyer for advice. An attorney can also be a major asset to a real estate team dealing with a property that’s part of someone’s estate, one that’s located in an area vulnerable to a natural disaster or a property that has an issue with termites, lead or another environmental contaminant.

In some cases, you won’t have to find an attorney to assist you in buying or selling a house. Before they can receive their licenses, real estate agents are required to have a thorough understanding of the standard documents that buyers and sellers need to file before they can close on their homes. If you selected an agent with solid credentials and experience with handling real estate matters in your state, you might not need an attorney at all.

Being able to complete a real estate transaction without the help of an attorney can be a major relief, especially for individuals who can barely afford to buy a home. How much does a real estate lawyer cost? It varies, since some attorneys charge flat fees. But hourly fees for legal services can cost $400 or more.

At the same time, having a real estate attorney involved can give you peace of mind. Real estate attorneys can ensure that any additions that have been made to a home don’t conflict with local building codes or permit guidelines. What’s more, they can carefully review the language in purchase agreements and other contracts to make sure buyers and sellers get exactly what they want and ensure that everything is carried out in a lawful manner.

Real Estate Attorneys and State Law

Different states address real estate settlements in different ways and some of them (such as Massachusetts, Delaware, New York and South Carolina) require homebuyers and sellers to have attorneys present to sign off on home sales. Other states place restrictions on what agents can do during a real estate closing. For example, Alabama real estate agents can approve a buyer for title insurance and process title abstracts, but only attorneys can handle deeds and other documents.

If you live in a state that requires you to work with a real estate lawyer, it’s important to make sure you have enough money to cover the cost of your attorney’s fees. And before you choose someone to represent you, it’s a good idea to find out whatever you can about his or her background and areas of expertise.

Bottom Line

Unless your state mandates it, you might be able to buy or sell your house without legal representation. But failing to meet with a real estate attorney could leave you susceptible to various pitfalls and lawsuits. Discussing your concerns with your real estate agent and your broker can help you decide on the best course of action for your unique situation.

Real Estate Tips

  • A financial advisor can help you with a wide variety of financial situations, including real estate. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard, though. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • SmartAsset’s mortgage calculator can help you find out what your payments might be.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/vgajic, ©iStock.com/digitalskillet, ©iStock.com/izzetugutmen

Amanda Dixon Amanda Dixon is a personal finance writer and editor with an expertise in taxes and banking. She studied journalism and sociology at the University of Georgia. Her work has been featured in Business Insider, AOL, Bankrate, The Huffington Post, Fox Business News, Mashable and CBS News. Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Amanda currently lives in Brooklyn.
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