Purchasing a home will probably be one of the most significant purchases you will make in your life. You sign piles of paperwork for both the loan and purchase of the property itself. This purchase also involves the law of real property, which raises special and unique issues of practice and issues not present in other transactions. As a result, some states have begun certifying lawyers as “Real Property Specialists” because a real estate lawyer is trained to address these problems. The home-buying process seems simple on the surface and leaves many people asking this question: “Do I really need to hire a real estate attorney?”
The purchase agreement may be the single most important document handled during the transaction. Sure, pre-printed electronic forms are helpful, but a lawyer can explain the forms and make changes and/or additions per the buyer’s and seller’s requests. Some typical issues that are commonly addressed in the purchase agreement are the following:
- What happens if the property is found to contain hazardous waste materials?
- What are the legal ramifications if the closing does not take place as scheduled? What happens to the down payment? (This question goes on to raise additional related questions: Will the down payment be held in escrow by a lawyer? How is the payment going to be made? Will the closing be appropriately conditional upon the buyer obtaining financing?)
- What happens if termites, asbestos, or lead-based paint is found upon inspection of the property?
- If the property is altered or an addition has been added, was it done lawfully?
- If the buyer intends to change the property, can the proposed plans be done lawfully?
If the sellers seem unreasonable or request something unusual, that is typically a good time to call for counsel. An attorney can serve as great backup for a real estate agent, and they can translate the legal jargon presented to you in the mounds of paperwork. Brokers and escrow agents do not get paid until the closing occurs, so if something goes awry at closing, they are naturally inclined to encourage you to sign the papers and close instead of creating a hiccup. For example, if you find a title defect on closing day, you need someone there to inform you of what your rights are. Alternatively, the seller may make promises to remedy problems on the property but still push to get the closing done. These promises need to be put into a contract and approved by an attorney.
Perhaps the single most important reason to be represented by a real estate lawyer is to resolve the conflicting interests of the parties involved. Buyers and sellers are often at odds throughout the entire process. Generally, the agent is representing the seller, while the lender is obtained by the buyer. Unfortunately, neither of them can provide legal counsel. Seeking an attorney to protect your own interests is a very good idea from the time you decide to sell or buy a home until the time of the actual closing.