When Do You Need to Hire a Real Estate Lawyer?

Real estate law can be a particularly dense and complex field of law. Even experienced real estate agents often struggle to grasp and explain the more complicated aspects to their clients. And yet hiring a real estate lawyer can also feel like a big decision. When is the right time to take that next step and hire a lawyer?

Demystifying this aspect of the law can only be beneficial to people who may be taking part in real estate transactions. Even if you may not be a lawyer, having basic knowledge will inform you when you make real estate decisions. In this article you can learn the signs that a real estate lawyer is necessary, what types of services are provided and how to select the best real estate lawyer.

Signs A Real Estate Lawyer Is Necessary

The first thing to know, especially for inter-state moves, is that each state gets to decide whether to require property sellers and buyers to work with a real estate lawyer. As Nolo points out, some states require this and some states do not. Any seller or buyer transacting in states where a real estate attorney is required has a simpler decision - no attorney, no transaction. According to Courthouse Direct, these are the states that currently require that buyers or sellers retain a real estate attorney:

  • West Virginia.
  • South Carolina.
  • Vermont.
  • Virginia.
  • Alabama.
  • Massachusetts.
  • Mississippi.
  • Connecticut.
  • Delaware.
  • Georgia.
  • District of Columbia.
  • Maine.
  • Kansas.
  • Maryland.
  • Kentucky.
  • New Hampshire.
  • Rhode Island.
  • North Dakota.
  • New York.
  • New Jersey.
  • Pennsylvania.

Since these regulations are subject to change at any time, it is best to talk with a real estate professional to find out what the regulations are in the state where the purchase or sale is being transacted. In states where working with a real estate attorney is optional, it will really depend on the complexity of the sale or purchase and the expertise of each party's real estate agent. Here are the most common reasons it may become necessary to hire a real estate lawyer:

  • Review of CC&R (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions).
  • Review of Developer Contracts (new home construction).
  • Crafting a co-buyer agreement for a group property purchase.
  • Drafting a loan agreement to procure or offer private financing.
  • The purchase includes a rent-to-own option.
  • Complexities arise in storage of seller/buyer items at the property.
  • The purchase/sale includes the presence of an existing tenant.
  • Liens or holds exist on the property title.
  • The pre-sale/purchase home inspection reveals more complicated problems.

Services Provided

There are two main categories of real estate lawyers: residential and commercial. Like most legal professionals, real estate attorneys provide a range of services. Sometimes all that is needed is an a la carte review of a contract or clause. Sometimes the attorney will need to oversee the entire transaction from start to finish. These are the basic categories of services provided by most real estate attorneys:

  • Contract reviews.
  • Buy/sale negotiations.
  • Lien and title searches.
  • Transfer of deeds.
  • Pre-building/development project oversight.
  • Guidance for resolving zoning issues.
  • Point of contact between sellers, buyers, lenders, et al.
  • Oversight of foreclosure process.
  • General real estate litigation.
  • Due diligence review.

Finding a Real Estate Lawyer

The big question often boils down to how to choose a real estate lawyer. In some areas there may be many different lawyers to choose from. In other areas the choices may be more limited. These are the most important steps to take to choose the right real estate lawyer for the transaction.

  • Check with the state's Bar Association that the attorney is specifically licensed to practice real estate law in that state.
  • Ask for recommendations from others (not just from the real estate agent or lender).
  • Verify the lawyer's practice areas and experience are a match for the situation.
  • Be sure the attorney has local real estate experience since laws and guidelines in each area can vary a great deal.
  • Choose an attorney that exudes confidence and professionalism and is prompt and polite.
  • Finally, be sure the attorney offers an initial complimentary consultation to be sure the case or need is a good fit for their practice areas of expertise.