What does a real estate attorney do?

A real estate attorney makes sure the legal transfer of property goes off without a hitch.

They represent you as either the buyer or the seller, looking out for your best interests. To avoid conflicts of interest, an attorney cannot represent both the buyer and seller of the same transaction.

You can hire a real estate attorney for any number of real estate-related legal matters, and their exact duties will depend on whether you’re the buyer or the seller. They can answer your legal questions, protect your rights during the transaction, draft documents and contracts, solve problems that could delay the sale, and oversee the closing process.

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Reasons to hire a real estate attorney

Real estate attorneys can come in handy, and they may even be mandatory. You should hire one if:

Your state requires it.

In some states, drafting real estate documents and closing on a home is considered practicing law, so a real estate attorney is a necessity. Other states just require a lawyer to be present at closing.

These closing attorneys are neutral parties only responsible for overseeing the transaction.

Since laws vary by state, and sometimes even by county, it’s best to ask your agent how the process works in your jurisdiction.

You have a complicated transaction

If you’re not dealing with an easy vanilla transaction, an attorney helps ensure the deal is above-board and that you don’t get ripped off.

Examples of complicated transactions are short sales, foreclosures, properties in distress, transactions with zoning or property line issues, or any other situation where you suspect something could go wrong with the sale.

Problems are more likely to arise with these types of complicated transactions, and an attorney can prevent delays and unnecessary expenses by spotting issues before they occur.

You want peace of mind.

Even if a lawyer isn’t required in your state, hiring one can help prevent mishaps.

When dealing with the most expensive investment of your life, a DIY approach can be stressful. Saving a thousand bucks in lawyer fees may not be worth the sleepless nights. It’s comforting to have an expert in your corner when you have big money on the line.

When you can skip a real estate lawyer

Just like there are certain scenarios when you don’t need a real estate agent, a real estate attorney also isn’t always necessary.

You can save on lawyer fees if:

  • You’re dealing with a simple transaction.
  • You live in a state that doesn’t require real estate attorneys.
  • You’re working with an agent who can trust to answer your questions.
  • You have experience buying or selling property and feel comfortable with the process.

If you choose to skip an attorney, you don’t actually have to do everything yourself.

Reputable real estate agents should be able to answer your questions and guide you through the process. They use customizable templates for their contracts that work well for straightforward transactions, but not so much for complex deals.

At closing, you’ll have to read each document carefully before signing because you won’t have an attorney to do it for you. It’s a good idea to study up beforehand and bring a checklist of everything you need to look out for in the paperwork.

It may sound intimidating, but between your agent, lender, title company, and online resources, you may have all the resources you need to make simple real estate transactions without hiring a lawyer.

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How much does a real estate attorney cost?

The cost of a real estate attorney depends on your state, the attorney’s experience, how much help you need, and how they charge for their time.

Some private lawyers charge by the hour — from $150 to $300, according to Thumbtack. Others charge flat fees, with typical closing rates ranging from $500 to $1,500.

Fees for neutral closing attorneys are part of the closing costs. These are often split between the buyer and seller, but this is negotiable.

Can I get a free consultation?

Choosing a private real estate attorney is a big commitment. Before locking into any agreements, many firms offer free consultations where you can ask your questions.

Simply search for “free real estate attorney consultation” for your city to find options near you.

That said, if you just need a state-required closing attorney to oversee the transaction, a consult usually isn’t necessary.

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About the Author

Mitchell Glass

Mitchell Glass

Freelance Contributor

Mitchell is a freelance contributor to MoneyWise.com.

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