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Hiring a Real Estate Attorney: A Real Estate Investor's Guide

A real estate attorney can be a helpful partner when buying a home or investment property, but one isn't always necessary. Here's when you might want to use one in your transactions.


[Updated: Feb 04, 2021] Feb 25, 2020 by Aly J. Yale
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A real estate attorney can be a valuable partner when buying or selling property. But is one always necessary? Definitely not. Though real estate lawyers can certainly help provide legal advice, resolve disputes, navigate complications, or even just provide general guidance, they're not right for every transaction.

Are you trying to decide whether you should hire an attorney for your next real estate investment move? Let's dive into it in more detail.

What does a real estate attorney do?

Real estate attorneys can assist in a number of capacities, both incommercial and residential real estate. They help with drafting contracts and legal documents, deal with construction and development issues, and might even attend your closing appointment.

One of the most common reasons you'd use a real estate attorney is to draw up a contract or legal document. Attorneys can help you draft:

  • Your sales contract/purchase agreement.
  • Leases.
  • Eviction notices.
  • Title documents.
  • Mortgage contracts and documents.
  • Title and deed transfer documents.

If these items have already been drawn up, they can also help you better understand them, explaining your liabilities, obligations, and other terms of the contract.

In addition to document preparation, a real estate lawyer generally offers the following legal services:

  • Negotiations.
  • Reviews and due diligence.
  • Assistance with building and development projects.
  • General litigation.
  • Foreclosure proceedings.
  • Closings.
  • Title and lien searches.
  • Deed transfers.
  • Resolution of zoning issues.
  • Coordination with lenders, title agents, surveyors, and other parties in the transaction.

They can also assist with real estate litigation and disputes, including title or land disputes, enforcement of legal contracts, and more.

Should you use a real estate lawyer when buying a property?

Do you need a real estate attorney when buying a house or other investment property? Maybe. Some states require that an attorney be involved in the sales process (or even at the closing table), while others leave it up to you and your lender.

The states where you'll most likely need an attorney include:

  • Connecticut.
  • Delaware.
  • Georgia.
  • Massachusetts.
  • New York.
  • North Carolina.
  • South Carolina.

But real state laws vary and are constantly in flux. Be sure to check your local laws or ask your real estate agent for additional guidance.

If your state doesn't outright require an attorney, that doesn't mean one wouldn't still be helpful. Here are a few scenarios when you might consider hiring legal help:

  • You're building or buying real estate for your business.
  • You're having issues with your landlord or tenant.
  • You're buying or selling a commercial property with existing tenants.
  • You need help understanding your sales contract or other agreement.
  • Your development project is up against land, title, or environmental issues.
  • You want help negotiating a better deal.
  • You need assistance with foreclosure proceedings.
  • You're buying a property that has physical issues, is in a hazard-prone area, or has lead, asbestos, or environmental toxins.
  • You want to better understand the liabilities a real estate transaction or property might present.
  • You're buying from another state or country and aren't sure of the local laws.
  • You're buying a bank-owned property or property with liens against it.

There's a chance your lender may require an attorney to ensure your property's title is clean and clear. Ask your lender if this will be required or check your loan estimate to see if an attorney's fee is quoted there.

Finding a real estate attorney

If you've decided you want the help of an attorney for a real estate matter, ask your lender, title company, or real estate agent for a referral. You can also ask for recommendations from friends and loved ones.

Before hiring a lawyer, schedule a consultation to see if it's the right fit. Do they have experience with the type of transaction or issue you're dealing with? How does their fee structure work, and when is payment required? You should also make sure to choose an attorney in the right part of the industry, as residential and commercial real estate transactions are very different.

If your state doesn't require a real estate attorney, there's a good chance you can proceed without one. As long as you choose an experienced real estate agent, they should be able to guide you through most of your real estate transaction. If you come across any legal issues or disputes, though, a trained attorney is always your best defense.

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